Knight’s Gambit (1949)

ISBN: 0824068246
ISBN 13: 9780824068240
By: William Faulkner Faulkner Willia N. Polk

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20th Century American Literature Currently Reading Faulkner Fiction Literature Mystery Short Stories To Read Yoknapatawpha County

About this book

Gavin Stevens, the wise student of crime and folkways of Mississippi's Yoknapatawpha county, plays the major role in these six stories of violence.

Reader's Thoughts


Not very good considering what Faulkner is capable of. With the exception of the title story. This story brings avid readers Gavin's marriage to that Harriss woman. You know, the one mentioned in The Mansion. Linda won't, not that Gavin can. Can he must, and that Harriss woman is it.

Gregg Cebrzynski

Well-crafted mystery stories, showing Faulkner's range as a writer.

Alan Lynch

Great writing from a great writer...if ya want to write well, read great writers. Actually the wise and erudite Gavin Stevens is a pretty cool character. Faulkner's use of viewpoint is fascinating.


These short murder mysteries are bite-sized vitamins to fuel my raging literary crush on Gavin Stevens. Gavin is a dry student of human nature, Chick Mallison's (awesome)uncle and my favorite narrator in Faulkner's world except for V.K. Ratliff.He embodies one of Faulkner's favorite themes, alienation. A Harvard-educated lawyer shouldn't fit in with the rest of Jefferson, Mississippi. Stevens almost manages it, but the "almost" shows in every story.


Knight's Gambit bears out what some people have observed of Faulkner: his novellas and short fiction were probably his best form. Sure, the novels are extraordinary (if that doesn't damn him with faint praise), but if you just want to read around in Faulkner without heaving the big tome to bed for twenty minutes of reading before sleep, I recommend Gambit: six mystery tales, all featuring Gavin Stevens, D.A. of Yoknapatawpha County. His keen powers of observation will remind you of S. Holmes or Poe's Dupin, but without the, oh, simpering, arrogant qualities of either. The milieu is the sticks of northern Mississippi, and Gavin can spit and cuss with the locals or hold forth in the courtroom with his Harvard-trained mind. At 30 or so pages each (excepting the longer title story), these almost Twainesque mysteries will send you off to dreamland with a smile.


So, I can say that I have read Faulkner now...


Creo que Faulkner no es lo mío...


Le da demasiadas vueltas.


I read this the summer after graduating from high school, just because I had enjoyed reading "The Bear" so much during my senior year. I don't remember much about it, but I'm sure that it deserves at least three stars...


The following are comments from V.K. Ratliff, friend of Gavin Stevens.Now, Lawyer doesn't see some things. But I let him find those things out for himself. If I was to tell him, it wouldn't have ever come to him in a way it would have made a difference. Lawyer don't know women, hasn't ever, won't ever. But I'd put him up against any man on recognizin' the difference tween good and evil. And if he can't make the law work he'll get justice if he has to do it outside a court room.Now Bill Faulkner wrote this book "Knight's Gambit." It's all bout Lawyer. I don't figger in it too much. But I figgered in some others. I read it too. Down at Mac Reed's Drug Store off the Square. Had me some strawberry ice cream cones while I was readin it. I'd say strawberry ice cream's bout God's most greatest creation. Me and Lawyer's nephew Chick, we'd go down there and get us a cone ever now and then. It's mostly true,what's in that book. Sho, I liked it too. Liked it just fine. You watch Snopeses long as me an Lawyer watched Snopeses, you'd see it for the truth, too. Not much in this town happens I don't know and I know all the people in this book.They's some folks think Lawyer was just Bill's mouthpiece, spoutin' out his ideas on politics and govermint and the like. An they was a lot alike. Just like Bill goin' gray early, so'd Lawyer. An then Bill had a thing for younger women, more'n one or two of em, not that he'd ever have told it. Now the women did. Oh, yes. Even put it down in books. That Meta out in Hollywood and that young woman got Bill to let her help him write that play about Temple and Gowan, Nancy too, poor woman. Lawyer was bout the same way there too. He was allus lookin' to help those young girls form their minds he said. Not that the town thought so. Except Lawyer, I doubt, never got nothin' from that Eula Helen of Troy Varner, nor her daughter Linda, neither. Sho, I think Bill was prob'ly luckier at love than Lawyer other than Estelle of course. But they was two separate people. Knowed both.Lots of folks don't think much of this book of Bill's. Got me a Time magazine when it come out and this feller was writin' bout Bill and said he'd missed the bar on this one. Said he must of wrote it to make money cause some of those stories was put in the Saturday Evening Post so it wan't litrature. I guess he must of wrote that for free cause he wan't no better than Bill if he got paid for it.And then you got them folks that read nuthin' but mystery books. Those people don't like it any better than that Time feller. One man, well, he said these weren't real mystery stories cause Bill didn't make this windin' trail of clues leadin' you in one direction and then t'other. Said Bill telegraphed who done ever thin by puttin' the key clues in eyetalics, didn't make you guess nothin'.I like a good whodunnit as much as the next man or woman. Read a good many of em. Checked em out of that rack down at Mac's. Down at the drug store where you'd get your pills and a sundae or a coca cola. Just like Bill used to. You could be down there bout nine and most of the late crowd would be down there. Bill'd walk into town from that old place of his and check out the latest ones. If I'd been married to Estelle Oldham, I'd prob'ly been there ever night. One reason I stayed a bachelor. Learned to sew my own shirts on one of those sewin' machines I sold ever place. Mac, he kept up with those books of his. Had check out cards just like at a real library. Funny, but those cards Bill'd sign. They'd come up missin' so Mac just signed Bill's name on all them cards. We allus figgered it was somebody down at the University figgered somethin' with Bill's name on it would be worth somethin' some day.Anyway, I'd read those books just like Bill and everbody else did. I enjoyed em. But you take some swishy Lord Whimsy and that Hellery Queen...well, real folks don't live that way. Leastways not around here.Down here it's pretty sure that somebody does somethin' bad, it's for one reason or the other. The reason's don't change that much. It's money or a woman or some secret nobody wants known that everbody already knowed an if they didn't know it they'd say it was so.Lawyer always had no problem figgerin' out the why the who or the how. Most times it don't take a Sherlock Holmes. But Bill just put it all down the way it was. Wan't no tricks and runnin' you down rabbit holes. There's allus gotta be somebody got to tear another man down so they can be better'n him. Those people like that man at Time Magazine, they can say they just hate to say somethin' Bill wrote just wan't up to snuff but you can read real clear between them lines that they was tickled to say it. Don't think one of em ever won a Noble prize or even a Pulitzer. But I guess they got paid for it just the same. I 'magine that money spent the same as if it come by way of a check from the Saturday Evening Post.Had a feller ask me the other day if I believed in demons and the devil. Said he was goin' to a church where they was prayin' away his demons. Didn't ask me if I believed in God. Way I see it, we humans don't need no demons or devils. We get along just fine being human.So in this book, an innocent man goes to the gallows. Lawyer can't stop it. An people kill other people for money and sex they didn't have or couldn't get or someone else could and did. An Lawyer just kept on trying to get justice. With the law if he could and outside the courts if he couldn't.They ain't gonna be no more Gavin Stevens stories. I think that's a damn shame. Ain't gonna be no more stories by Bill neither. That's a worse damn shame.What'd you say? Did I know Bill. Why sho. I got this card right here. Signed it hisself right down at Mac Reed's. What you got to trade for it? What? You want this book. I couldn't do that. No, they ain't gone be no more Lawyer stories. I just might need to read this book again some time. Yeah, sho Lawyer said the past is never dead. Sho, it's not even past. But I know it's alive on this paper.EDIT: This review is shared once more for the benefit of goodreads group "On the Southern Literary Trail," and, perhaps to draw attention to what is considered to be one of Faulkner's more minor works. However, Gavin Stevens is Faulkner's recurring "literary" lawyer, and figures widely in Requiem for a Nun, Intruder in the Dust, and the Snopes: A Trilogy. Yes, he is one of my favorite Faulkner characters.Mike SullivanFounder and Moderator"On the Southern Literary Trail"


