Understanding Faulkner: Philip Weinstein’s guide to ‘Absalom, Absalom!’

William Faulkner, and his acclaimed work "Absalom, Absalom!" will be the subject of Philip Weinstein's latest lecture series. —Carl Van Vechten/Wikimedia Commons

Philip Weinstein, the Alexander Griswold Cummins Professor Emeritus of Literature at Swarthmore College, is presenting a three-part workshop on William Faulkner’s novel “Absalom, Absalom!” this month at the Katharine Cornell Theater in Vineyard Haven.

The discussion of “Absalom, Absalom!” began on Nov. 2, and will continue at 7 pm on Nov. 16 and Nov. 30 at the Katharine Cornell Theater in Vineyard Haven. Mr. Weinstein is using the 1966 corrected edition of “Absalom, Absalom!” The series follows a three-part series on Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick,” which was held in September.

Mr. Weinstein called both books “larger than life, harder to read than any bestseller, yet unforgettable once you’ve made them yours. Making them yours is labor, but as you succeed in making your way in, it can become a labor of love.”

A native of Mississippi, Mr. Faulkner (1897–1962) lived much of his life in his home state, in which he wrote prodigiously in poetic, short story, and novel forms. He received both Nobel and Pulitzer prizes for his work, generally centered around the theme of decaying Southern culture. Mr. Faulkner wrote honestly about racial attitudes in the South during the 1930s and 1940s.

His style, often described as Southern Gothic, made use of stream of consciousness, symbolism, and allegory to take the reader through the lives of Southern families.

“Absalom, Absalom!” was written in 1936, and is the story of the Sutphen family, nouveaux plantation owners in the Civil War era. Questions of race, hidden secrets, and the pathology of violence thus engendered drive this novel, which is considered by critics to be Faulkner’s best work.

The workshops are part of a long-running series on the world’s great literary works, developed by Mr. Weinstein.  The Vineyard Haven Library is sponsoring Mr. Weinstein’s talks at part Islanders Read the Classics (IRTC),  a collaborative series between the Martha’s Vineyard Library Association and The MV Times.