William Faulkner (1897-1962) was an American writer and Nobel Prize laureate from Oxford, Mississippi. Faulkner wrote novels, short stories, a play, poetry, essays and screenplays. He is primarily known for his novels and short stories set in the fictional Yoknapatawpha County, based on Lafayette County, Mississippi, where he spent most of his life.
Faulkner is one of the most celebrated writers in American literature generally and Southern literature specifically. Though his work was published as early as 1919, and largely during the 1920s and 1930s, Faulkner was relatively unknown until receiving the 1949 Nobel Prize in Literature, for which he became the only Mississippi-born Nobel laureate. Two of his works, A Fable (1954) and his last novel The Reivers (1962), won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. In 1998, the Modern Library ranked his 1929 novel The Sound and the Fury sixth on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century; also on the list were As I Lay Dying (1930) and Light in August (1932). Absalom, Absalom! (1936) is often included on similar lists.
The play we saw last night at the National Arts Centre is an adaptation of Faulkner’s novel As I lay dying. The play is called Take Me Back to Jefferson and is the story of the Bundren Family and of the death of Addie matriarch of the clan and how they must go back to Jefferson, a nine day journey to bury her with her kin despite foul weather, swollen rivers, broken bridges and bad roads.
I did not know what to expect of this play, at times I found it comical despite the tragic events, the Southern accents, actors bare foot and the convoluted logic and existential dialogue. In the end what you have are poor people trapped in their social setting by archaic conventions of the Old South. These poor white folk, dirt farmers perhaps were never rich, they may be intelligent but have little or no formal education, their world is small and centres around their county, the big town of Jefferson (a large village) and their State Mississipi. The play is set between 1890-1910 in Lafayette County, Mississipi, an area Faulkner knew well as he lived all his life in Oxford AKA Jefferson,MISS.
The plays ends not like I would have thought, a bit of a surprise, Anse Bundren, the father figure, is not as simple as he appears and his children find out, going back to Jefferson was not necessarily to bury Addie his wife, there was another reason, a set of new teeth and a new wife, some brothel floosie, he was having an affair with. The play is all about money, the politics of sex and family. The actors 4 sons and one daughter gave strong performances. Because of minimal sets, the actors during the play perform acrobatics to convey the dynamics of dealing with a coffin, a rotting corpse, buzzards, mules, a horse and a swollen river.
We had a great time and I will be looking out for more plays by the Smith-Gilmour Theatre.