The Sound and The Fury is acknowledged as one of the masterpieces of 20th-century literature. It takes the modernist narrative devices of stream-of-consciousness, time-shifts and multiple changes of viewpoint to an unprecedented level of sophistication. Faulkner was well aware that readers would find it difficult, and employed italic and roman type to convey its ‘unbroken-surfaced confusion’, but when his agent attempted to standardise and simplify the system this prompted an angry objection from Faulkner. He quickly jotted down eight time-levels in Benjy’s section, ‘just a few I recall’, and wished that it could be ‘printed the way it ought to be with different color types’, but he concluded pessimistically, ‘I don’t reckon … it’ll ever be printed that way’.
The Folio Society determined that it could be printed that way, and drew on the expertise of two noted Faulkner scholars to work on fulfilling Faulkner’s idea. Stephen M. Ross and Noel Polk undertook the painstaking task of identifying each different time-level to be coloured, while keeping the original italic/roman shifts. We can never know if this is exactly what Faulkner would have envisaged, but the result justifies his belief that coloured inks would allow readers to follow the strands of the novel more easily, without compromising the ‘thought-transference’ for which he argued so passionately.
Faulkner enthusiasts will derive an exhilarating experience from reading the Benjy section in this way, while anyone who may have been daunted by the book’s reputation will find this edition extremely approachable. As well as the colour scheme, Ross and Polk’s comprehensive commentary elucidates the numerous allusions, colloquialisms and ambiguities of the text. A specially developed bookmark is printed with a colour key and marked with the line numbers to assist cross-reference between the novel and the commentary.
In the novel’s four sections, each attributed a specific date, different narrators evoke the disintegration and decay of a once-proud Southern family. The book begins on a spring day in April 1928, with events recounted from the point of view of Benjy, a man in his 30s but with the mind of a small child. For Benjy each sight, word or action in the present propels him through his memories – his beloved sister Caddy as a little girl, his grandmother’s funeral, Caddy on her wedding day, arguments at the dinner table. The narrative shuttles back and forth through time, often evoking a scene in only a few lines. Through Benjy’s uncomprehending observation we gain a picture of a family in freefall, from wealth to poverty, from pride to shame, and from love to bitter division. As the book progresses we learn more – first through the eyes of Quentin (haunted, unhappy), then through Jason (spiteful, filled with resentment), and finally centring on Dilsey, the servant whose loyalty and faith is all that holds the household together.
In his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, Faulkner stated that a writer’s sole purpose was to convey ‘the old verities and truths of the heart, the old universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed – love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice.’ The Sound and the Fury is filled with those emotions, and the reader cannot help but care deeply for Faulkner’s characters: for Quentin begging his sister not to marry ‘that blackguard’ Herbert Read, for the bleak self-centred cry of Mrs Compson, ‘I am a lady,’ and for Benjy waiting by the golf course just to hear the golfers call ‘caddie’, at which he begins to howl, mistaking it for his sister’s name.
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Stephen M. Ross and Noel Polk are two of the most respected Faulkner scholars working today. Together they compiled a line-by-line commentary and glossary, informed by their deep love for the text. Whether unpicking Mr Compson’s Latin jokes, or the biblical allusions in Reverend Shegog’s sermon, the commentary provides thought-provoking assistance, but is careful never to impose any single ‘correct’ reading. This edition of the commentary volume has endpapers which show facsimiles of the letter written by Faulkner in which he proposes the coloured-ink printing, and the original typescript of the first pages. The authors have also written a new introduction for the commentary, explaining the difficulties, doubts and excitement of the colorisation project.
In October 1928, the young writer William Faulkner tossed a recently completed manuscript to his friend and agent Ben Wasson: ‘Read this, Bud. It’s a real son-of-a-bitch … This one’s the greatest I’ll ever write.’ Twenty years and several great novels later, Faulkner was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for his 'powerful and artistically unique contribution to the modern American Novel'. The Sound and the Fury – searing, tragic, extraordinary in its innovation – is the most powerful of all. Indeed, this novel had become one of the most influential in 20th-century American literature.
Faulkner knew that what made the book ‘a real son-of-a-bitch’ was what Wasson called ‘the sheer technical outrageousness and freshness of the Benjy section’. Faulkner wished to find a publisher whose attitude to printing matched the innovation of the writing – one prepared to print the novel in several colours. Nearly 100 years later, The Folio Society is fulfilling that vision with a new limited edition that is a landmark in literary publishing.
The binding design is by Russell Maret, an outstanding typographer and fine press printer based in New York. The sides are printed letterpress on Canson Mi-Teintes paper with a type ornament devised by Maret exclusively for this edition. The leather quarter-binding employs an unusual technique using split boards at front and back so that the paper sides can wrap around all four edges of the boards. The slipcase is inset with a matching red leather titling label on the spine, so that the box can be stored on the shelf without exposing the vermilion leather of the book’s spine to potential sun-fading or damage.
Read more about the life and work of William Faulkner
Review by ajmcg on 15th Jul 2012
"First, the positives: this book is made with Folio's high standards of production, and represents a milestone in presenting Faulkner's work, in that it takes up Faulkner's suggestion of indicating tim..." [read more]