A Fable, 1954

ISBN: 0824068289
ISBN 13: 9780824068288
By: William Faulkner Faulkner Willia

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Reader's Thoughts


There have only been two Faulkner novels' I could not finish. "Mosquitoes" and " A Fable". I had to return the former to my schools library because I was graduating and actually intend to finish. The later I gave up on. This is all of Faulkner's tell-tale habits and style at its worse. The backstories and side stories to side stories make it tough. I made it half way through, maybe I will finish this eventually.


If you hate yourself, read this book.

Keith Cottrell

This novel is difficult... to say the least. The general idea is that there is this corporal who is very influential (a clear allegory to Jesus Christ) and he convinces a group of soldiers to disobey orders and not fight which causes WWI to take an unplanned 1 day hiatus. Eventually the powers that be get the war back on track and they have to decide what the punishment should be for all the soldiers that didn’t fight and specifically for this corporal and his 12 (yes 12) close followers. This premise could make an interesting story but most of this novel is simply indigestible. Faulkner puts most of this novel completely over everyone's head. Some parts seem really well written and interesting but that might just be because they are refreshingly comprehendible. Ultimately it was unenjoyable. So whether the writing was good or even great seems irrelevant when that it that case.


William Faulkner virgins about to break the seal with a copy of "A Fable" should be forced to reconsider — at gunpoint, if necessary.Yes, "A Fable" is a cantankerous beast, a Pulitzer Prize winner often reviled as impenetrable and as Faulkner at his most difficult. Reading it for the first time (my 11th Faulkner novel) I find it both a little hard to figure out how it won the award and hard to understand why more readers don't seem to see its merits. Faulkner's worst, most frustrating habits are on display in this tale of World War I whose plot often mirrors the Passion of Christ. The worst offenders are two lengthy backstory scenes that shed light on the later main story that takes place during a week at and near the front. In these scenes, there appear with gusto Faulkner's tendency to be willfully cryptic and hard on his readers, and his jones for compound, page-long (or more) sentences that crawl sideways like crabs and confound the brain. And yet ... the story is a good one, and there's more than enough of Faulkner's brilliant wordplay to justify a solid recommendation for the hardy.In "A Fable," in the fourth year of a grinding World War I, a French regiment ordered to attack refuses to do so. Likewise, the Germans opposing them have called a halt to the violence. A mysterious corporal and his 12 followers, it turns out, are the instigators of this outrageous peace. The story chronicles the elaborate efforts of the French, British and American powers-that-be to investigate and cover up this absurdity, and to punish those responsible for daring to stop a war. The division commander wants all 3,000 soldiers in his regiment executed. The overall commanding general has his own remedy for the corporal, who turns out to have very close ties to the general.The two aforementioned scenes from the past do help the story a bit, but the cost might be some people's sanity. Still, Faulkner is in top form during the final quarter of this, his second-longest novel, bringing home the tale with panache and a minimum of wordy foolishness. The conclusion and the run-up to it are very good, if readers can stick with it.The story of the corporal, whose story mirrors Christ but who is not really Christlike, falls a little short, I must say. I wanted to learn more of his motivation and get to know him, and frankly I wanted a more immediate sense of the refusal to fight; I think Faulkner could have done wonders getting inside a few characters' heads in the action that is the basis for the whole novel.As for Faulkner making a rare venture outside Mississippi for the novel, which seems to irk some, I didn't mind it at all. Much as I love all those Southern tales, this is a nice departure that adds a little versatility to Faulkner's resume."A Fable" often is quite good. When it is difficult, it's as difficult as Faulkner gets, which pretty goddamned difficult. I was able to shrug off the slow spots and enjoy the novel quite a lot. No, don't make it your first Faulkner, for heaven's sake. But its impenetrability is a bit overstated. Read this in a short span of days, a lot at a time, turn off the TV, keep your focus.


This difficult, at times exasperating novel may be Faulkner's true masterpiece, one which has never received the acclaim it truly deserves. It posits a fascinating premise: What if Jesus, or someone very much like Him, had served as a soldier in WWI?

