British Association for American Studies


Book Review: William Faulkner and Mortality: A Fine Dead Sound by Ahmed Honeini

Ahmed Honeini. William Faulkner and Mortality: A Fine Dead Sound (London: Routledge, 2021). pp. 194. £120

For scholars of the works of William Faulkner, his preoccupation with mortality may be best thought of as an attempt to evade, and even deny, the subject of his own death by, instead, creating an immortal presence and literary legacy through his body of work.[1] Faulkner, however, proposes that fiction was not simply a means of escaping death’s inevitability. ‘Man will not merely endure,’ as stated aptly by Faulkner in his 1950 speech as the recipient for the Nobel Prize in Literature, ‘he will prevail’.[2] With this sentiment in mind, Ahmed Honeini’s William Faulkner and Mortality: A Fine Dead Sound offers the first full-length study of mortality in Faulkner’s fiction.

A vital contribution to Southern Gothic scholarship, Honeini delves deep into the author’s complex and experimental approach to mortality. Contesting earlier literary criticism of death in Faulkner’s work, Honeini firmly asserts that Faulkner’s authorial intention was to ‘say Yes to death’ through a careful analysis of six key works: The Sound and the Fury, As I Lay Dying, ‘A Rose for Emily’, Light in August, Absalom, Absalom!, and Go Down, Moses. With Faulknerian tradition imposing an enduring assumption that writing was his method of ‘saying No to death’, adopting this theoretical stance requires Honeini to challenge several potentially contradictory ideas from both his predecessor critics such as Robert W. Hamblin, Warwick Wadlington, and Charles Reagan Wilson and, as he notes, from Faulkner himself. [3] Made clear in Faulkner and Mortality’s introduction, Faulkner, in his own words, held the posthumous ambition to become ‘a private individual, abolished and voided from history, leaving it markless, no refuse save the printed books’.[4] Faulkner’s literary immortalisation is, however, inextricable from his status as a great American author, once noting that ‘writing people are all so pathetically torn between a desire to make a figure in the world and a morbid interest in their personal egos’.[5]

Yet, for Faulkner, as Honeini endeavours to make clear in preceding chapters, death is not simply a matter of posthumous legacy. Death is also release, and many ‘characters actively proclaim their desire to die, to “say Yes to death”’.[6] In Faulkner’s most well-known novel, As I Lay Dying‘s Addie Bundren is, of course, one of the most explicit instances of accepting, and even embracing, the notion of death. Elucidating the Southern Gothic practice of utilising ‘real life’ horror rather than the mythological or fantastical, Honeini clarifies how Addie’s ‘explicitly posthumous’ narrative follows in the tradition of writers like Edgar Allen Poe, as in The Fall of the House of Usher (1839), who use the voices of deceased women to ‘speak not only about their own lives but also to matters of social justice, history, and dearly held national ideals—whether the community welcomes it or not’.[7]

For Addie, death is an escape from the confines of a world defined by a puritanical mode of Christian fundamentalism that subjugates her to an unwanted maternal role and subjects the title character of ‘A Rose for Emily ‘ ‘to relentless and invasive speculation and gossip about her apparent sexual impropriety’.[8] Although Honeini’s work offers a broad scope of literary analysis on the role of mortality in Faulkner’s work, it is Honeini’s exploration of gender that constitutes Faulkner and Mortality’s most important scholarly contributions. Life in the early twentieth South, widely conceived as universally ‘terrible’ for women, posits death as the only means of escape, and it is through dying that Addie’s narrative can transform ‘into a new composite picture, one able to account for a woman who is no longer the silent, suffering maternal figure’, but instead, one who is liberated from the patriarchal structures that long oppressed her.[9]

If there was ever an author whose playful experiments with form and content should allow for the very notions of life and death to be rewritten, it is Faulkner. As Honeini notes in his introduction, the transgression of the boundaries between life and death is explicated in narratorial retrospectives by the narrator of ‘A Rose for Emily’ and the deputy sheriff in Go Down, Moses.[10] By constructing a vital argument about how the cultural conditions of Southern life may make death the only viable means of freedom, Honeini’s ambition to ‘conceptualise and comprehend the intricacies and complexities of [Faulkner’s marginal characters’] own mortality’ is markedly achieved, elucidating his status as one of literature’s chief Faulkner scholars.[11] And it is through this approach that Honeini is able to establish his case for the ‘important distinction between Faulkner’s personal need as an author to achieve immortality through his writing and the ardent wish that many of his characters express for death’. [12] Ultimately, William Faulkner and Mortality: A Fine Dead Sound is a key work for any scholars looking at the author’s mediations on loss, life, grief, and more broadly, gendered life in the American South.


[1] Ahmed Honeini, William Faulkner and Mortality: A Fine Dead Sound (New York: Routledge, 2021), 1;174

[2] William Faulkner, Essays, Speeches & Public Letters. Ed. James B. Meriwether (New York: Modern Library, 2004), 120

[3] Robert W. Hamblin, ‘”Saying No to Death”: Toward William Faulkner’s Theory of Fiction’ in ‘A Cosmos of My Own’: Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha ed. Doreen Fowler and Ann J. Abadie. Jackson, (Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi, 1981), 3–35, 4; Warwick Wadlington, Reading Faulknerian Tragedy (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1987), 162; Charles Regan Wilson, ‘William Faulkner and the Southern Way of Death.’ Fifty Years after Faulkner. Ed. Jay Watson and Ann J. Abadie. (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2016) 268–278.

[4] Honeini, 3; Faulkner, 285

[5] Carvel Collins (ed.), William Faulkner: Early Prose and Poetry (Boston: Little, Brown and Company, 1962), 93

[6] Honeini, 174

[7] Honeini, 51; Brian Norman, Dead Women Talking: Figures of Injustice in American Literature (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2013), 1

[8] Honeini, 175

[9] William Faulkner, As I Lay Dying. ed. Michael Gorra (New York: W. W. Norton and Company, 2010), 99; Norman, 53

[10] Honeini, 14

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid., 174

About the Author

Katie Tobin is a first year PhD English Literature and Medical Humanities student at the University of Durham. She also holds a BA in English from the University of Sussex, and an MA in English Literary Studies also from Durham. In her spare time, she is a culture writer for publications like VICE, i-D, Huck, Aesthetica Magazine, Refinery29, AnOther, Dazed, and more.