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HoraceBenbow and the Myth of Narcissa


ometimes a writergets an ideafor the structure

of a character,and one fictionalincarnation isn't enough to exhaustthe

possibilitiesinherent in it, possibilities for its development that may often

be mutuallyexclusive. Something like that is whathappened with Faulk-

ner and the basic structureunderlying the figuresof QuentinCompson,

Horace Benbow,and GavinStevens. Clearly, Faulkner set outto imagine

a twentieth-centurymale descendantof an aristocraticSouthern family,


descendantmore or less weigheddown by his sense of the past and

moreor less unsuitedby educationand temperamentfor thriving in the

modernworld, a descendantwho personified, if not the South,then the

Southernruling class at a certainpoint in thiscentury, determined to

live in the past by stayingenclosed in its ownregion, self-absorbed with

its ownimage in a waythat inevitably reminded Faulkner of the figure of


At firstglance the similaritiesbetween these threecharacters seem

clear enough.Noel Polk, forone, has describedthe structuralresem-

blance betweenQuentin and Horace: "Both

. . .

are Prufrockianintel-

lectuals;both are hopelesslyidealistic and obsessivelynarcissistic; both

are sexuallyinterested in theirsisters, and overlyconcerned with their


. . .

bothare dominatedby bedriddenmothers;

. .


and bothare incapableof dealing with the real worldon its own terms.

Horace is, ineffect, a forty-three-year-old andcompletely jaded Quentin,

surelywhat Quentin would have becomehad he livedanother quarter-

century."'And that,of course, is one of the reasons Faulknerneeded

anotherfictional incarnation of thischaracter's structure; for one plau-

sible, not to say probable,outcome was thatthis type of personwould

AmericanLiterature, Volume 64, Number3, September1992. CopyrightC) 1992 byDuke UniversityPress. CCC 0002-9831/92/$1.50.

544 AmericanLiterature

succumbin adolescenceto melancholyself-absorption

and take his own

life. So thatanother embodiment was requiredto imaginethe charac-

ter'smaturity, to imaginehis destinyas notthe early death of a morbidly

romanticyouth but the living death of an ineffectual middle-aged failure.

One couldmake an equallypersuasive list of the resemblances between

Horace Benbowand GavinStevens. Both are lawyers;both have a com-

binationof an Americanand European education (Horace at Sewanee and

Oxford,Gavin at Harvardand Heidelberg);both have a specialrelation-

shipwith an onlysister; both work for the Y.M.C.A. inFrance during the

First WorldWar, and bothtake MontgomeryWard Snopes withthem;

bothhave aestheticavocations (Horace's glass-blowing, Gavin's retrans-

lationof the Old Testamentinto ancient Greek); both marry women who

have been marriedbefore and who have childrenby the previousmar-

riage; bothserve as surrogatefathers (Horace to LittleBelle, Gavinto

ChickMallison), though neither man fathers a child;and bothare fondof

quotingthe same lineof poetry, "Less oftis peace" (Horacein Sanctuary,

Gavinin "Knight's Gambit"). Clearly, the reason that Faulkner needed yet

anotherincarnation of the structurein GavinStevens was to explorethe

possibilitythat this figure might not end up a youthfulsuicide or middle-

aged failurebut eventually win through to some kindof qualified success

in his personaland publiclife.

  • I wouldlike to examineHorace Benbowas a transitionalfigure be-

tween QuentinCompson and GavinStevens and, specifically,to center

the discussionon a structuralelement shared by all threecharacters

the specialrelationship each has withan onlysister. For the mostpart I

willbe discussingHorace as he appearsin Sanctuary(both in the origi-

nal text and in the 1931 publishedversion) and makingdigressions, as

needed,into Flags in theDust forfurther analysis of his character, as well


intoother works in which Quentin Compson and Gavin Stevens appear,


comparisonsbetween their characters and Horace's seem appropriate.

The firstthing that one noticesin comparingthe 1931 publishedver-

sion ofSanctuary with Faulkner's original text is the majorchange that

Faulknermade in the openingof the novel.The originalversion begins

withthe blackmurderer in jail awaitingexecution, while the published

versionbegins with the runaway husband Horace Benbowdrinking from

a woodlandspring and seeing firsthis own reflectionin the pool and

thenthat of Popeye's straw hat as Popeyeadvances soundlessly from his

place of concealmentto capturehim. In the afterwordto his editionof

theoriginal text, Noel Polktheorizes that the opening scene ofthe black

Faulkner'sMyth of Narcissa 545

murdererin jail is meantto producea symmetrywith the book's ending,

whichis to say that"the book concludesas it begins,by focusingon a

murdererpatiently awaiting his execution:the Negro at the beginning,

Popeye at the end" (OT, 302). Faulknerwas, ofcourse, obsessed with

symmetry,an obsessionthat underlies his interestin doublingand twin-

ship,in mirrorimages and shadows.Indeed, there has probablybeen no

writersince Racinewho tried as hardas Faulknerto createsymmetrical

relationshipsof all kindsin his work.

Polk is, then,almost certainly correct in his explanationof Faulkner's

choosingto beginthe originalversion of the novel with the scene ofthe

blackmurderer, but the difficultyis that the symmetryachieved by this

openingisn't exact; forin boththe originaltext and the 1931 published

versionthe last scene inthe novel is notPopeye in jail awaitinghis execu-

tionbut Temple Drake andher father sitting in the Luxembourg Gardens

listeningto a bandconcert while Temple examines her face in a compact

mirror.One can see immediatelywhy Faulkner changed the openingof

the 1931 version,for by beginningthe book withHorace seeinghis re-

flectionin a pool Faulknercreates an exactsymmetry with the final scene

ofTemple looking at herface in a mirror.Moreover, Faulkner is able


extendthis symmetryto includethe next-to-lastscene in the book as

well, our finalglimpse of Popeye. Since whatHorace sees in the pool is

notjust his own reflectionbut the reflectionof Popeye'shat, the pres-

ence ofboth images on themirroring surface codes Horace and Popeye

as mirrorimages of one another,as antitheticaldoubles. Small wonder,

then,that our last glimpseof Popeye is a freezeframe that arrests him

foreverin a momentof ultimate narcissism:

. . .

theyadjusted the rope, draggingit over Popeye's sleek, oiled

head, breakinghis hairloose. His handswere tied, so he beganto jerk

his head, flippinghis hairback each timeit fellforward again ....

"Pssst!" he said,the sound cutting sharp into the drone of the minis-

ter'svoice; "pssst!"The sherifflooked at him;he quitjerking his neck

and stoodrigid, as thoughhe hadan egg balancedon hishead. "Fix my

hair,Jack," he said.

"Sure,"the sheriffsaid. "I'llfix it foryou"; springing the trap.2

Fixingone's hairis an activityusually performed in front of a mirror,and

in effectPopeye, withhis handstied behindhis back, tries to use the

sheriff'sgaze as a mirrorfor a finalself-regarding gesture. But, like the

mirroredand mirroringgaze inNarcissus's pool, this one is fatal.

