The Hamlet by Faulkner (Review)

Labels: Great Works


The Hamlet
William Faulker, 1940
432 pp.

Book Review by Molly Lundquist
August 2009

For my money this is Faulkner's finest, certainly his most readable work. In the vein of a traditional 19th-century novel, The Hamlet showcases Faulkner's immense talent—for humor, storytelling, luscious prose, and characterization.

The first novel in what is known as the "Snopes Trilogy," The Hamlet follows the fortunes of the Snopes Family, interlopers who gain a foothold in the hill-cradled hamlet of Frenchman's Bend.

Flem, the son, is roundly disliked and distrusted—for good reason. During the course of the novel, we watch him gather power, through an intuitive combination of stealth and cleverness, and eventually carry off the community's prized "possession."

Although Flem Snopes propels the story forward, The Hamlet is populated by a large constellation of out-sized, near mythical characters. They fall in love, trick one another, protect one another, conduct business together—and gather on the porch of Will Varner's store to tell their stories. These men are masters in the tradition of the southern "tall tale"—the funniest, wildest stories anywhere east, or west, of the Mississippi.

V.K. Ratliff serves as the novel's moral center; he is Faulkner's most likeable character, not just in this work but in his entire oeuvre—and many consider him Faulkner's alter-ego. There is Eula, the hamlet's goddess of love, capable of driving men mad, but who remains aloof and untouchable. There is Ike, a severely retarded man, who falls in love with a cow—yes, a cow. But the episode should be read as an inverted medieval romance...and then you see its brilliance!

Don't neglect this stunning classic. The men and women who populate the hamlet of Frenchmen's Bend are not to be missed and never forgotten.


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