Dotty Dye

Not one of my all time favorites but there are some incredibly memorable moments in this book and I think with the right reading it could be seen as having lived up to the expectations of it's author. Will require at least another reading and a way to overcome the empty symbolism of the central allusion to the passion but it sticks with you and for this reason I think a bit of time will see it rise in literary esteem to the level of his more well known work.

Hu Barcelos

This is one of those books that, before starting your reading, you should know what you're up against.And that is - beautiful writing, which is some times exhausting (as in the paragraphs are huge, the dialogues are scarce, and so on); and most of all, you should realize this is a depiction of the last days of Jesus Christ, written in a different perspective, and in a differente environment. Faulkner focused so much in this attempt that every scene, every character and every idea that he has written has a purpose, which is very well defined. Once you know that, you will realize the writer's point and intentions throughout this piece of work.Unfortunately, I only realized this in the last 50-100 pages - I didn't manage to figure it out on my own :( - so I spent months reading the book, not knowing exactly what was going on. Then, it all started to make sense.Also, it takes a lot of courage to finish this! So beware!


If this book doesn’t come in dead last among my rankings of the National Book Award winners, I suspect it will be very near the bottom. It’s easily one of the worst books I’ve ever read.Granted, this is William Faulkner, one of the greatest writers of all time, and granted, this novel won both the National Book Award (his second) and the Pulitzer. But having said that, his selection here does more to discredit the independence and courage of the respective juries than it does to give credit to this book. Number one: Since Faulkner had already won the National Book Award and the Nobel Prize in Literature, and since it was well known that he took TEN YEARS to write this novel—that he outlined it on his bedroom wall, that he considered it his masterpiece, and that it was a Christian allegory—someone would have to be fairly revolutionary, here in 1955, to say, “What are you people thinking! This is trash!” Secondly, this book is so unwelcoming—so cold, sterile, emotionally impotent, allegorically aloof and removed from real human senses, from the way real people observe, think and feel—and so removed from anything that is, for all intents and purposes, a story, that I dare say the juries felt extra safe in naming it as the winner. Think about it: Of the very few people who might actually make it through this novel, even fewer might go back to figure out what in the hell they had just read. And of these, even fewer were in a position to both evaluate and persuasively articulate merits. In short, for all the wrong reasons, A Fabel was bulletproof. And I think Faulkner’s inaccessibility goes a long way toward making the author himself, his reputation as one of the greatest writers ever, invincible. So few people have the time, interest, and ability to challenge this assertion. If a group of scientists tells us that a certain Nobel physicist is a genius, sometimes it just easier to take their word for it. And the scientists seem all the smarter for it.All three of Faulkner’s award-winning books (his Pulitzer and National Book Award winners) are now considered to be among his minor works. At the very least, I find this bit of irony amusing, if not altogether disenchanting. Seeing as that the next two National Book Award winners on our list—Ten North Frederick and The Field of Vision—are now both out of print, maybe we should pause for just a moment to question, really, whether winners of the National Book Award are, in fact, the “most distinguished” books of American Fiction. In fact, as posterity consistently shows us, they are not. No one cares or reads a great many of them, including A Fable.Then why were they chosen? For one, the selection process is highly subjective. As explained in the rules, each jury is free to adopt its own criteria, a process which elevates the subjective, if not unexamined, biases of jurors. Secondly, as with any matter that involves voting, the winner is not necessarily the best person qualified for the job. More often, the winner is selected due to the prevailing political and social winds at the time. In this case, what would be the fallout from declaring a highly respected Nobel Laureate’s self-asserted magnum opus as a runner-up, if not an outfight failure?And believe me, A Fable IS a colossal failure because it fails on the most basic and important level of literature—that of a story. When all is said and done, a novel is foremost a story—not an extended metaphor of one’s adopted religion. Stories, foremost, have people we care about, people with whom we identify and support in a struggle of some sort. In A Fable, the name of the Christ figure is mentioned once, and then