546 AmericanLiterature

To theextent that our final glimpses of Popeye and Temple emphasize

thenarcissism of each, thetwo are assimilatedin their self-absorption,


resemblancethat evokes the physicallyimpotent Popeye as a feminized

male. Giventhe symmetryof the novel's beginning and end,this assimi-

lationof Popeye and Templeat theclose balancesthat other at the start

whenHorace sees thereflection of himself and Popeye'shat in thepool.

Faulkner'sfriend Phil Stone had certainlytalked enough psychoanalysis

to the authorfor him to knowthat a hat was a commondream symbol

ofgenitalia, either male or female,so thatthis detail serves to reinforce

our sense of Popeye as Horace's antitheticaldouble, as a darkmirror

image whose physicalimpotence reflects Horace's spiritualimpotence.

Of course, the key elementin the Narcissusmyth is thatthe objectof

Narcissus'slove is a "being"(a reflectedimage) with whom he can never

consummatethat love, an objectthat renders him necessarily impotent.

As Horace phrases his conditionto Ruby Lamar, "You see,

. . .

I lack

courage: thatwas leftout ofme. The machineryis all here,but it wont

run" (16). WhatFaulkner's revision of the openingscene of Sanctuary

achieves,then, is a symmetryin the novel'sbeginning and end (need I

say a mirrorsymmetry?) that figuratively

presents the narcissism of the

threemain characters as thebook's central theme.

But narcissismis onlywhat we wouldexpect withHorace Benbow.

Afterall, he has an onlysister named Narcissa, and in the originaltext

ofSanctuary his wifeBelle

says to himbefore they are married,"Dont

talk to me about love

. ..

; you're in love with your sister. What do the

books call it? Whatsort of complex?" (OT, 16), a remarkthat provokes

the followingexchange:


. ..

be complex?" ...

Do youthink that any relationship with her could

"Call it whatyou like," Belle said. "How did she come to let you go

to thewar, even in theY. M.C.A. ?"

"I didthe next best thing,"he said. "I came back."

"Yes," Belle said. "To her.Not to me."

"Isn'tone manat a timeenough for you?" ...

She said: "So youhope one manis enoughfor her too, do you?"He

said nothing. "That is, ifyou're the man, of course ....

Horace, what

are you goingto do whenshe marries?What will you do the nighta

man makes

" He rose quickly ....

"Dontlet thatworry you. You knownothing about virginity. You've

Faulkner'sMyth of Narcissa 547

This mentionof virginityin the contextof a brother'sincestuous at-

tachmentto an onlysister immediately recalls the situationof Quentin

and Candacein TheSound and theFury, and that relationship is explicitly

imagedat one pointin thenovel in termsof the myth of Narcissus when

Candace lies on her back in the streamand Quentinlooks downat his

sisteras ifshe werehis reflection. As Quentinremembers it, "I randown

thehill in thatvacuum of crickets like a breathtravelling across a mirror

she was lyingin the water

. . .

I stood on the bank I could smellthe

honeysuckleon the water."3Like the relationshipbetween Quentin and

Candace,that between Horace and Narcissa, in its associationof the sis-

terwith the brother's reflected image and its consequent feminine coding

ofthat image, suggests Faulkner's predilection for a specialvariant of the

mythof Narcissus, a variantI shallcall themyth of Narcissa. Recall that

in the standardversion of the story in Ovid'sMetamorphoses


is a "prideso cold thatno youth,no maidentouched his heart,"including

thenymph Echo whowastes awayafter Narcissus spurns her.4 After one

of the youthswhom Narcissus has rejectedprays to the gods forretri-

bution,saying "So mayhe himselflove, and notgain the thing he loves"

(1:153), the goddess Nemesisanswers the prayerand bringsNarcissus

to a woodlandspring where in Ovid's words, as Narcissus"seeks to slake

his thirstanother thirst springs up, and whilehe drinkshe is smittenby

thesight of the beautiful form he sees. He lovesan unsubstantial hope and

thinksthat substance which is onlyshadow" (1:153). At firstNarcissus

mistakeshis reflection for another being living below the water's surface,

but eventuallyhe realizesthat it is his own imagehe is in love withand

thathis love is hopeless. Narcissuswastes awayfor love ofhimself, and

his bodyis metamorphosedinto the eponymous flower.

In thisversion of the myth,though Narcissus at firstmistakes his re-

flectionfor another being, once he has recognizedit as his own there

is neverany sense thatthe imageis oppositelygendered from himself.

But in Pausanias's Descriptionof Greecethere is a paragraphdevoted

to the springof Narcissusin Boeotia in whichthe authorgives a brief

commentaryon the myth,focusing specifically on a shiftin the image's


They say thatNarcissus looked into this water, and not understanding

thathe saw his ownreflection, unconsciously fell in love withhimself,

and died oflove at the spring.But it is utterstupidity to imaginethat

a manold enoughto fallin love was incapableof distinguishing

a man

froma man'sreflection. There is anotherstory about Narcissus, less

548 AmericanLiterature

popularindeed than the other, but not without some support.It is said

thatNarcissus had a twinsister; they were exactly alike in appearance,

theirhair was the same, theywore similarclothes, and wenthunting

together.The storygoes on thathe fellin love with his sister, and when

the girldied, would go to thespring, knowing that it was his reflection

he saw, butin spiteof this knowledge finding some relieffor his love

in imaginingthat he saw,not his ownreflection, but the likeness of his


Fora varietyof reasons Pausanias's gloss bears directly on theimagery

of narcissisticdoubling associated with Quentinand Candace in The

Soundand theFury and with Horace and Narcissa in Flags in theDust and

Sanctuary.First of all, Pausanias'sversion clearly links narcissism with

themotif of brother/sister

incest, suggesting that the object choice in in-

cest is based on a narcissisticself-love which projects its own image on to

a beingthat closely resembles it because that being is so closelyrelated to

it. Second, thisversion links the visual repetition of a mirrorimage with

thevisual repetition of twinship. Third, it codes thenarcissistic reflected

image of the male figureas feminine.And finally,it associates the dif-

ferencewhich prevents Narcissus's body from being physically conjoined

withits reflectedimage withthe differencewhich prevents Narcissus

frombeing physically conjoined with his dead twinsister. That is, inasso-

ciatingas barriersto sexual unionthe differencebetween the bodyand

its reflectedimage and the differencebetween the livingand the dead,

thisversion of the mythsuggests that the means to overcomethe latter

differencemay serve as themeans to overcomethe former, indeed, sug-

gests thatNarcissus's actively taking his own lifeas a means of being

unitedwith his dead twinsister is preferableto thatpassive wasting away

fromunconsummated self-love which Narcissus endures in the standard

versionof the myth.

One is immediatelyreminded of the prolepticimage of Quentin's

drowningthat we are givenin TheSound and theFury when he standson

thebridge the morning of his last day,sees his shadowon thewater, and

thinks,"if only I had somethingto blotit into the water, holding it untilit

was drowned ....

