OF THE BABY NAME ABSALOM
Rosa Coldfield is a character in William Faulkner’s 1936 novel, Absalom, Absalom, who initially narrates the story of Thomas Sutpen, which mirrors the lifespan of Southern plantation culture against a Gothic background. Here are intrigue, miscegenation, madness mayhem and hints of incest. Rosa is the sister of Ellen Coldfield, who marries Sutpen and bears him a son and a daughter. When Rosa’s sister dies, and Sutpen’s son has gone into self-imposed exile after killing his half brother, who has Negro blood and who wants to marry his sister (see, we told you), Sutpen proposes to Rosa. One little catch – he wants Rosa to bear him a son before he marries her, so that he may be sure of a male heir. Rosa, wisely, takes this as an insult (ya think?) and leaves him. Needless to say, this turns her into something of a bitter minded woman, and she obsesses over the issue for years to come. It is she who brings the young Quentin Compsen out to the family home to tell him their story and try to fathom their secrets. This she does, but with dire results to herself, and she dies soon after, yet another victim of that particular Gothic cult of the South.
Judith Sutpen is the ill-fated daughter of Thomas Sutpen in William Falkner’s novel, Absalom, Absalom!, published in 1936. Set against the backdrop of the American Civil War, this is a tumultuous story of battle, slavery, miscegenation and incest. Judith is as strong-willed as her father, and she is determined to marry Charles Bon, a university mate of her brother Henry. One little catch – Bon is her half-brother, a result of the illegitimate union between her father and a woman of mixed race. Judith’s father tries to stop the marriage, while Judith goes doggedly about her plans, touchingly making her wedding dress out of scraps in war-deprived times. Her brother, Henry, is at first for the marriage, in spite of the familial relationship, but opposes it once he learns of Charles’ racial background (perhaps just a wee misplacement of priorities?). Henry then murders Charles and goes into a self-imposed exile. Poor Judith – somehow amidst all this tragedy she manages to bury the body of her beloved, run the plantation, and make a home for Charles Bon’s own illegitimate (!) son. Finally, she dies of yellow fever while nursing young Charles through his own illness. Now this is Faulknerian Southern Gothic at its best!