only toward the end of the novel. In contrast, Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man has an extremely good reason for withholding the narrator’s name. That’s the big, stinking point: the narrator is invisible. But with Faulkner, his unwillingness to give most of his characters names obfuscates and forbids emotional attachment, and to no good purpose. In the end, if Faulkner doesn’t care enough about these people to recall their names, then why, oh tell me why, should I?I’ve met some people who have named their cars, or have given first and last names to their pets, thereby bestowing the inanimate object or animal with much more importance, and, for lack of a better word, humanity. Well, in A Fable, Faulkner does the exact opposite, sucking the humanity out of each and every character, giving them all the emotional appeal and importance of furniture. By calling these people—even his “main” characters—“the aide,” “the sentry,” “the man,” “the runner,” “the chief-of-staff,” “the group commander,” “the division commander,” “the sergeant,” “the sergeant-major,” “the Governor General,” “the old general” “the Englishman” “the corporeal,” and “the officer,” Faulkner reduces his cast to objectified instruments of an allegory. These walking-ranks lack depth, personality, self-interest, goals. They are nothing, and thus this novel comes across as a play with props and lighting, but without human beings. Without the ability to identify a single real actor, the reader observes something that, while posing as story, is really an intricate, yet childlike exercise: intricate, because the level of creation is fantastic (much more than “step on a crack, break your mother’s back”) and childlike, because Faulkner, like a child, is oblivious to the real world; self-absorbed in arbitrary and imaginary rules of his own making, rules that no one but him should take very seriously. The problem is that while no one reads this book (and very few teach or study it) so many people might take it seriously. I guess it’s easy to do that if you haven’t read it. But let me be clear, in Faulkner’s attempt to write something more than a story, he created something less than a story. In doing so, he made the same mistake that countless of other literary authors have made.Point number three: I’ve actually heard creative writing teachers profess “It’s not so much what the story is about, but how you convey it,” which is why, I suppose, these teachers make their living teaching, not telling stories. It’s not a bad life, I’m sure. I might even love it. But here’s another idea: “What you write about is just as important as how you convey it.” The sandwich isn’t worth eating unless is has peanut butter AND jelly. The girl isn’t worth marrying unless you find her both attractive AND smart. While all writers should strive for concrete details, active verbs, hair-splitting nuance, economy and veracity, it’s the EMOTION in your stories—the same emotion in campfire and water-cooler stories, the front page story, the ghost story, the shark-attack story, the break-up story, the “I just met someone special!” story, the midnight “Oh-my-God,-I-have-to-tell-you-this!” story—that compels people to pay attention. If you lose that in the process of trying to be sophisticated, then you may very well end up writing a novel like A Fable—which isn’t so bad, I guess, if there happens to be a few academicians on the selection jury. But if you want to impress gifted story-tellers, if you want people to voraciously read and enjoy your work rather than simply “appreciate” it, if you want to create an experience that affects and changes people, leads them to a greater understanding, then don’t, as Faulkner did here, confuse “writing” with the act of telling a story. The later is such a higher calling.


Did Faulkner ever use punctuation? I would guess that this entire allegory has fewer than eighty sentences in it!! But it was facinating...An allegorical story of World War I set in the trenches in France and dealing ostensibly with a mutiny in a French regiment.


I find the concept of this book amazing: recasting the Christ story into World War I. The execution, unfortunately, left much to be desired.This book presumes much from its readers. If you're not pretty well-versed in the gospels, you're going to miss most of the references. If you're not pretty well-versed in World War I history, you're not going to understand what's going on half the time. If you don't enjoy the stream-of-consciousness technique, or if you don't have the patience to follow the narrative down tortuous paths that appear irrelevant to the main story, you'll probably quit in frustration within the first 100 pages. (I stubbornly held on, and in my opinion the plot began to become interesting somewhere between pages 300 and 350.) In other words, if you're not a huge fan of Faulkner or a World War I enthusiast with a fetish for Christian allegory, skip this one. Read Faulkner's other, far more accessible and entertaining Pulitzer winner, "The Reivers," instead.