Niggerssay a drownedman's shadow was watchingfor

himin the water all thetime. It twinkledand glinted, like breathing" (90).

CertainlyFaulkner means for us to readthis scene, inwhich Quentin de-

scribeshis shadow-imageas ifit were a livingperson he intendsto drown

in the river,in relationto thatother scene whereCandace, lying on her

Faulkner'sMyth of Narcissa 549

back in the water,is evokedas a reflectedimage of her brothergazing

at himselfNarcissus-like in the stream.And it is especiallyclear that

Faulknermeans for us to readthese two scenes inrelation to one another

givenwhat occurs in thelatter once Candaceclimbs out of the water and

lies downon the bank;for Quentin proposes that he killhis sisterwith

his knifeand thenkill himself, the knifeserving as a phallicsubstitute

to unitethe two notin an act ofphysical love butin death,a liebestodin

whichthe two willbe joined forever,because isolatedforever, in their

own privatehell. It is preciselythis scenario of a unionin deathwith his

sister-as-narcissistic-image that Faulkner means for us to see superim-

posed uponthat earlier scene on the bridgewhen Quentin thinks about

drowninghis feminine-codedshadow-image, his narcissistic-image-as-

sister.The structuralrelationship of this scenario to thatvariant of the

Narcissusmyth found in Pausaniasis made even plainerin yet another

scene on a bridgewhen Quentin confronts Candace's lover Dalton Ames,

triesto strikehim, and, as he says, passes out"like a girl"(162). Think-

ingback on thisepisode laterin his narrative,Quentin says, "I knewhe

wasn'tthinking of me at all as a potentialsource of harm but was thinking

ofher when he lookedat

me was lookingat me throughher like through

a piece of coloredglass"

(175), in muchthe same waythat Narcissus in

Pausanias'sversion looks at whathe knowsis hisown reflection but sees

the imageof his dead twinsister through it.

The structuralelements contained in Pausanias'sversion of the myth,

whichI have called the mythof Narcissa,clearly govern the relation-

shipof Quentinand Candace in The Sound and theFury but also thatof

Horace and his sisterin Flags in theDust andSanctuary. We willdiscuss

thatrelationship presently, but first we mustconsider for a momentthe

centralfeature in the myth of Narcissa-the linkingof narcissism and in-

cest, whichis to say,the assimilation of an impossiblesexual union (that

of a bodywith its reflectedimage) to a forbiddensexual union(that of a

brotherwith his sister)and thusthe substitutionwithin the mythof the

latterfor the former. Obviously, the associative link that allows the myth

of Narcissus (in whicha boy fallsin love withhis own image) to turn

intothe mythof Narcissa (in whicha boy,in love withhis twinsister, is

remindedof thatlove afterher deathby his ownreflected image) is the

elementof doubling shared by both mirroring and twinship.Had Narcis-

sus's sisternot been his mirror-imagetwin (even to the pointof cutting

herhair the same and wearingthe same clothes),Pausanias's version of

the storywould make no sense.

550 AmericanLiterature

Giventhat the visual duplication common to mirroringand twinship led

Pausanias to associate narcissismwith incest, one wonderswhether his

insightreflects an evendeeper connection between the two, a connection

rootedin the veryconstitution of the ego. Considerfor a momentthat

stage in the ego's developmentoccurring between the ages of six and

eighteenmonths that Lacan calls "themirror phase." As Laplancheand

Pontalisdescribe it, "Thoughstill in a stateof powerlessness and motor

incoordination,the infantanticipates on an imaginaryplane the appre-

hensionand masteryof its bodily unity. This imaginaryunification comes

aboutby means of identification with the image of the counterpart as total

Gestalt;it is exemplifiedconcretely by the experience in whichthe child

perceivesits ownreflection in a mirror."6Lacan believesthat the mirror

phase in effectconstitutes "the matrix and firstoutline of what is to be-

come the ego" as theinfant "perceives in theimage of its counterpart-

or its ownmirror image-a form(Gestalt) in which it anticipatesa bodily

unitywhich it stillobjectively lacks," that is, as theinfant "identifies with

thisimage. This primordialexperience is basic to the imaginarynature

of the ego,

whichis constitutedright from the startas an 'ideal ego"'

(LP, 251).

Now one has a sense thatinfants between the ages ofsix andeighteen

monthsdon't spend all thatmuch time looking at themselvesin mirrors.

Rather,they spend most of their waking hours with their mothers. Con-

sequently,Lacan says thatthe imagewith which the infantidentifies is

thatof "its counterpart" or ofits ownreflection in a mirror.In fillingthe

role ofthe infant's counterpart at thatage, themother acts as thechild's

livingmirror image. Fromits interactionwith this image of its self,the

childlearns the basic constituentsof all humaninteraction-duplication

(bothvisual and vocal) and reciprocity-indeed,learns the principleon

whichlearning itself is based,mimicry. The infantdiscovers in the mirror

ofthe mother's face that a smilebegets a smile,a laugha laugh,a frown

a frown;it learns that the proper response to a hugis a hug,a kiss a kiss,

and so on. In shortthe child learns from the mother through this process

of mimicry,of visualand vocal doubling,the basic expressiveelements

in the vocabularyof humanemotion. The principlesof duplicationand

reciprocitywould be reinforcedby the child's reflected image in a mirror

up to a point,which is to say,up to thatpoint (remarked on inthe original

mythof Narcissus)when the childtries to make physicalcontact with

his reflection.For thenthe childlearns that though his reflectedimage,

like his mother'sface, can respondwith a smileto a smile,his image,

Faulkner'sMyth of Narcissa 551

unlikehis mother,cannot respond to a hugwith a hug.At some pointthe

childalso noticesa furtherdifference between his reflectedimage and

theimage of the counterpart: the fact that his reflected image is underhis

controlin a way thatthe imageof the counterpartis not,that his image

alwaysreciprocates those gesturesof affection which the childinitiates

whilethe image of the counterpart may or maynot. So thatone theorizes

thatthe child, in seeingthis difference between his mirror image and the

imageof the mother,longs to controlhis mother'sgestures of affection

as completelyas he does thoseof his reflection.

What this suggests,then, is thatsince the motherusually fills the

counterpart'srole by acting as thechild's mirror image during this forma-

tiveperiod of the ego whenthe vocabulary of human emotion is acquired,

themechanism of narcissism is attachedalmost from the beginning to that

mirroringlove of the mother for the child and the child for the mother, that

whatnarcissism means, in effect,is to love yourselfin the waythat you

imaginativelydesired your mother love you. Consequently,narcissism

and an incestuousdesire for the mother are joined at theroot.

