Compassion in Faulkner's Fiction

Author: Visser, Irene
In the history of Faulkner criticism, the term compassion occurs remarkably often. This study is based on the premise that compassion is a vital part of the narrative and affective structures of Faulkner's work. It explores and analyses this compassion in his three early novels (Soldier's Pay, Mosquitoes, and Sartoris) and in three of his major novels (The Sound and the Fury, As I Lay Dying, and Light in August), thus situating the development of compassion in Faulkner's fiction in the context of his maturation as an artist. While describing the function, nature and effectiveness of compassion in Faulkner's fiction, it engages with relevant critical issues in Faulkner studies. Reception theory, as developed by Wolfgang Iser and Hans-Robert Jauss, provides the theoretical framework necessary to examine the modalities of reception and response-inviting structures of Faulkner's fiction. Respecting the individual reader's unique experience, this study uses reception theory to analyse the readerly process of consistency building. The analyses of the narrative progression and readerly processes of identification of these six novels disclose the significance of compassion: it is central to the increasingly challenging demands Faulkner made on his readers to be active and fully involved participants, co-creators of his texts.


". . . Visser's book engages strongly with fundamental interpretive questions about certain Faulknerian works. . . . The best discussion in Visser's book - and it forms a substantial portion of the whole - is her treatment of The Sound and the Fury. She takes each of the four sections in turn, exploring how we engage compassionately with the narrator and characters. . . . Visser's study brings us back to basics, to why we care about these people created by the master architect of Yoknapatawpha County." - Mississippi Quarterly