As I Lay Dying

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William Faulkner. As I Lay Dying. New York: Jonathan Cape and Harrison Smith, 1930.

Faulkner said in his "Introduction" to the 1932 Modern Library publication of Sanctuary that ". . . I wrote As I Lay Dying in six weeks, without changing a word." Later he said he could do this because he knew from the first how the catastrophes of flood and fire would affect the Bundren family. He had written some of the tale in the short stories of "Father Abraham" and "Elmer," and his themes of evil and the folly of men were similar to those he had probed before. The holograph manuscript also reveals an ease in creation unlike his other novels: fewer canceled passages, marginal inserts, and paste-ins. The title page is dated October 25, 1929, and by January 12, 1930, the typescript was ready to mail to publisher Harrison Smith.

William Faulkner. As I Lay Dying. [Harmondsworth, England]: Penguin Books, 1963.

The cover of this edition is particularly effective in summarizing both plot and character. Addie Bundren has died and her family is carting her coffin to Jefferson to be buried with her people. The macabre funeral journey faces natural catastrophes of flood and fire as well as an intense family struggle. Her husband (Anse) and her children (Cash, Darl, Jewel, Dewey Dell, and Vardaman) all have their own agendas as they travel toward the burial. Cash makes the coffin and carries his tools with him; Jewel's treasured horse serves several symbolic functions in the story; and they travel, coffin and all, in a wagon drawn by a team of mules.

William Faulkner. As I Lay Dying: The Corrected Text. New York: Vintage Books, 1987.

The publisher, Harrison Smith, received Faulkner's typescript for As I Lay Dying in January 1930 and published it with very few editorial changes on October 6, 1930. That text remained the same through various reprints until 1964 when Random House brought out a new edition that was corrected in accordance with the original manuscript and typescript. For the "corrected text" shown here, scholar Noel Polk used Faulkner's own ribbon typescript setting copy, corrected to account for his revisions in proof, his typing errors, and other clear inconsistencies and mistakes.

Although Smith did not hesitate to publish this novel, the critical reception was just as varied as it had been with earlier Faulkner novels. The fifteen streams of consciousness and the fifty-nine monologues again proved too complicated for some, one critic calling it "a psychological jig-saw puzzle." And even though the plot is not difficult to follow, the Bundrens were simply too strange for some Eastern reviewers to comprehend. The initial printing of 2,522 copies was quite enough for the novel's limited sales.

Special Collections Library
The University of Michigan
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Last Modified: August 1998