But implicitin this linking is anotherlesson that the child must eventu-

allylearn-the lesson ofsubstitution. Just as thedesire to be physically

unitedwith the otheris a centralpart of the mythof Narcissus,so the

childlearns that that desire, which is impossibleto consummatebetween

a bodyand its reflected image, is possiblewith the mother as counterpart

but forbidden.The factof thatsubstitution of a possiblebut forbidden

unionfor an impossibleone pointsto a furthersubstitution of a possible

and unforbiddenunion as the solutionto thisproblem, points to a sub-

stitutewho is not a memberof one's immediatefamily but who either

physicallyresembles the mother or whoselove recallsone's ownnarcis-

sisticimage of the mother'slove forthe child.But thereare, of course,

otherpossibilities within this array of substitutions, possibilities that lie

betweenthe forbidden union of the son with the mother and the unforbid-

den unionof the son withsomeone unrelated, the most obvious of these

beingthe forbidden union of brother and sister.

As I suggestedearlier, this discussion of an originallink between nar-

cissism and an incestuousdesire forthe motherprovides a model for

understandingFaulkner's manipulation of elementsin the mythof Nar-

cissa in creatingthe relationship between Horace Benbowand his sister.

The firstthing to note in thisregard is thatthough Candace and Nar-

cissa are bothdescribed at varioustimes in language that evokes them as

theirbrothers' mirror images, neither Caddy and Quentinnor Narcissa

552 AmericanLiterature

and Horace are actuallytwins. Faulkner does, however,incorporate the

elementof twinshipinto the Horace-Narcissastructure by displacingit

onto Narcissa's choice of a mate, whichis to say thatthough Narcissa

substitutesfor a forbiddenunion with her brothera unionwith some-

one unrelatedto her,she chooses a figurespecifically coded as "a twin

brother"-youngBayard Sartoris. And if that isn't enough of an evocation

ofPausanias's version of the myth, Faulkner makes Bayard a twinwhose

siblingis dead, a survivingtwin obsessed with death as themeans of being

reunitedwith the only person he everloved. As MissJenny tells Narcissa

inFlags in theDust, "Bayardlove anybody, that cold brute?

.. .

He never

careda snap ofhis fingersfor anybody in his lifeexcept Johnny." 7

Faulknerdescribes the relationshipof Bayardand Narcissain details

clearlydrawn from Pausanias's version of the myth.At one point,in a

kindof symbolic foreshadowing of his grandsonBayard's fate, a fateem-

bodiedin the alternationof given names from generation to generation,

old Bayardremembers a scenefrom his youth when he was escapingfrom

a Yankeepatrol through the woods and stoppedto drinkat a woodland

spring:"As he leaned his mouthto it the finallight of day was reflected

ontohis face,bringing into sharp relief forehead and nose above thecav-

ernoussockets of his eyes and thepanting animal snarl of his teeth,and

fromthe stillwater therestared back at himfor a suddenmoment, a

skull"(97). Old Bayardrecalls this scene as he sits in the atticinscrib-

ing in the familyBible the date of youngBayard's twin brother John's

death. Appropriatelyenough, Narcissa first seems to become attracted

to Bayardwhen he is convalescingfrom having almost drowned in the

creek.Narcissa is associatedthroughout Flags in theDust withthe image

of water,as one would expect givenher connectionwith Narcissus's

water-reflectedimage interpreted as thatof his sister.Faulkner says that

withHorace's returnto Narcissaafter the war, "he let himselfslip, as

intowater, into the constantserenity of her affectionagain" (183); and

withHorace back,Narcissa "thought of Bayard, but briefly, and without

anytremor at all. He was nowno morethan the shadow of a hawk'sflight

mirroredfleetingly by the windlesssurface of a pool, and gone; where,

thepool knewand carednot, leaving no stain"(188-89).

Butif Narcissa's union with Bayard is a substitutefor a forbiddenunion

withher brother, then the incestuous attachment of brother and sisteris

itself,as Faulknerimplies, a substitutefor that between son andmother.

ThoughNarcissa is sevenyears younger than Horace, she is represented

throughoutFlags in theDust (andonly to a slightlylesser degreein Sanc-

Faulkner'sMyth of Narcissa 553

tuary)as being a mother-figure for him. WhenMiss Jennychallenges

Narcissa on her motheringof Horace-saying "Whydon't you get mar-

ried, and let thatbaby look afterhimself for a while?"-Narcissa's only

replyis "I promisedmother" (33). And as Faulknermakes clear, Nar-

cissa, afterher mother'sdeath, had filledthe role of mother-figure not

onlyfor Horace butfor Horace's father as well,suggesting that the sister-

brotherattachment is also a substitutefor the incestuousdesire of the

daughterfor the father:"Narcissa acquired two masculinedestinies to

controland shape, and throughthe intensematurity of seven and eight

and nineshe cajoledand threatened and commanded and (veryoccasion-

ally)stormed them into concurrence. And so throughfourteen and fifteen

and sixteen ....

Then WillBenbow's time came,


and thecurrent of

hermaternalism had now but a singlechannel. For a timethis current was

dammedby a stupidmischancing of human affairs, but now Horace was

homeagain and laynow beneath the same roofand the same recurrence

ofdays, and thechannel was undammedagain" (188).

If the mainreason that Faulkner makes young Bayard Sartoris a twin

obsessivelyattached to his dead siblingis to code Narcissa'schoice of a

mate as a narcissisticbrother, then it seems equallyclear thatthe prin-

cipal reason forHorace's involvementwith Belle Mitchell'ssister Joan

Heppletonin Flags in theDust is to providea roughlyparallel situation

in whichHorace's choiceof a mateis coded as a sister.Recall that when

Belle is in Reno gettingher divorce from Harry Mitchell, Horace meets

and has a briefaffair with Joan. As ifto underlineby antithesisthe par-

allel betweenNarcissa's marryinga twinbrother and Horace's having

an affairwith his futurewife's sister, Joan says, in responseto Horace's

remarkon theirfirst meeting that he shouldhave known she was Belle's

sister,"How? Nobodyyet ever said we look alike. And you neversaw

me before"(343). The implicationis thatjust as Narcissahas chosena

husbandwho looks exactlylike his dead brother,Horace has

chosen a

wifewho resembles her sister not in physical appearance but in character

and instinct;for what Horace learnsabout Joan Heppleton during their

briefaffair is thatshe is a womanof predatory sexuality and unparalleled

commonness.In short,he learnsthe truth of what Narcissa in a mixture

ofrage and despairhad said to Miss Jennyabout Joan's sister Belle, "But

thatwoman ....

She's so dirty!"

On the one occasionwhen Joan stays all nightat Horace's, she prowls

aboutthe house lookinginto dark rooms, at

to Narcissa's bedroomand

askingwhose it

one pointopening the door

is. WhenHorace tells her,

554 AmericanLiterature

Joanreplies, "

'Oh, yoursister's. The one thatmarried that Sartoris.' She

examinedthe roomquietly. 'I'd liketo haveknown that man,' she said in

a musingtone. 'I thinkI'd be good forhim


Yes, I'd have been just

thething for him"' (347-48). Uneasyabout this intrusion into his sister's

privacy,Horace repeatedlyasks Joanto come away,and the scene ends

withher inquiringtauntingly whether Horace feelsthat her presencein

his sister'sbedroom is a "sacrilege"and a "desecration."That, of course,

is preciselywhat he feels. Faulknersays thatthe nextday Horace ex-

perienced"revulsion" over the incident: "he thoughtof his sisterand he

feltunclean" (348).

