The Late Novels of James and FaulknerUniversity of Pennsylvania Press Anniversary Collection Anniversary Collection
American Designs addresses three major literary critical issues: the hermeneutics of the novel genre; the intense importance of this genre for American literature; and the way James and Faulkner; by writing within hermeneutic traditions of the modern American novel, explore further than any other writers the particular functions of the novelistic designs they inherited and transformed.
Jeanne Campbell Reesman contends that in the late fiction of James and Faulkner the search for knowledge of the self and others is presented as a metafictive issue of power, authority, and freedom. While their own interests lead characters in the novels to enact designs on other characters, the novels themselves undermine the validity of any single, imposed design. American writers, Reesman argues, develop narrative structures that fail to close. Theirs is an open-ended search for American identity. Structures remain unfinished or unresolved or "disunified" in order to allow human beings a certain freedom from closed design, and they do this out of a dual reaction against both Old World tradition and New World Puritanism.
Reesman probes the relationship between narrative design and "the problem of knowledge" in American literature in her resonant readings the The Ambassadors, Absalom, Absalom!, The Golden Bowl, and Go Down, Moses. James and Faulkner, of course, never knew each other, but in this first book-length comparison of these major authors, Reesman convinces her reader that they would have had a great deal to say to each other.
American Designs will be of interest to scholars and students of American literature.
"A keen nuanced feeling for the complexities of James's and Faulkner's novels . . . [providing] many stimulating insights into the general issue of narrative form. . . . A valuable book that contributes importantly to our knowledge of James and Faulkner. . . . Shrewd, specific analysis. . . . Readers will greatly benefit from it."—William E. Cain