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William Faulkner: The Mansion

The last of the Snopes trilogy is certainly an improvement on its predecessor. It is divided into three parts, entitled Mink, Linda and Flem respectively. The novel is about Mink and Linda and, in particular, their relationship to Flem as well as Flem’s continued rise and ultimate fall. The first and last sections are primarily about Mink and his obsession with Flem. Linda occupies the middle part that bears her name as well as appearing quite extensively in the final part that bears her father’s name.

Linda is Linda Snopes, legal daughter of Flem Snopes and biological daughter of Eula Varner Snopes and Hoake McCarron. She has been brought up as the daughter of Flem but Flem is impotent and cannot father children. Her mother, Eula, has killed herself. We are led to think that Linda will marry Gavin Stevens, the lawyer who has appeared in several earlier novels, even though he is twenty years her senior. However, though they do come close, they do not marry. When she goes away to college, she ends up marrying Bart Kohl. The couple go to fight in the Spanish Civil War, where Bart is killed and Linda permanently deafened by an explosion. On returning to Jefferson, Linda turns to left-wing causes, helping the black population, for example, which is resented by both blacks and whites. Eventually, when the war starts, she goes to New York to work as a riveter. When she returns, Gavin Stevens has already married a rich widow. As well as the Linda and Mink stories, Faulkner gives us a few other stories, as he did in The Town. For example we learn more of Meadowfill, the grouchy, miserly old man, whose life seems to revolve around protecting his meagre property from marauding children and dogs. When his daughter Essie gets a good job in the bank, he retires to a wheelchair and spends his time taking shots at the hog of his neighbour (another Snopes) which wanders (deliberately) into his yard. It is all very nasty and but Faulkner tells it to us with his usual wry humour.

But what makes this novel is the Mink Snopes story. In The Hamlet, Mink murdered local landowner, Zack Houston. It wasn’t clear why but this is now explained in some detail. After his arrest, Mink, in both The Hamlet and The Town, is shown as expecting his cousin, Flem, to come forward and rescue him, even while he is being sentenced to life imprisonment by the judge at the trial. Flem does not, of course, come forward, not least because he is in Mexico with his new wife, Eula Varner, pregnant with Hoake McCarron’s child. Indeed, Flem makes no effort to save Mink. Mink, a very vengeful man, is determined to have his revenge on his cousin and much of the novel is his quiet determination to do so, while Flem waits, knowing that his nemesis will finally get him.

Mink is sentenced to life imprisonment but learns that, if he behaves himself, he should get out in twenty years. He makes great efforts to stay out of trouble, do as he is told and not try to escape. However, Flem has other plans. We have already seen his cousin Montgomery Ward Snopes. He had a photography studio called Atelier Monty but it was really just a front for dirty postcards. He had been caught and the premises searched. When they were later searched the police found illegal whiskey which was not there before. Monty was sentenced to prison. It was never clear why the whiskey was there or who planted it, though obviously Flem was behind it. Now we know that it was done so Monty could be sent to Parchman and trick Mink into escaping, thereby adding twenty years to his sentence. (Monty was, of course, paid off and ended up in Hollywood.) Mink patiently serves out his additional twenty years and then, when released, starts his journey to Jefferson where he will meet his and Flem’s fate. Faulkner’s description of the gradual journey of Mink to Jefferson, his determination in getting to his man and Linda’s role in it all is superb and back to his old form. It is this that makes the novel, if one of the very best, certainly not far behind and well worth reading. As Monty said I had come from what you might call a family, a clan, a race, maybe even a species, of pure sons of the bitches.

Publishing history

First published 1959 by Random House