Clearly,the whole pointof the scene in

Narcissa'sbedroom lies in

Joan'sremark that she wouldhave "been just the thing for" young Bayard

Sartoris,an identificationofJoan and Bayardimplying that the position

withinthis structure of substitutions that is filledby the Sartoris brothers

in relationto Horace's sisteris filledby the sisters Belle andJoan in rela-

tionto Narcissa's brother.The onlyasymmetry in these relationships

beingthat while in the firstgroup it is Bayardwho is marriedto Nar-

cissa butin love withhis brother, in thesecond group it is Horace whois

marriedto Belle buthas madelove to hersister.

The scene withJoan and Horace in Narcissa'sbedroom is also


to remindus of anotherscene earlierin the novelwhen young Bayard,

returnedhome after the war, sits

quietlyin theroom which he andJohn had sharedin theyoung mascu-

line violenceof their twinship, on the bed wherehe and his wifehad

lainthe last night of his leave, the night before he wentback to England

and thenceout to theFront again, where John already was. Beside him

on the pillowthe wildbronze flame of her hair was hushednow in the

darkness ....

But he was not thinkingof her

then. . . .

He was thinkingof his

brotherwhom he had notseen in overa year,thinking that in a month

theywould see one anotheragain.

Nor was he thinkingof her

now. . . .

brother ....


He was thinkingof his dead

In the scene withHorace andJoan, a brotheris in his sister'sbedroom

witha womanto whomhe willmake love laterthat night (though almost

certainlynot in that room) and yet all he can thinkof is hissister's reaction

to thisaffair, while in the scene whichBayard remembers, a brotheris

in bed withhis firstwife (Narcissa's predecessor) in the roomwhich he

Faulkner'sMyth of Narcissa 555

and his twinhad sharedgrowing up and all he can thinkof is rejoining

his brother.Just to make sure thatwe don'tmiss the parallelbetween

these two scenes, Faulknergives Bayard'sfirst wife the same striking

physicalfeature that he givesJoan Heppleton and describesthat feature

withexactly the same phrasein each case-"the wildbronze flame of

herhair" (48, 406). Indeed,the phrase evokes a sculpturalquality in the

femaleform that, when combined with the colorbronze, may be meant

to remindus ofthat "almost perfect vase ofclear amber"which Horace

had fashioned,a vase "chastelyserene" whichhe "keptalways on his

nighttable and called by his sister'sname in the intervalsof apostro-

phisingboth of themimpartially in his momentsof rhapsodyover the

realizationof the meaning of peace andthe unblemished attainment of it,

as Thou stillunravished bride of quietude" (190-91).

In structurallycoding Narcissa's mate as a narcissisticbrother and

Horace's mateas a sister,Faulkner never for a momentimplies that there

is any actualresemblance between Bayard and Horace on the one hand

or betweenBelle andNarcissa on theother. Indeed, on severaloccasions

inFlags in theDust Narcissacompares the Sartoris twins to herbrother

muchto thetwins' detriment, leading her at one point"to thankher gods

he was not as they"(77). And,of course, one of the ongoingtopics of

conversationbetween Horace and Narcissain Flags in theDust is how

differentBelle is

fromNarcissa, how much she representsin character,

appearance,and conducteverything that Narcissa is not. It is as ifthe

structuralcoding were a kindof template superimposed on Horace's and

Narcissa'srelationships to revealthe incestuous desire for the opposite-

sex siblingthat represents their ideal of an object-choicebut that seems

to operatein reversein theactual choice of a mate. Eitherbecause they

despair of findingsomeone who resemblesthe belovedbrother or sis-

ter, or because

theydon't want to findsomeone who resemblesthem

too closelyand thuscompetes with them, or simplyin reactionto the

forbiddennessof their idealized object-choices, they choose a matewho,

whilebearing a structuralresemblance to the sibling,bears virtuallyno

resemblancein termsof personality.

Whichbrings us to the nextlink in thischain of substitutions.If, as

we have suggested,the child'sdesire foran impossibleunion with its

ownimage is linkedto theforbidden incestuous desire for the mother-as-

mirror-imageduring the stage ofego formation,and ifthe onlyslightly

less forbiddendesire for union with the opposite-sexsibling is a substi-

tute formationfor this, then we wouldexpect to find,as the chainof

556 AmericanLiterature

substitutionsprogresses, that a parent'sattachment to an opposite-sex

childsubstitutes for that parent's incestuous desire for its opposite-sex

sibling.Something very much like that is whathappens with Horace and

Narcissa. On theday that young Bayard is killedin a planecrash, his and

Narcissa'sson is born,a son thatMiss Jenny had decided should be called

John.But whenit comes time to namethe boy, Narcissa rejects the name

John(and presumablyall the Sartorisdoom evoked by the name's alter-

nationover the generations with that of Bayard) and gives him her family

nameinstead, calling him Benbow. More interestingstill is thenickname

whichNarcissa chooses. One wouldexpect a childnamed Benbow to

have as his affectionatediminutive either Ben or Bo, but in Sanctuary

Narcissacalls herson Bory.I wouldargue that as Narcissatook her son's

givenname fromher family,so she also tookthe formof his nickname

fromthe same quarter;that is to say, the reason Narcissa'snickname

forher son in Sanctuaryis Bory is thather nicknamefor her brother

throughoutFlags in theDust is Horry.What this rhyming suggests is that

in givingher son her own familyname Narcissawas, unconsciouslyor

not,naming him after her brother, an intentionthat becomes even plainer

in her choice of a diminutive.Indeed, in Faulknerthe figureof Echo


figureof aural doubling) haunts the myth of Narcissa just as surelyas


Ovid she hauntsthe myth of Narcissus, a mythof visual doubling.

This namingof the son afterthe brother is onlywhat we wouldexpect

givenwhat happens with that other, earlier brother-sister

pair who share

thissame structureof incestuous desire for a sibling,for Caddy names

herdaughter after her dead brotherQuentin, just as Miss Jennyhad sug-

gestedthat Narcissa name her son afterher husband's dead brotherJohn.

