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The Novel of the Century In William Faulkner’s greatest work, a bitter epic of violence and despair resolves itself on a note of love and longing
September 1998 | Volume 49, Issue 5
In Paris at the end of the war, I heard Albert Camus praise this as full of “the dust and heat” that, as “another Southerner” from Algeria, he loved most in Faulkner. Lena has been on the road for a month, riding in a long succession of farm wagons or walking the hot, dusty roads with her shoes in her hand, trying to get to Jefferson. There, she firmly expects, she will find her lover working in a planing mill and ready to marry her, and there#8212;Jefferson for her is the big city—she will put her shoes on at last.
The lover of course runs away, but Lena is so wonderful, loving, and pure that another man at the planing mill turns out to be the one her heart really needs. All ends in a spirit of love and longing, after everything poor Joe Christmas has been put through, that is exalting. When Lena has her baby, Joe Christmas’s grandmother, who never really knew what her mad husband had done with his own grandson, imagines that the infant is her great-grandson and pitifully hopes for a second chance for Joe.
“I am not saying he never did what they say he did. Ought not to suffer for it like he made them that loved and lost suffer. But if folks could maybe just let him for one day. Like it hadn’t happened yet. Then it could be like he had just went on a trip and grew man grown and come back. If it could be like that for just one day.”
Faulkner’s knowledge of the human heart was equaled only by the range and depth of his imagination. How lucky we were to have him!