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A couple of tips (especially for Fountain Square Readers) on dealing with Benjy Compson

May 19, 2014 by Reader's Connection

The Sound and the Fury

2 Fountain-Square-related posts in a row? I can’t help myself. I’m so proud of the Fountain Square Library’s Afternoon Book Discussion Group, who are planning to tackle William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury on Thursday, June 12th.

I’m sure they’re a savvy group, and are doing just fine with the book, but I’m writing this in case any member is bewildered by the unraveling Compson family.

The first of the novel’s four sections is narrated by Benjamin Compson, who has been described as a thirty-three-year-old man with a three-year-old’s mind. The narrative slips around in time, and the reader is likely to have questions. (How many characters named Quentin are there, here? One of them is a female, right?)

MY FIRST TIP: The Portable FaulknerIf you want some clarification, Click here and read the Compson Appendix. Faulkner wrote the appendix in 1945, sixteen years after the novel was published in 1929, and it first appeared in The Portable Faulkner. The author was enthusiastic: “I should have written this new section when I wrote the book itself . . . By all means include this in the reprint. When you read it, you will see how it is the key to the whole book, and after reading it, the 4 sections as they stand now fall into clarity and place…”

Yes, the appendix is weird and Faulknerian, and there are inconsistencies between the appendix and the novel (you can read about them here) but I think this 1945 addition is more helpful than it is hazardous, and it’s unfortunate that most recent editions haven’t included it.

MY SECOND TIP: Keep your eyes on them italics.

I wish I could say, Keep your eyes on that color-coded text. Faulkner wrote, At the time of the book’s publication, “If I could only get it printed the way it ought to be with different color types for the different times in Benjy’s section recording the flow of events for him, it would make it simpler, probably. I don’t reckon, though, it’ll ever be printed that way, and this’ll have to be the best, with the italics indicating the changes of events.”

In 2012, fifty years after Faulkner’s death, The Folio Society did indeed print an edition of the novel with different colors in the Benjy section indicating different periods of time–it’s pictured above, and here’s an article about that project–but all 1,480 copies are sold, and I don’t think the libraries that bought a copy will be happy to send it out on Interlibrary Loan. So Fountain Square readers will have to make do with italics as time-shift indicators.

The Folio Society even provides a bookmark for purchasers, indicating which color goes with which chronological stretch in the book’s Benjy section. This is so wonderful. I just finished reading the Benjy section for the third or fourth time, and I couldn’t differentiate among all these time frames. I need colors!

WAIT A MINUTE! I HAVE A THIRD TIP: Don’t give up. The second section of the novel, narrated by Benjy’s older brother Quentin, is no picnic, either. But I think this is one of the most rewarding novels ever written. Despite the oblivion into which she may be heading, I’m happy just thinking about Miss Quentin on the night before Easter, swinging herself on that rainpipe from her window and making off with Jason’s money.


So mark your calendars: Thursday, June 12th at 1:30 p.m., Benjy & Quentin & Jason & Dilsey will live again at Fountain Square.


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