No doubt,Caddy had meantto memorializeher brother by thisnaming,

to bringhim back to lifein a sense throughhis namesake child. Certainly

her brotherwould have been dearerto her thanthe child'sfather (par-

ticularlysince Caddysays she doesn'tknow who the fatheris, though

readers generallyassume it is DaltonAmes). But it is no distortionof

the textto suggest,given how clear a sense Faulknerconveys of the in-

cestuousattachment between Quentin and Caddy, that part of the reason

forCaddy's namingher daughterafter her brotheris as an expression

ofher own desirefor Quentin to havebeen herchild's father-or at the

veryleast to give the impressionthat Quentin was its fatherand thus,

by a simpleact ofnaming, to accomplishthat incestuous deed whichher

brotherhad contemplatedbut been unableto achieve,a deed that,as

Faulkner'sMyth of Narcissa 557

Quentinimagined it, wouldhave leftthem forever damned in theirown

privatehell but forever wed intheir isolation. I wouldsuggest that a simi-

lar dynamicgoverns Narcissa's echoic naming of her son, thenickname

servingas an unconsciousexpression of Narcissa's desire to have a child

by her brother.Indeed, Bory immediatelybecomes the object of that

same overpowering"current of maternalism" of which his uncle had been

the sole objectuntil then, so muchso thatby the time of the 1933 story

"ThereWas a Queen" Narcissahas herten-year-old son sit in the creek

withher as she symbolicallypurifies herself for spending the nightin

Memphiswith the Federal agent, then has Borysit next to herat dinner

thatevening because, as she says, "I got so lonesomefor you last night

in Memphis,"8and finishesby makinghim promise that they will never

leave each otheragain. Clearly,this is a queen who means to turnher

son intothe kindof lifelong consort she hadhoped her brother would be;

andjust as clearly,the scene in whichmother and son sit fullyclothed in

the creekis meantto recallthe scene ofQuentin and Caddyat thecreek

in TheSound and theFury.

Justas Faulknerbalanced the coding of Narcissa's choice of a mateas

a "narcissisticbrother" against the episode of Horace's involvement with

JoanHeppleton and the resultantcoding of Horace's futurewife as "a

sister,"so he balancesthis subsequent link in the chainof substitutions

by drawinga parallelbetween Narcissa's relationship with her son Bory

and Horace's relationshipwith his stepdaughterLittle Belle. Indeed, it

is thislatter relationship that in some sense formsthe hiddencenter of

Horace's characterin Sanctuary.Faulkner alerts us to thisearly on in

thenarrative when he has Horace,after being captured by Popeye at the

springand broughtto Lee Goodwin's,describe an incidentthat had oc-

curredjust beforehe lefthome, describe it to the listeningRuby Lamar

in imagerywhose psychologicalimport we recognize.Horace beginsby

tellingRuby about the grape arborand hammockthat he sees fromhis

windowat home,remarking that "we knownature is a she; because of

thatconspiracy between female flesh and female season" (13). In hisram-

blingmonologue Horace associates the grapeblossoms with the image

ofhis stepdaughterblossoming into womanhood and thememory of her

trystswith young men in the arborhammock: "in a littlewhite dress in

the twilight,the twoof them all demureand quitealert and a littleimpa-

tient.And I couldn'thave felt any more foreign to herflesh if I had begot

it myself"(13). On theday of the incident in question,Horace and Little

558 AmericanLiterature

Belle are homealone. Horace scoldsher for picking up a collegeboy on

the trainand bringinghim to thehouse, and LittleBelle retorts,"You're

a fineone to talkabout finding things on thetrain!



"Thenshe was saying'No! No!' andme holdingher and she clinging

to me. 'I didn'tmean that!Horace! Horace!' And I was smellingthe

slain flowersthe delicatedead flowersand tears, and thenI saw her

facein themirror. There was a mirrorbehind her and anotherbehind

me, and she was watchingherself in the one behindme, forgetting

aboutthe other one inwhich I couldsee herface, see herwatching the

backof my head withpure dissimulation." (14-15)

Justas Horace's narcissismis evokedin thenovel's opening scene when

he sees his reflectionin the springand Temple'semblematized at the

novel's close as she sits in the parklooking at her face in a compact

mirror,so LittleBelle's place in thisstructure of proliferatingnarcis-

sismis figuredin a scene whereshe andHorace embrace between facing


The openingscene in the novelalso evokes Popeye as Horace's dis-

tortedmirror image, and as criticshave noted, it is preciselythe parallel

betweenHorace and Popeyethat forms the book's core. The revelation

thatbegins when Horace embracesLittle Belle betweenthe facing mir-

rors, a revelationthat causes

himto run away fromhome, continues

throughthe rest of the novel as

Horacesees, as ifthrough a glass darkly,

thatwhat the physically impotent Popeye does to Templewith a corncob

is an imageof whatthe spirituallyimpotent Horace wouldlike to do to

his stepdaughter.This dynamicof proliferating

narcissism, this double-

mirrorstructure in

whichone pair of narcissists(Popeye and Temple)

mirroranother pair of narcissists (Horace and LittleBelle) is onlywhat

we wouldexpect within that larger structure in which incest mirrors nar-

cissism,in which the desire for an impossibleunion with one's ownimage

is reflectedinto the son's desirefor a forbiddenunion with the mother-


and thenreflected in turn into the brother's incestuous

desire forthe sister,and finallymirrored by the stepfather'sdesire for

the stepdaughter.

Faulknermakes clear the nature of Horace's feelings for Little Belle ina

subsequentscene inwhich Horace is preparingto takethe train to Oxford

to look forTemple. On the bureauin his roomare Horace's "watch,his

pipe and tobaccopouch, and, proppedagainst a book, a photographof

his step-daughter,Little Belle. Upon the glazed surfacea highlightlay"

Faulkner'sMyth of Narcissa 559

(162). As Horace standslooking at "thesweet, inscrutable face



the dead cardboard,"he thinksof "the grape arbor at Kinston,of

. ..


murmurof voices darkeninginto silence as he approached,who meant

them,her, no harm;who meant her less thanharm, good God; darkening

intothe pale whisperof her white dress, of the delicate and urgent mam-

malianwhisper of that curious small flesh which he hadnot begot" (162).

He movessuddenly, and "as ofits own accord the photograph" shifts, "the

image"blurring "into its highlight,like something familiar seen beneath

disturbedthough clear water; he lookedat thefamiliar image with a kind

ofquiet horror and despair,at a facesuddenly older in sin thanhe would

ever be" (162-63). Horace gets readyto leave forthe train,"putting

his watchand his tobaccopouch into his pocket,"and it is onlywhen he

reaches the stationthat he realizesthat "he had forgothis pipe" (163),

thatit is stilllying on thebureau next to thephotograph of Little Belle.


can be fairlysure thatFaulkner knew the psychoanalyticsignifi-


ofstandard dream symbols, such as Popeye'shat and in thiscase

Horace's pipe, the pipe beingidentified in TheInterpretation


as a commonsymbol of the male genitals.What is remarkableabout this

scene, then,is not how explicitlyFaulkner symbolizes Horace's inces-

tuous desirefor Little Belle throughthe businessof the pipe lefton the

bureauwith the picture, nor how clearly he linksthis incestuous desire to

narcissismby showing that it is arousedspecifically by a lifelessimage out

of "dead cardboard,"an imagethat seems to be immersedin "disturbed

thoughclear water,"but rather how exactly this scene recapitulatesthe

structureof the one in whichQuentin stands above Caddylying on her

back in the branchas ifshe were his reflectedimage and then,holding

his knifeto her throat,offers to join themboth forever in deathonly to

drophis knifeand lose it whenCaddy says "yes push it" (152). As the

lost phallicknife figures Quentin's psychic impotence, so the forgotten

pipe figuresHorace's. Andjust so thatthere will be no mistakingthat

Horace's pipe is a phallicsymbol and that his spiritualimpotence mirrors

Popeye'sphysical impotence, Faulkner tells us thatduring his unsuccess-

fulsearch forTemple in OxfordHorace boughthimself another pipe, a

corncobpipe: "He returnedto the stationan hourbefore the trainwas

due, a filledbut unlightedcob pipe in his hand.In the lavatoryhe saw,

scrawledon thefoul, stained wall, her pencilled name. Temple Drake. He

read it quietly,his head bent,slowly fingering the unlighted pipe" (168).

