Absalom, Absalom! – The Chronologies

The "Chronology" included in the appendices of the Vintage International paperback edition of Absalom, Absalom! is the last of three different chronologies. The earliest is the two-page manuscript version that Faulkner prepared in the summer of 1936 in response to his publisher's concerns about the complexity of the novel. The next is the Chronology that Random House published on pages 380-381 of the first edition (1936), and then subsequently reprinted in the Modern Library edition (1951); this revises the handwritten version in a number of ways. Both Faulkner's manuscript and the published chronology contained several obvious errors, most notably dating the novel's present in September and December, 1910. For this reason, when Noel Polk prepared his "Corrected Text" of Absalom in 1986 for the Library of America, he also "corrected" the Chronology "in several instances to agree with the dates and facts of the novel." After that date the various editions published by Random House and its subsidiary, Vintage International, all adopt Polk's revisions.

The table below allows you to see the differences between these three chronologies, and to compare them with the dates Digital Yoknapatawpha uses for the same set of events. The Ms column is Faulkner's manuscript version. RH: the first edition version (New York: Random House, 1936). VI: the Vintage International version (New York, 1990). And DY lists our dates, which in the case of these events agrees with Polk's revisions. When there is a substantive difference in the way a version describes the event, that is also noted.

Thomas Sutpen born in West Virginia mountains. Poor whites of Scottish-English stock. Large family. 1807 1807 1807 1807
Sutpen family moved down into Tidewater Virginia. Sutpen ten years old. 1817 1817 1817 1817
Ellen Coldfield born in Tennessee.
      [Ms: Ellen Coldfield born. Miss. Jefferson.]
1818 1818 1817 1817
Sutpen ran away from home. Fourteen years old. 1820 1820 1820 1820
Sutpen married first wife in Haiti.   1827 1827 1827
Goodhue Coldfield moved to Yoknapatawpha County (Jefferson) Mississippi: mother, sister, wife and daughter Ellen.   1828 1828 1828
Charles Bon born, Haiti.   1829 1831 1831
Sutpen learns his wife has negro blood, repudiates her and child.     [Ms: repudiated her.] 1831 1831 1831 1831
      [Ms: cancelled Clytie born] [1832]      
Sutpen appears in Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi, takes up land, builds his house.
      [Ms: Appeared in Miss, begins house.]
1833 1833 1833 1833
Clytemnestra (Clytie) born to slave woman.
      [Ms: Clytie born.]
1834 1834 1834 1834
Sutpen married Ellen Coldfield.
      [Ms: Married Ellen Coldfield, Ellen 18, Supten 31]
1838 1838 1838 1838
Henry Sutpen born, Sutpen's Hundred. 1839 1839 1839 1839
Judith Sutpen born. 1841 1841 1841 1841
Rosa Coldfield born. 1845 1845 1845 1845
Wash Jones moves into abandoned fishing camp on Sutpen's plantation, with his daughter.*
      [Ms: Wash Jones moves into fishing camp.]
1850 1850 1850 1852**
Milly Jones born to Wash Jones' daughter.
      [Ms: Milly Jones born.]
1853 1853 1853 1851-
Henry Sutpen and Charles Bon meet at University of Mississippi. Judith and Charles meet that Xmas. Charles Etienne St. Valery Bon born, New Orleans. 1859 1859 1859 1859
Xmas, Sutpen forbids marriage between Judith and Bon. Henry repudiates his birthright, departs with Bon.
      [Ms: Sutpen forbids marriage. Henry repudiates him.]
1860 1860 1860 1860
Sutpen, Henry, and Bon depart for war.   1861 1861 1861
Ellen Coldfield dies. 1862 1862 1863 1863
Goodhue Coldfield dies.
      [Ms: Goodhue Coldfield dies in attic.]
1864 1864 1864 1864
Henry kills Bon at gates.
      [Ms: Henry finds Charles is negro, kills him.]
1865 1865 1865 1865
Rosa Coldfield moves out to Sutpen's Hundred. 1865 1865 1865 1865
Sutpen becomes engaged to Rosa Coldfield, insults her. She returns to Jefferson. 1866 1866 1866 1866
Sutpen takes up with Milly Jones.
      [Ms: Sutpen takes up Milly Jones. Milly 14, Sutpen 59]
1867 1867 1867 1867
Milly's child is born. Wash Jones kills Sutpen. 1869 1869 1869 1869
      [Ms: Judith sold store. C E Bon 11] 1870      
Charles E. St. V. Bon appears at Sutpen's Hundred.   1870 1870 1870
Clytie fetches Charles E. St. V. Bon to Sutpen's Hundred to live. 1871 1871 1871 1871
Charles E. St. V. Bon returns with negro wife. 1881 1881 1881 1881
Jim Bond born. 1882 1882 1882 1882
Judith and Charles E. St. V. Bon die of yellow fever.
      [Ms: Judith & Chas. St E Bon died]
      [RH: Judith and Charles E. St. V. Bon die of smallpox.]
1884 1884 1884 1884
      [Ms: Rosa & Quentin find Henry in old house, Clytie
      sets fire to it, Rosa dies.]
September   Rosa Coldfield and Quentin find Henry Sutpen hidden in the house.   1910 1909 1909
December   Rosa Coldfield goes out to fetch Henry to town, Clytie sets fire to the house.   1910 1909 1909

  *Both Faulkner's and Polk's chronologies say Wash Jones moved into Sutpen's fishing camp before Wash's granddaughter was born, but the text says that he moved with the young girl: Sutpen gives Wash "permission" to live there "with the year-old grandchild" (149). So this event and the following one should be transposed.

  ** Our dating of Wash Jones moving into "the abandoned fishing camp" is based on that same passage on page 149: Sutpen "had given [Jones] permission fourteen years ago to squat in the abandoned fishing camp." These "fourteen years" are being dated either from Sutpen's return from the Civil War or his opening of the store, i.e. in either 1866 or 1867. 1866 minus 14 equals 1852, not 1850, as both Faulkner's and Polk's chronologies have it.

  *** Calculating from that passage on page 149 would also mean that Milly Jones (the "year-old grandchild") was born in 1851 or at the latest 1852. Two lines earlier, she is referred to as "a fifteen-year-old country girl" in 1867 (149). Being born in 1851 would make Milly 18 when she gives birth to Sutpen's daughter. When she is about to deliver, however, Wash calls her "a fifteen-year-old gal" (228), and the younger age seems more appropriate in view of the way Milly is described at this time. The most likely explanation for these discrepancies is that Faulkner simply forgot the detail that Milly was a year old when Wash moved into the camp and neglected to add a couple years to her age between the time when Sutpen begins courting her and the time when she gives birth.
     While these textual discrepancies are not major, they do provide an example of how we try to navigate Faulkner's inconsistencies while basing our dates on the text of the narrative.