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Faulkner and Material Culture Essay (Book Review)

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Updated: Jul 20th, 2020

Faulkner and Material Culture is a book written by Joseph Urgo and Ann Abadie and consists of a series of essays written by different authors. The essays give a deeper meaning between the things that Faulkner borrowed from the real world and merged with the things that he espoused in his way of life.

The book starts with an introduction by one of the authors, Joseph Urgo, talking about what he thinks of the annual Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha Conference. He continues to highlight the events that Faulkner has been to; for instance, in August 1931, he started working on light in August, which was under the title “Dark House”.

Then in the month of November, he went to New York where he became the talk of the city especially after having written, “As I lay Dying”, “Sanctuary”, as well as “The Sound and the Fury”. Urgo also states the definition of material culture that ranges from objects created all the way to invisible features producing landscape expressions together with distinctive odors.

There is also a note about the July 22-29, 2004 conference that got its sponsorship from the University of Mississippi located in Oxford. In the conference, there was an attendance of over 200 authors. These authors entailed those who greatly admired Faulkner.

Therefore, from the conference, there was an inclusion of eight presentations added in this volume. The note also has brief details of the events that happened on the entire time the conference was in session.

The first essay is by Charles Aiken entitled “Faulkner and the passing of the old Agrarian culture”. He starts by stating the definition of material culture as given by geographers who define it as all material and physical objects that a culture group makes and uses with the inclusion of buildings, clothing, instruments, tools, artwork, as well as furniture (Urgo and Abadie 3).

He nevertheless goes ahead to add that material culture also consists of the invisible features creating landscape expressions. He continues to add that material culture comes out as important since it differentiates culture groups and places.

Charles Aiken looks “into the representation that Faulkner gives of terrain and summarizes by stating that as opposed to the established criticism regarding Yoknapatawpha, it is not a South’s microcosm” (Urgo and Abadie XIV). However, it is an extremely particular and very strategically located area.

Another essay is by Jay Watson who does his work with philosophy, literary theory, social and intellectual history, as well as the history of furniture and woodwork (Urgo and Abadie 21). He does this in order to investigate how light during the month of August has an intimate tie to the areas woodwork and logging industries.

Kevin Railey has also written an essay on the topic of consumer goods appearing in “Flags in the Dust” (Urgo and Abadie 68). Katherine Henninger evaluates “Faulkner’s photographs fictional representation together with the function of photography that is within his fiction and especially in the Sound and Fury, Absalom, Absalom, and Light in August (Dianne Para. 8).

A scholarly review written by Diaane Desare Ross notes that Faulkner’s scholars will be the ones who will greatly appreciate the book; however, it has more implications particularly for the interaction study that exists between artistic expression and societal conditions (Dianne Para. 3).

She also recommends it for the entire academic libraries. She praises Faulkner’s writing stating that unlike other writers, who wander off from the main topic especially when trying to make a point, Faulkner and Material Culture gives information in an exceptional manner and it is a fine scholarly works compilation. Dianne reviews the book by providing a brief summary of what the authors, Urgo and Abadie, write.

This book is highly entertaining and informing on an intellectual level as opposed to an emotional level. The book is written in an incredible manner, which gives an insight on Faulkner’s world. Despite not having known him before, after reading the book, the reader can admit that s/he feels like s/he has known him for quite some time for there are bits that give Faulkner’s life history.

For example, he had a difficult relationship with both change and material (Urgo & Abadie 37). He was also one of the first Americans who were able to fly as well as own an airplane. On the subject of how he earned his income, the book states that he sold his short stories and novels to motion picture studios in addition to television production companies.

One of his most profitable sources of income came from writing movie scripts. He however did not like the idea of owning a television, phonograph, or radio and he even went ahead to refuse his daughter to possess any in the house (Urgo & Abadie 38). Whenever Faulkner entered one of Oxford’s most popular restaurants, the owner would unplug the jukebox.

The book is also well written and arranged according to the different essays such that each has something different to say about Faulkner.

The 2004 conference had more that 200 authors who truly admired Faulkner and after reading the book it is easy to note why so many possess great admiration for him. His achievements are what made him to become a Nobel Laureate. Faulkner wrote a topic that was in the interest of his heart, viz. material culture.

Urgo and Abadie use a formal writing style and the quality of the writing style is coherent for it is easy to understand what they want to bring out. In addition, the structure of the story also has a flow to it and so the reader is able to read from paragraph to paragraph without getting confused.

The main theme of this volume is to put great emphasize on the different societal changes that Faulkner underwent in the early twentieth century as well as the dichotomy of staying in touch with the old while still acknowledging the new guard by giving an illustration of material culture.

Just like Dianne, on of the reviewers of the book, I would strongly recommend this book to all those with a keen interest to learn about material culture and to all Faulkner’s fanatics. Faulkner’s admirers would get a feel of the things that he went through and his life history coupled with what made him to become a Nobel Laureate.

The fact that two very learned authors wrote the book makes considerably credible. Joseph Urgo is a Hamilton College dean of faculty while Ann Abadie worked at the University of Mississippi where she was the associate director of the Center in the Southern Culture study. Both authors have worked together to write quite a number of volumes particularly in the series of Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha.

Works Cited

Dianne, Ross. Faulkner and Material Culture: Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha 2004, 2009. Web. <>

Urgo, Joseph, and Ann Abadie (eds.). Faulkner and Material Culture: Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha, 2004, Jackson: University of Mississippi, 2007. Print.

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