This scene in the lavatory,with Horace lookingat Temple'sname and

fingeringhis pipe, prefiguresa laterscene in a lavatorywhen Horace,

560 AmericanLiterature

havingreturned to Jeffersonafter finding Temple at Miss Reba's, looks

againat LittleBelle's photographand findsthat "the small face seemed

to swoon in a voluptuous languor,

. . .

leaving upon his eye a soft and

fadingaftermath of invitation and voluptuous promise and secretaffirma-

tion"(215-16). SuddenlyHorace becomes ill and rushes to thebathroom:

he "plungedforward and struckthe lavatory and leanedupon his braced

arms whilethe shucksset up a terrificroar beneath her thighs"(216).

As the imageof Temple lying on the cornshucks merges with Horace's

feelingsfor Little Belle, Horace's vomitingbecomes a kindof perverse

ejaculation,expressing at once his forbiddendesire and his revulsionat


Horace's last encounterwith Little Belle in thenovel bears the subtle

but unmistakableimprint of the mythof Narcissa. AfterLee Goodwin

has been lynched,Horace returnsto his wifein Kinstonand findsthat

LittleBelle is away at a house party.Horace phonesher longdistance

and while he waits forthe connectionto be made (in effect,waits for

the local operatorto insertthe male pluginto the femalesocket of the

switchboard),he keeps repeating"something out ofa book he hadread:

'Less oftis peace. Less oftis peace"' (293). The lineis fromthe ending

ofShelley's poem "To Jane:The Recollection."In 1821 Shelleymet Jane

Williamsin Pisa. She had been

married,but her husbandhad lefther

and she was now livingabroad with Edward Ellerker Williams and their

twochildren. The Shelleysand the Williamses were much in each others'

company,and Jane seemed to Shelley"a sortof spirit of embodied peace

in our circle of tempests."9Indeed at one pointShelley and JaneWil-

liamsseem to havebecome amorously involved. The poemmemorializes

a day the two spentin the Pine Forestnear Pisa, a dayof such sublime

calmthat it becomesin thepoem an objectivecorrelative for that "spirit

of embodiedpeace" thatis Jane.No doubtHorace Benbow'sattraction

to the poem stems fromthe Narcissus-likeimagery of its fifthsection.

Shelleysays thatso calmwere the winds that day that the surfaces of the

forestpools were unruffledmirrors reflecting the sky and treesand, one

assumes, reflectingas wellthe images of the poet and the woman who is

the subjectof this "recollection." He concludes,

Sweet views whichin ourworld above

Can neverwell be seen,

Wereimaged by the water's love

Ofthat fair forest green.

Faulkner'sMyth of Narcissa 561

Andall was interfusedbeneath

Withan Elysianglow,

An atmospherewithout a breath,

A softerday below.

Like one belovedthe scene had lent

To the darkwater's breast,

Its everyleaf and lineament

Withmore than truth expressed;

Untilan enviouswind crept by,

Like an unwelcomethought,

Whichfrom the mind's too faithful eye

Blots one dear imageout.

Thoughthou art ever fairand kind,

The forestsever green,

Less oftis peace in Shelley'smind,

Than calmin waters,seen.10

As thewoodland pool mirrors the beloved's face, so themirroring pool of

Shelley'smind reflects the image of that peaceful day when he saw Jane's

reflectionin the water,and rareas such calmdays are, rarerstill is the

womanwho could create for a daysuch peace inShelley's restless spirit.

Now if this poem meantsomething to Horace, as his remembering

the line "Less oftis peace" wouldsuggest, it was undoubtedlybecause

Shelley'smemorializing of a womanwho seemed a "spiritof embodied

peace" remindedHorace of his sister, whose tranquil nature is thesubject

offrequent comment in Flags in theDust, a qualitythat causes herbrother

to addressher as "O Serene" (187) on severaloccasions and to apostro-

phizethe vase whichhe callsby his sister's name as "Thoustill unravished

brideof quietude" (191). Faulknerprobably also meantfor us to register

the resemblancebetween Horace's situationand Shelley's,for Shelley

was obsessed witha belovedsister (Elizabeth) and was rumoredto have

had a sexual relationshipwith his wifeMary's half-sister, Claire Clair-

mont,a situationthat evoked Southey's famous remark about a "leagueof

incest."(Southey's remark also alludedto thefact that Byron had fathered

an illegitimatechild by Clairmontand was rumoredto have had an affair

withShelley's wife Mary, and thatByron had hintedwidely about an in-

cestuousaffair with his half-sisterAugusta. If Faulkner does meanfor us

to compareHorace's situation[in love withhis sisterand havingmade

love to his wifeand hersister] to Shelley's,then we can see why,in that

562 AmericanLiterature

incidentfrom Flags in theDust evokingNarcissa's own repressed sexual

nature[her keeping the obscene letters sent by an anonymousadmirer],

Faulknerchose to makethe author of those letters Byron Snopes.)

That Horace quotes the line "Less oftis peace" whilewaiting to say

goodnightto LittleBelle on thephone makes clear the substitutive nature

ofhis desire forhis stepdaughter:her purelystructural resemblance to

Narcissa(i.e., herstatus as an incestuouslyforbidden object-choice, even

thoughLittle Belle is onlyrelated to Horace bymarriage) unconsciously

fuelsHorace's desire.As withHorace's choice of a mate,Little Belle is,

in termsof personality, the antithesis of Narcissa.

The line "Less oftis peace" is one of severallinks between Horace

Benbowand thethird avatar of the character-structure we havebeen ex-

amining,Gavin Stevens-a linethat Gavin quotes in the novella "Knight's

Gambit."The main difference,of course, betweenGavin and the two

earliercharacters is thatwhile Quentin's and Horace's special relation-

ship withan onlysister is boththe majorevent in theirpersonal lives

and the centralaction in each oftheir stories, Gavin's relationship with

his onlysister, though it maybe the majorevent in his personallife, is

clearlynot the most important event in his story.Whatever Gavin's feel-

ingsare forhis sisterMargaret, they are neverpresented as theprincipal

aspect ofhis character,as beingas intensely,incestuously tragic as the

feelingsof Quentinand Horace are fortheir sisters; for Gavin seems to

makehis waythrough a structureof substitutions to achieve,late in life,

somethinglike success inhis eventual choice of a mate.However, though

Gavinis able to preventhis personallife from being overwhelmed by his

relationshipwith his sister, we can stillsee tracesof the myth of Narcissa

in his story.From whatwe have seen of thisstructure in the charac-

ters ofQuentin and Horace, we knowwhy, for instance, Faulkner gives

Gavinnot just an onlysister but a twinsister, why Gavin lives most of his

adultlife with his sister'sfamily, why the most significant relationships in

his lifeare his love foranother man's wife (Eula VarnerSnopes) and his

lovefor her daughter (Linda Snopes), and why, though Margaret Mallison

doesn'tname her son afterher brother,Gavin serves as a father-figure

forChick in all the storiesin whichthey appear, reducing the character

ofCharles Mallison Sr. to a cipher.

