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As I Lay Dying

As I Lay Dying, Faulkner's ‘As I Lay Dying’

a novel by William Faulkner, published in 1930. Faulkner's fifth novel, and one of his greatest, it tells the story of Addie Bundren and the ordeals of her husband and children, after her death, as they transport her body in its coffin to the family plot in Jefferson, Mississippi for burial. In the course of their almost epic journey her husband, Anse, her children, Cash, Darl, Dewey Dell, Jewel, and Vardaman, and several neighbours and family friends all reveal their relationship with Addie. We learn that Jewel is her illegitimate son by the Reverend Whitfield, that her daughter Dewey Dell is pregnant and is seeking an abortion, and that Anse is looking for a new wife. Their journey is beset with various mishaps: in trying to cross a flooded river Cash's leg is broken (it is ‘repaired’ by being set in concrete) and the coffin breaks free and is rescued by Jewel; at another point they stop at a farm barn where Darl, struck by the absurdity of their ordeal, sets fire to the barn in the hope that this will cremate his mother's body, and, again, it is Jewel who saves it from the conflagration. Faulkner, who had a particular affection for As I Lay Dying, said that his intention was to subject his fictional family ‘to the two greatest catastrophes which man can suffer—flood and fire’, though critics have sometimes been more preoccupied by the narrative method he employs: the novel is told in a series of fifty-nine short interior monologues, most of them written in the present tense, which are shared among fifteen different narrators (there is no authorial point of view), including Addie herself, who speaks to us as if from ‘beyond’. As a consequence, the reader is prevented from identifying with any one narrator, though Darl with nineteen sections is the most frequently used voice. The novel is notable for its fluctuations in mood and tone from the comic to the tragic. Of all Faulkner's early novels, As I Lay Dying most strikingly reveals his prodigious gift for a kind of grotesque comedy. See Faulkner's ‘As I Lay Dying’ (1973) by André Bleikasten.

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Areley Kings (or arley regis) Worcestershire to George Pierce Baker Biography