Faulkner and Love: The Women Who Shaped His Art by Judith L Sensibar - review by Richard Gray

Richard Gray

The Maternal Imaginary

Faulkner and Love: The Women Who Shaped His Art


Yale University Press 624pp £25 order from our bookshop

‘Every word a writing man writes’, observes one of William Faulkner’s characters, ‘is put down with the intention of impressing some woman.’ Faulkner thought so too. Women occupied the centre of his life and imagination, and this book is an attempt to register the centrality of three women in particular: his mother Maud Butler Falkner, his black ‘mother’ Caroline Barr, and his wife Estelle Oldham Faulkner. It is, its author explains, an ‘account of the origins, growth, and fruition of Faulkner’s creativity in a racialized maternal imaginary’.

That explanation is, unfortunately, typical; the promising topic of Faulkner and love is frequently buried under the weight of theoretical jargon. There are other problems. Judith Sensibar claims, for instance, that her approach is groundbreaking. Previous Faulkner biographies, she suggests, have underestimated the importance of women in his

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