Knight’s Gambit (1949)

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

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Genres

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

Jim

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.

John

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.

Esteban Gordon

A collection of well written "detective-like" tales starring everyone's Faulknerian hero, Gavin Stevens. Mostly told in a straightforward manner apart from the final, longer tale Knight's Gambit. In this tale, Faulkner presents a rather weak detective story wrapped in his spiraling, dense language about a relationship that will be expanded upon in the Snopes trilogy: Gavin's love life (subtracting out Eula Varner and Linda Snopes). Nice read, but nothing other worldly.

Kit

relatively straighforward stories for faulkner. mostly pretty enjoyable.

Eli

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.

Rafa

Le da demasiadas vueltas.

Gregg Cebrzynski

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

James

'Yes,' the sheriff said. 'The Book itself says somewhere, Know thyself. Ain't there another book somewhere that says, Man, fear thyself, thine arrogance and vanity and pride? You ought to know; you claim to be a book man. Didn't you tell me that's what the luck-charm on your watch chain means? What book is that in?''It's in all of them,' Uncle Gavin said. 'The good ones, I mean. It's said in a lot of different ways, but it's there.'

Kathleen

Creepy classics are the best.

Nathanael Booth

Collection of six “mystery stories” featuring Gavin Stevens. Faulkner rings changes on the themes of crime without hewing too closely to the standard formulae. The best stories in the collection do tend to be very “classic” (such as “An Error in Chemistry,” and “Smoke,”) but there’s a lot to be appreciated in the other stories—and Stevens himself does not really come together as a character until the concluding novella, “Knight’s Gambit” (which itself suffers from an over-extended and somewhat arbitrary conclusion, but which also plays with interesting themes of age and war). In all, a very good collection—not up to the level of Faulkner’s masterpieces, but certainly worth reading.

John

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.

William

It's hard. It's really hard to have to say that this reallly wasn't all that good. Faulkner is Faulkner. He should never have to have written something so immediately unmemorable. There's really nothing all that interesting about any of these six mystery stories. There may be some moments, yes, but overall these just don't live up to Faulkner. This really is genre writing. There's some Faulkner motifs, but they all lack his key signatures.I liked the point of view the story is told in, but that really does little more than placate to the wishes of the reader. The reader wants to walk through Yoknapatapha County in an Atticus-like character's shoes. I mean, that's who Gavin Stephens is like. He's exactly like Atticus from TKaMB. Then you read through a close third person from the point of view of Gavin's nephew. Gavin's nephew undergoes no changes, neither does Gavin. Faulkner might as well have just wrote about a boy playing with his dog just before dinner.And it obviously wants to tickle around with a centrist's fancy by including occassional non-partisan social commentary. Some stupid comment about the size of a porch and how it could fit a president and his cabinet or a supreme court but might be a little too cozy for a Congress. Some joke about knowing too much law to be a governor but knowing just enough misinformation to be a first class lawyer in a small town. I mean, these were nice jokes--something I myself would use (and I reeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeaally like Faulkner, so I do cramp his style a bit)--but just going along with the whole FINDING JUSTICE! mission, it was a stupid pairing.Yeah, I dunno. If you've read every single other Faulkner novel, READ THIS AS SOON AS POSSIBLE! just so you can get it out of the way and say you've read them all.It wasn't that horrible, but it was a rpetty stupid book. Note that this is the same rating I gave to that Amanda Cross novel. I was going to read another Amanda Cross since I picked one up for next to nothing (and I'll read it eventually, yeah), but now I feel even less confident that some subtle charm might rub off onto me in reading these mystery stories

Roberta

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?

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.

Michael Mahin

Do you like detective stories? How about detective stories by a Nobel Prize winner? Knight's Gambit is an often overlooked member of Faulkner's oevre because it doesn't represent the Faulkner we're used to. You'll find none of Faulkner's signature stream-of-consciousness here. And that might be a good thing.On a whole the stories are more easily accessible and because of this, Knight's Gambit is a great, simple introduction to Faulkner's South and his major concerns. All of Faulkner's major themes are explored here (Southern identity, the ramifications of slavery on whites and blacks, human being's relationship to the land, the eternal nature of the land, human weakness, the Southern gothic). What makes Detective Gavin Stevens a great detective in these stories is not the hard-boiled, gut-it-out attitude of a Sam Spade, or the razor sharp senses of Sherlock Holmes, but rather his intimate knowledge of the South and its people. This is what allows him to solve the cases before him, and it is also what makes these stories "Faulkner." In many ways, the central mystery of these stories is not a murder or theft or the situation at hand, but rather the South itself. Because it is easily accessible, while retaining Faulkner's signature thematic concerns, it's a perfect Faulkner primer, which is how I used it when I taught a Major Author's course on Faulkner at National University. A great fun read, which you can enjoy in bite size stories. Plus, you still get credit for reading Faulkner.

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