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First edition
Author William Faulkner
Country United States
Language English
Publisher Harcourt Brace
Publication date
Media type Print (Hardback & Paperback)

Sartoris is a novel, first published in 1929, by the American author William Faulkner. It portrays the decay of the Mississippi aristocracy following the social upheaval of the American Civil War. The 1929 edition is an abridged version of Faulkner's original work. The full text was published in 1973 as Flags in the Dust. Faulkner's great-grandfather William Clark Falkner, himself a colonel in the American Civil War, served as the model for Colonel John Sartoris. Faulkner also fashioned other characters in the book on local people from his hometown Oxford. His friend Ben Wasson was the model for Horace Benbow, while Faulkner's brother Murry served as the antetype for young Bayard Sartoris.[1]


The novel deals with the decay of an aristocratic southern family just after the end of World War I. The wealthy Sartoris family of Jefferson, Mississippi, lives under the shadow of its dead patriarch, Colonel John Sartoris. Colonel John was a Confederate cavalry officer during the Civil War, built the local railroad, and is a folk hero. The surviving Sartorises are his younger sister, Virginia Du Pre ("Aunt Jenny" or "Miss Jenny"), his son Bayard Sartoris ("Old Bayard"), and his great-grandson Bayard Sartoris ("Young Bayard").

The novel begins with the return of young Bayard Sartoris to Jefferson from the First World War. Bayard and his twin brother John, who was killed in action, were fighter pilots.

Young Bayard is haunted by the death of his brother. That and the family disposition for foolhardy acts push him into a pattern of self-destructive behavior, especially reckless driving in a recently purchased automobile.

Eventually young Bayard crashes the car off a bridge. During the convalescence which follows, he establishes a relationship with Narcissa Benbow, whom he marries. Despite promises to Narcissa to stop driving recklessly, he gets into a near wreck with old Bayard in the car, causing old Bayard to die of a heart attack. Young Bayard disappears from Jefferson, leaving his now pregnant wife with Aunt Jenny. He dies test-flying an experimental airplane on the day of his son’s birth.

Literary importance[edit]

Sartoris is the first of Faulkner’s tales set in Yoknapatawpha County, and introduces many of the characters that appear in his later fiction. It was also the immediate predecessor of some of his most famous and critically acclaimed novels The Sound and the Fury, As I Lay Dying, Sanctuary and Light in August.

The novel also introduces Byron Snopes in a minor role as a rival suitor to Narcissa Benbow. His relative Flem Snopes is at the center of Faulkner’s "Snopes trilogy": The Hamlet, The Town and The Mansion.

In a letter to his publisher, Faulkner said "At last and certainly, I have written THE book, of which those other things were but foals. I believe it is the damdest best book you'll look at this year, and any other publisher".[2]

Contemporary reviews, however, were mixed; while appreciating Faulkner's writing style, they stressed the book's seeming lack of consistency and its loose plot.[3] Literary critic Cleanth Brooks described the novel as "extremely well-written",[4] full of literary allusions and exploring the plight of a lost generation. He compared Sartoris to the poem The Waste Land by T. S. Eliot.[5]


  1. ^ Blotner, p. 198ff.
  2. ^ Blotner, p. 204
  3. ^ Blotner, p. 236
  4. ^ Brooks, p. 114
  5. ^ Brooks, p. 106
  • Joseph Leo Blotner (1974): Faulkner: a biography. New York, Random House.
  • Cleanth Brooks (1991): William Faulkner: the Yoknapataphwa Country. New Haven, Yale University Press

Preceded by
Novels set in
Yoknapatawpha County
Succeeded by
The Sound and the Fury