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Absalom, Absalom!

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Novel by Faulkner, published in 1936.

The story of Thomas Sutpen and the intricate patterns of other lives involved with his are narrated mainly through Quentin Compson, the grandson of Sutpen's befriender, General Compson. Born to a poor-white family in the West Virginia mountains in 1807, Sutpen runs away at 14 and makes his way to Haiti. There he later marries Eulalia Bon, a planter's daughter, and they have a son, Charles. Discovering his wife's partial black ancestry, Sutpen leaves her and the child, and two years later (1833) appears in Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi, with a band of wild Haitian blacks. He obtains 100 acres of land questionably from the Chickasaw Indians, creates a plantation, and builds a large house on “Sutpen's Hundred.” As a further part of his grand design to achieve aristocracy, Sutpen marries Ellen Coldfield, of a respectable family, and they have children, Henry and Judith. Years later, at the University of Mississippi, Henry meets and admires Charles Bon, Sutpen's Haitian son, who has grown to manhood in New Orleans. When Bon comes home with Henry for Christmas, he falls in love with Judith, but Sutpen forbids their marriage. To Henry he reveals that he is Bon's father (but conceals the black background), and Henry reacts by renouncing his birthright and leaving with Bon, and upon the out-break of the Civil War, the two go off to fight. During the war Ellen dies but the men survive. Although Bon will not repudiate his octoroon mistress and their son, he still wants to wed Judith, being willing to leave only if Sutpen will acknowledge him as “Bon, my son.” Learning of Bon's Negro blood, Henry murders him to prevent the marriage, and then disappears himself. Intent on begetting an heir and founding a dynasty, Sutpen gets engaged to his sister-in-law Rosa Coldfield, who leaves him when he suggests that they try to have a son before marrying. Attempting “to replace that progeny the hopes of which he had himself destroyed,” Sutpen has relations with the granddaughter of Wash Jones, a poor-white squatter on Sutpen's Hundred. When he casts off Milly Jones and the child because it is a girl, Wash kills Sutpen with a scythe. Bon's son by his mistress, Charles Etienne De Saint-Valery Bon, is brought to the plantation by Clytemnestra (Clytie), another daughter of Sutpen by one of his slaves. Charles Etienne in turn marries a full-blood black woman and fathers an idiot son, Jim Bond. After Judith and Charles Etienne die of yellow fever, only Sutpen's black heirs, Clytie and Jim Bond, remain on the decaying plantation. In 1910, shortly before her death, Rosa, aided by Quentin, finds Henry, now aged and wasted, returned and hidden in the house, and when Rosa sends for an ambulance, Clytie, thinking it a police car come to arrest Henry for the old murder, sets fire to the house, violently ending the “doom” of Sutpen's own destructive career on a “land primed for fatality and already cursed with it.”


Subjects: Literature

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