My edition of William Faulkner's Knight's Gambit is subtitled Six Mystery Stories. I cannot help but think that this is wrong: Faulkner just wasn't into the mystery genre. These aren't whodunits, but rather wry observations of the human condition by a middle aged attorney named Gavin Stevens who is playing the part of a kind of Jedi master to his eighteen year old nephew Charles Mallison. The last two Faulkner books I have read, this one and Intruder in the Dust, both concentrated on the character of Stevens and the Boswell-like nephew who hung on his every word. Faulkner must, I think, have seen Lawyer Stevens as an alter ego. Think about it: the Mississippi writer from an old family, but immured in a oh-so-proud rural culture, though he has seen World War I and Paris and met the likes of James Joyce. We keep seeing him play with his Phi Beta Kappa key from Harvard and we are frequently reminded of his years at Heidelberg University. I understand that Faulkner was not well-liked by his neighbors in Oxford, Mississippi. He was of them but not of them. Yet when I read his interviews in Faulkner at the University and elsewhere, he was remarkably forthcoming for a great author. He did not retreat to some Nobel Prize cave where he could spend the rest of his life making gnomic statements for the cognoscenti. No, both Faulkner and Stevens were men who had seen the world; and both are deeply involved in the land and the people of their birth. The stories in Knight's Gambit act more than anything else as vehicles for the enlightenment of Gavin Stevens and of his nephew Charles. For instance, take this quote from the eponymous story of the collection, "Knight's Gambit," in which Stevens uses an analogy from poker to reprove the wealthy and spoiled young Max Harriss and perhaps guide him toward a better life:"Look. You are playing poker (I assume you know poker, or at least—like a lot of people—anyway play it.) You draw cards. When you do that, you affirm two things: either that you have something to draw to, or are willing to support to your last cent the fact that you have not. You dont draw and then throw the cards in because they are not what you wanted, expected, hoped for; not just for the sake of your own soul and pocket-book, but for the sake of the others in the game, who have likewise assumed that unspoken obligation."Many people do not like Knight's Gambit. Many others do not like Faulkner at all. They see the Old Testament cadences of his language as being too murky, too difficult to unravel. As I frequently tell those who are dubious about Faulkner, remember that there is always a great story in there; and it is always worth every effort to take the time and trouble to ferret it out. The two classics of this principle are The Sound and the Fury and Absalom, Absalom!. Knight's Gambit is not up to their level, but it has some of the same great stuff.


Everybody knows this is not Faulkner's métier; but it's still an entertaining read. I could really go 4 stars on it. I'm sayin 3 cause I ain't had me coffee yet


Imagine the deep, heavy sweetness in the air. Feel the touch of old wood, the smell of tobacco, the law books, the leather. Evocative, thrilling, Faulkner. Enough said,no?


Creepy classics are the best.


Short stories. Reminded me that, yes, Faulkner is captivating, and depressing, and challenging and sometimes just straight up confusing, but he can also be fun.

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