Of the severallinks between the characters of Gavin and Horace, the

one mostrelevant to our concerns,as well as the one mostclearly dis-

tinguishingtheir characters from Quentin Compson's, is thatboth men

marryand, more significantly,

that both choose, structurallyspeaking,

Faulkner'sMyth of Narcissa 563

thesame kindof mate. They marry women who have been married before

andmust face that fact on a dailybasis because each oftheir wives comes

to her secondmarriage with children from the first-Belle Mitchellwith

LittleBelle and MelisandreBackus Harrisswith her son

Max and her

daughterMiss Harriss.It is significant,

then, that the line of poetry which

Horace Benbowquotes while waiting to say goodnightto LittleBelle on

thephone ("Less oftis peace") is thesame linequoted by Gavin Stevens

in "Knight'sGambit" when he happensto meethis childhoodsweetheart

Melisandreafter a separationof manyyears. Gavincongratulates her

on whathe assumes is herimpending marriage to theArgentine fortune

hunterCaptain Gualdres, and Faulknerdescribes the blushthat spread

across her face at thisremark in imageryreminiscent of the fifthsec-

tionof Shelley's "To Jane:The Recollection."As she looksat Gavin,the

blushcovers her face "as the movingshadow of a cloudcrosses a patch

of light.Then it even crossed her eyes too, as when once the cloud-

shadowreaches the water, you can not only see

theshadow, you can even

see the cloud too." 11 As the woodlandpools in Shelley'spoem reflect

the skywhose tranquilityis a figureof that "spirit of embodied peace,"

JaneWilliams, so Melisandre'seyes are imagedas twowatery pools that

reflectthe cloud lyingover the relationshipbetween her and Gavin. In

some sense, ofcourse, the principal mystery solved in "Knight's Gambit"

concernsthis relationship.

Whatthe readerlearns over the course of the storyis thatMelisan-

dre,who was a close childhoodfriend of Gavin's twin sister, was secretly

engaged to Gavin when she was sixteen. Gavinleft to studyat Hei-

delberg;there was a misunderstanding,

and Melisandrebroke off the

engagement.She marrieda strangernamed Harriss, had two children,

and afterthe bootleggerHarriss's death she returnedto Jeffersonas

the wealthiestwidow in the county.Gavin enacts duringthe course of

the storya kindof displaced Oedipal scenario in whichhe mustprevent

Melisandre'sson frommurdering his would-bestepfather Captain Gual-

dres in orderto demonstratehis paternal authority over the young man,

and notjust that,but have Max Harrissaccept thatauthority, thereby

acknowledgingGavin's fitnessto become his stepfatherby marrying


We mightnote in passingthat the emotionalcenter of the storyfor

Faulkneras he was writingit, thepoint of empathy that gave hima firm

grip on the characters'feelings and motivations,was undoubtedlythe

relationshipof the prospectivestepfather and stepson,Gavin and Max.

564 AmericanLiterature

Like Gavin,Faulkner had lost his childhoodsweetheart Estelle Oldham

to anotherman (CornellFranklin), and when she returnedsome ten

yearslater as a divorcedwoman with two children (Victoria and Malcolm

Franklin)Faulkner won her back. Moreover,Faulkner had a favorite

and devotednephew, Jimmy Faulkner, who, like Chick Mallison, saw air

combatin WorldWar II. This is not to suggestthat in "Knight'sGam-

bit"Faulkner was simplywriting veiled autobiography, but rather that in

imaginingthe emotionsof a stepfathertrying to establishhis authority

over a stepsonand usingthe factof an adoringnephew's willing accep-

tanceof that authority as a leverto bringthis about, Faulkner clearly had

analoguesin his ownlife to drawon. Like Gavin,Faulkner knew that the

successfulwinning back of the childhood sweetheart depended to a large

extenton his relationshipwith her children.

Whatthe story accomplishes, then, is thecoding of Gavin's choice of a

wifeas a childhoodsweetheart who is thewife of another man (as made

evidentby the existenceof that other man's children), a sweetheartwho

mustbe re-wonafter the other man's death. But thendoesn't every boy

have a childhoodsweetheart who is marriedto anotherman, a factmade

evidentby the boy's very existence, and doesn't the boy fantasize that his

sweetheartloves himmore than she does the otherman, indeed, loves

himmore because in some odd way she lovedhim before she lovedthe

other?At least that'sthe way Chick Mallison phrases it in The Town.He

remembersasking his motherwhen he was twelvewhat the relationship

was betweenEula Snopes and Manfredde Spain,and his mothertelling

himto ask hisUncle Gavin. He says hismother couldn't tell him that Eula

and Manfredwere doing the same thingin bed thatshe andhis father had

done whenhe was conceived,couldn't tell him because he was herchild

and because a childwouldn't believe it: "Because to the child,he was

notcreated by his mother'sand his father'spassion or capacityfor it. He

couldn'thave been because he was therefirst, he came first,before the

passion;he createdthe passion,not only it butthe man and the woman

who served it; his fatheris nothis fatherbut his son-in-law,his mother

nothis motherbut his daughter-in-lawifhe is a girl." 13 Chickthinks that

his motherdidn't tell him because, as he says, she had to guardhis and

his uncle's innocenceboth, "since maybeshe was my motherbut she

was Uncle Gavin'stwin and ifa boyor a girlreally is his father'sand her

mother'sfather-in-law or mother-in-law, which would make the girlher

brother'smother no matterhow much younger she was, thena girlwith

just one brotherand hima twinat that,would maybe be his wifeand

mothertoo" (305).

Faulkner'sMyth of Narcissa 565

That a man's twinsister "would maybe be his wifeand mothertoo"

sumsup themyth of Narcissa about as succinctlyas it can be put,unless

one were to add "andmaybe his daughteras well."The codingof Gavin's

mate as a childhoodsweetheart formerly married to anotherman with

whomshe has had a childpresents Melisandre, in structuralterms, as

a figureof Gavin'smother. But whatdistinguishes Gavin's object choice

ofa previouslymarried woman with children from Horace's-or forthat

matter,distinguishes it fromwhat Gavin's choice would have been ifhe

had been able to convinceEula to take her daughterLinda, leave her

husbandFlem Snopes and herlover Manfred de Spain,and marry him-

is thatGavin's choice of Melisandre is clearlyone thathas the complete

approvalof Gavin'ssister, the kindof approvalthat Horace never had