Michael David

I believe that my personal preference with regard to novels is toward those which possess such an intricately-structured chaos that ultimately make sense by the end of the novel. Looking back, I think that Absalom, Absalom! is my most favourite novel because of how it ties the loose ends so well at the end of the novel. I think that the novel is Faulkner at the peak of his powers: he is both extremely dense, and yet extremely sensible. Everything absolutely makes sense at the end of it, and the broken images, jarring shifts in time and purported excursions actually cohere into a beautiful, tragic whole. The same can be said to a lesser extent in his Sound and the Fury. Of course, Faulkner is also pretty good as a minimalist as evidenced by his As I Lay Dying. This dynamism led, among others, Albert Camus to recognize Faulkner as the eminent American novelist of all time. It would have been all right had Fable been as well-constructed as Absalom, Absalom! was. Alas, both brilliance and bathos could be seen in Faulkner here: the prose is extremely rambling at times, that, despite being a relatively seasoned reader of Faulkner (at 13 works and counting), I had a hard time deciphering what he wanted to discuss in the first place. It became eventually worse when I couldn’t see much of a point with his discursions. The ending was frustrating precisely because the novel could have been cut in half and yet still have made a whole lot of sense (or nonsense). The story is, essentially, simple. A corporal convinces twelve men of his not to continue fighting the war which led to the whole battalion stop fighting. This causes the other side, the Germans, to also stop fighting the war and a temporary truce is made after the two sides realize that it takes an aggressor to even have a war. One of the other twelve men betrays the corporal: the corporal is shot dead, left by his followers, along with two other thieves. Marthe and Marya bear witness to the occurrence alongside a prostitute who was answered for by the corporal because of his kindness. The division commander is ordered killed by the generalissimo. The former dies as if a hero: he is shot in his front, by his own men, with a German pistol. Before killing the corporal, however, the generalissimo tempts the corporal to retire to the countryside and abrogate his mission. The corporal declines – and is thus killed. The story is, of course, partly a retelling of the story of Jesus Christ. The thesis is that if a Christ-like figure existed in the 20th century, he’d have been shot dead. It’s similar to the thesis of Dostoevsky’s Idiot. Unlike Dostoevsky’s work, however, this lacked in clarity, plot, and storytelling. There was little coherence right until the end of the novel, and editing could certainly have been done to make the story more readable and fluid. Instead, what I read was a jumbled mishmash of a retelling with little to show for it. I agree with a fellow reviewer of mine: if one sought to read easy, accessible Faulkner, I suggest As I Lay Dying; if one sought to read intricate, difficult, but rewarding Faulkner, I recommend The Sound and the Fury, and, if that was to one’s taste, Absalom, Absalom!, which I believe is his greatest work. If one sought to be frustrated and angry with a difficult and unrewarding work, one should try A Fable. I’ve been such a masochist lately.

Christopher Sutch

I was pleasantly surprised by this long novel. Faulkner was a pilot during World War I, and while that experience is represented in several small incidents in his earlier novels, this novel's central focus is World War I (and while aircraft still figure in only one of the subplots, Faulkner's experience in the subject is clear). This book had its origins in a conversation Faulkner had with some Hollywood producers during World War II, asking the question, "What if the unknown soldier in 1919 France was actually Jesus returned to Earth to give us one more chance to wage peace instead of war?" While nothing cinematic came of those conversations, Faulkner uses that premise as the springboard for this very dense, very deep meditation on war, imperialism, greed, and human nature. While I enjoyed seeing how the various portions of the Christ myth served as analogies for incidents and characters in the novel, it was the damning indictment of the powers behind the war that I found most interesting. At times the novel (published in 1954) read like it might have been ripped from the pages of Pynchon's _Gravity's Rainbow_: the cynicism about governments and possible secret conspiracies and agreements to keep the war going, if only to show the troops (who desperately want peace) that they do not have the power to simply throw down their arms and stop fighting; the portraits of individual soldiers caught up in schemes for self-preservation and monetary gain; the nature of the relationships between the major allied powers to cover up one regiments mutiny (by having three American soldiers execute a French general and make it look like he was shot leading his troops into the fight). While the prose and style don't have the vigor nor inspire the awe that Faulkner's earlier works do, this is a fine and undeservedly ignored later novel.


