Sunday, April 15, 2012

Miss Burden

I'm continuing reading William Faulkner's "Light in August", that I spoke briefly of in my posting of March 21st. I'm savouring rather than wolfing "Light in August" because you just can't wolf Faulkner.

I had never read Faulkner before, and had always promised myself to, but kept putting it off. Then the writer of a blog I regularly read said there were connections between "Light in August" and Kafka's "The Trial". This was the prompt I needed to begin reading Faulkner, and what better than with "Light in August."

Now half-way through it, I haven't yet come across anything that makes me think, "Ah, The Trial''. It must then be somewhere in the second half.

One of "Light in August"'s main characters is Joe Christmas, so far twenty or thereabouts, who had been adopted and raised by a poor and pious couple. He escaped them and drifted through many towns and many jobs.

Joe has some black ancestry, or "negro" ancestry as it was called in the nomenclature of the 1920s Deep South, the time and locale of "Light in August". However, he passes for white.

At the point in "Light in August" I'm now, Joe is living in a cabin on land owned by a fortyish spinster, Miss Burden, who comes from Old Money, and who lives alone in the main house. Joe and Miss Burden drift into an affair, and most passionate it is. This all doesn't at first sight sound very believable, but Miss Burden has volcanic feelings too long suppressed, that manifest when she and Joe are together, which they are most nights.

Joe was aware of Miss Burden's
.....imperious and fierce urgency that concealed an actual despair at frustrate and irrevocable years, which she appeared to attempt to compensate each night as if she believed that it would be the last night on earth by damming herself to the hell of her forefathers, by living not alone in sin but in filth.

She had an avidity for the forbidden wordsymbols; an insatiable appetite for the sound of them on his tongue and on her own. She revealed the terrible and impersonal curiosity of a child about forbidden subjects and objects; that rapt and tireless and detached interest of a surgeon in the physical body and its possibilities.

And by day he would see the calm coldfaced, almost manlike, almost middleaged woman who had lived for twenty years alone, without any feminine fears at all, in a lonely house in a neighborhood populated, when at all, by negroes, who spent a certain portion of each day sitting tranquilly for the eyes of both youth and age the practical advice of a combined priest and banker and trained nurse.


  1. How do you like it?

  2. I like it a lot. Much more than I ever remember liking Faulkner. Maybe I was too young before.

    I have some thoughts about it. But they're not ready for prime time.

    You owe me a read now. How about Flaubert's Parrot, if you haven't read it yet? I'm a fan.

  3. "....Maybe I was too young before......".

    Given that we all are changing inwardly with each week, each year, it's always interesting to return, as the changed self, to an author you read when you were much younger and different.

    That your more mature different self now likes Faulkner more than ever, is testimony to the quality of what he wrote.

    As for Flaubert's Parrot, OK OK I'll read it.

    First, though, I must finish "A Rage to Live". Then I've got "What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank" staring at me from my coffee table, and that is demanding to be read......