The Hamlet (1940), the first novel in William Faulkner’s Snopes trilogy, tells the story of Flem Snopes’ rise to relative power and influence in Frenchman’s Bend. Yoknapatawpha County is the iconic backdrop to this slow burn of a novel, one that sets the stage for future books and stories to be written about the Snopes clan. The novel is narrated by V.K. Ratliff, creating a center to which the reader can always come back to when Faulkner’s rambling excursions stray too far from the path.
As you’ve probably noticed from my incessant discussion of Faulkner’s works on this blog, I am an avid Faulkner-file. There isn’t a specific order that I’ve read his works in, so over winter break I decided to read The Hamlet because it was one of the only books I hadn’t read yet in the Faulkner section of my local library. This novel has everything that I love about Faulkner– rambling prose, layered stories, a sprawling cast of characters, and rather haphazard plot points that somehow all make sense when put together. The Hamlet is divided into four sections, each one focusing on different characters but somehow still connecting back to Flem Snopes.
Faulkner certainly doesn’t shy away from unsettling and rather disturbing topics, particularly in this novel. One section focuses primarily on the sexual objectification of Eula Varner, a young teenage girl (around eleven to fourteen years old for much of this section) whose teacher tries to assault her. There is also domestic violence, murder, and even bestiality when Ike Snopes pursues a cow. These sections are not enjoyable to read, but they do say a lot about how Faulkner viewed the South at the time. It’s certainly not a place that I would have wanted to live in.
One of my favorite things about reading Faulkner novels is noticing how they all intertwine. For instance, one section of this novel was originally published as the short story “Spotted Horses” in 1931, which I had read over the summer as part of The Portable Faulkner, edited by Malcolm Cowley. Those horses are also mentioned as belonging to the Snopes family in Faulkner’s 1930 novel As I Lay Dying when Anne Bundren tries to trade for mules. While reading through Faulkner’s works one quickly realizes that they are an interconnected web of characters, places, and events.
Overall, The Hamlet is certainly not my favorite Faulkner novel but it was still enjoyable nonetheless. This novel isn’t something I’d necessarily recommend to someone who has never read Faulkner before, but it’s well worth reading if you’re looking for something besides his usual popular works (The Sound and the Fury, As I Lay Dying, Absalom, Absalom!, etc.). I’m looking forward to reading the rest of this trilogy!
What are your thoughts on The Hamlet? Do you have a favorite Faulkner novel? Let me know in the comments section below?