One of the most difficult Faulkner books i have read so far. As difficult and confusing to follow as Absalom, Absalom!, with the exception that the latter novel is an eloquently written tour de fource whereas A Fable is meandering, rambling, and even at times a rather opaque recounting of a story set in France during World War I. As another reviewer has already pointed out, the novel finishes very strongly in the final 1/4 but the first 3/4 of the novel are certainly not for the fainthearted. If you are new to Faulkner, definitely do NOT start here. It will put you off Faulkner for life probably.Having said that, A Fable certainly does have its moments - the confrontation between the French woman and the officer who turns out to be the father of the man he now has to execute for example. Faulkner is able to invent these complex situations in which the human heart is truly challenged.The main story is about a French regiment which has 'mutineed' but not the typical mutiny. They have refused to fight, causing the Germans to (temporarily) lay down their arms too. Well, as you can probably imagine, the warmongers said, "we will have none of that!"This 'fable' mirrors the so-called greatest story ever told of Christ and there are so many references throughout. References range from, for example, the 12 soldiers (i.e. the 12 apostles) plus the 1 'judas' soldier, right through to barb wire which pithily reminds us of the Crown of Thorns. I will not give anymore away. All I'll say is give this a go if you are a serious Faulkner fan like myself but if you are new to Faulkner, try reading Flags in the Dust, which is to my mind his real masterpiece or if you are feeling like a bit more of a challenge then Absalom, Absalom!

Celia Pundel

As good as it may be, I cannot stand Faulkner's writing style. Stream of consciousness. Either you hate it or you love it. Personally, I hate it.


This is probably the only novel that ever appeared EXACTLY the way Faulkner wanted it to appear, and it was the only one whose tepid reception really bothered him. In fact, despite its Pulitzer, the book's relative lack of success (in my opinion) is what caused him to retreat into the relatively childish stories of his later career. The down side to Faulkner's insistence on placing each word meticulously though, is that it generates a VERY difficult book to read. At times, it is almost like reading Cicero or some other Latin master because the sentences are so sprawling and each word means something.After Go Down, Moses; Faulkner's "major period" is behind him. He will never again explore his fictional county in Mississippi with the same depth as "Absalom" and "Sound and the Fury", turning instead to events far beyond those borders. This novel is the product of a nearly ten year obsession, unlike the Mississippi masterpieces which were often dashed off and printed before they could be properly edited. It is the only work of his that left a physical impression on his house, where he took to inscribing exhaustive notes on the woodwork of Rowan Oak that are still visible. So, to At the end of the day, like If I Forget Thee Jerusalem, this is the *style* of Faulkner at its most mature, even if the material is not his most familiar. The biblical parallels can't be missed, but rather than reading it that way, it might be more useful to consider it an act of exhaustion. The last truly "High Modern" book written by that one of that period's grand exemplars, who were soon to abandon it and never return. It is richly informed by the life events of William Faulkner and his generation, one which was essentially "at war" from 1914-1945, whether or not they ever got to the trenches. It must be read slowly, and savouringly. Near the beginning, General Gragnon has his driver pause underneath a resting battery and listen to the sound of a lark whose song is like "four metal coins dropping into a cup of soft silver," and flashes back to the General's childhood in the Pyrenees listening to birds, and then flashes forward again back to the war. These are the images that make Faulkner's most mature style breathtaking. He so richly imagines his characters and their thoughts and their desperation, that at the novel's conclusion the reader has a vested interest in the brutal outcome. Five Stars, and bravo Mr. Faulkner.

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