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Requiem for a Nun
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Author: William Faulkner > On becoming Gavin Stevens

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message 1: by Lawyer, Moderator Emeritus "Lawyer Stevens" (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lawyer (goodreadscommm_sullivan) | 2699 comments Mod
I must say that I am strongly drawn to Faulkner's Lawyer character, Gavin Stevens. Although he appears in what literary critics call the more minor works of William Faulkner, I find him a powerful character, and a voice of reason. For that matter I cannot characterize anything written by William Faulkner as minor. Nor do I believe those critics could have written anything approximating the works they criticized.

In some ways Gavin Stevens speaks as the conscience of the community. I'm not surprised to see a lawyer central to a number of Faulkner's works. After all, it was his friend Phil Stone who was an attorney that was among his first supporters and aided Faulkner in seeking publication of his work.

And at the time of his death, Faulkner was carried to his final resting place to the old cemetery down Jefferson Street in Oxford by Stone who served as one of his pall bearers. In a photograph in Faulkner A Biography, Stone and Mac Reed the drug store owner stand opposite one another, the two center bearers of six.

I have to say, Faulkner puts some of his greatest lines in the mouth of Gavin Stevens. At least to me, who happens to be a lawyer, Well, I find them great.

In 1951, Faulkner brought back characters from his novel Sanctuary in a kind of sequel, Requiem For A Nun, which was part novel and part play.

Temple Drake who was kidnapped by the Gangster Popeye in Sanctuary is now respectable. She is married to Gowan Stevens from whom she was taken by Popeye.

Not only have they become respectable in marriage, they have formed a family with the birth of a child. But nothing ever goes right for Temple, whether she be Temple Drake or Temple Stevens.

Nancy, the family Nanny stands accused of murdering Temple's baby. She's due to be executed on the morrow.

Enter Lawyer Gavin Stevens, Faulkner's protagonist in Intruder in the Dust, the protagonist of the short stories contained in Knight's Gambit, and one of the central characters in Snopes: A Trilogy,concerning the rise of the lower working class to power. Lawyer Stevens is Gowan's Uncle. He defended Nancy during her murder trial.

You may see my review of Requiem For A Nun at http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/... .

Now, whether by hook or crook, or through the use of guilt which he heaps on his niece by marriage, Temple, he must convince Temple to go with him to the Governor to plead for clemency for Nancy's life.

Gavin reminds us that we are caught in our own histories. In our pasts we creat our present and our future. In Act I, Scene III, Stevens says, "The Past is never dead. It's not even past." It is one of the most quoted lines written by Faulkner, and it speaks to one of his recurring themes that often we are unable to find refuge or redemption for our sins because the past is always with us. We do not change.

Our only chance at redemption is to acknowledge our decisions between good and evil and answer for them.

In Intruder in the Dust, it is Gavin Stevens, defending a black man falsely accused of murdering a white man, who reminds us,

“Some things you must always be unable to bear. Some things you must never stop refusing to bear. Injustice and outrage and dishonor and shame. No matter how young you are or how old you have got. Not for kudos and not for cash. Your picture in the paper nor money in the bank, neither. Just refuse to bear them.”


In some ways, although it is Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird, who normally gets the glory as an attorney, it is Gavin Stevens who casts a wilier eye on his community, guards it and protects it, whether as County Attorney or private lawyer.

For some critics and readers, Gavin Stevens is William Faulkner's fictional persona. Perhaps he is. Faulkner never admitted it. Phil Stone never admitted it. And both men are long in the grave. We can only speculate, surmise, and wonder.

For further information on Gavin Stevens and his adventures, I invite you to see my review of Knight's Gambit at http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/14.... As an enticement to learn a bit more about Gavin Stevens, I'll tell you the piece is written in the voice of Gavin Steven's good friend V.K. Ratliff, the traveling salesman peddling sewing machines on the installment plan across northern Mississippi. V.K. also has a few things to say about folks criticizing his good friend Bill Faulkner, too.

Happy Reading. As Faulkner said, "Read. Read everything."


message 2: by s.penkevich (new)

s.penkevich (spenkevich) | 18 comments I love how you sign as Lawyer Stevens now. Makes me smile every time. Excellent essay here.


message 3: by Lawyer, Moderator Emeritus "Lawyer Stevens" (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lawyer (goodreadscommm_sullivan) | 2699 comments Mod
s.penkevich wrote: "I love how you sign as Lawyer Stevens now. Makes me smile every time. Excellent essay here."

I get a kick out of it, I have to admit. I've often wondered what Gavin Steven's reputation on the silver screen might have been if Gregory Peck had portrayed him. Unfortunately, the film version of Intruder in the Dustdidn't have the "star" power of the film version of To Kill a Mockingbird. With that statement, don't think I care less for Atticus, TKAM has been one of my "summer books" I've returned to year after year. Thanks so much, S. for your kind words.

Lawyer Stevens


message 4: by Lawyer, Moderator Emeritus "Lawyer Stevens" (new) - rated it 5 stars

Lawyer (goodreadscommm_sullivan) | 2699 comments Mod
Everitt wrote: "Mike wrote: "s.penkevich wrote: "I love how you sign as Lawyer Stevens now. Makes me smile every time. Excellent essay here."

I get a kick out of it, I have to admit. I've often wondered what Gav..."


Everitt, thanks much for pointing this out. I just caught sight of it, too. Also, there's an excellent little book, Scout, Atticus, and Boo: A Celebration of Fifty Years of "To Kill a Mockingbird", which is a good companion piece to Hey Boo.

Lawyer Stevens


Christa | 42 comments Mike wrote: "I must say that I am strongly drawn to Faulkner's Lawyer character, Gavin Stevens. Although he appears in what literary critics call the more minor works of William Faulkner, I find him a powerful..."

As the deaf, and kind of quiet former defense attorney, this book rings with me as well. I like Faulkner, not like I live for O'Conner, but I think this book is so incredibly rich. Solid characters, with real lives, and it seems to be that Faulkner finally really got a hold of dialogue that sounds real, not pushed. . . Yes, I go back and forth with him. Will catch up with you all, maybe, then have a good go of it!


message 6: by Sue (new) - rated it 4 stars

Sue | 653 comments Happy Reading. As Faulkner said, "Read. Read everything."


Mike, I think you're leading me to reading a whole lot of Faulkner! I'm now wanting to know all about the man whose name you sign. So many more books!!


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