Friday, February 16, 2024

Books: Library of America Collections on Frederick Douglass & William Faulkner


The Frederick Douglass Collection -  A Library of America Boxed Set

By Frederick Douglass; edited by Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and David W. Blight

Library of America; boxed set, 2097 pages; $82.50

This exquisitely-produced collection of the works of the great African American freedom fighter Frederick Douglass include all three of his classic memoirs and the best of his landmark, passionate speeches and journalism.

For more than five decades, starting with the antebellum period through the Civil War and Reconstruction up to the Gilded Age, Douglass used his voice and writings to advocate for abolition and emancipation, equal rights, and human dignity. He developed a prophetic style that was saturated with scriptural cadences and a fierce moral urgency. This gathers together both volumes of the Library of America's definitive collection of his collected writings.

Autobiographies, edited by Henry Louis Gates, Jr., presents all three of Douglass' memoirs: Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, written in 1845, is a powerfully compressed account of the cruelty and oppression of the Maryland plantation culture into which Douglass was born and of his escape to freedom. In My Bondage and My Freedom, from 1855, Douglass expanded on the account of his slave years with astonishing psychological penetration. Life and Times of Frederick Douglass, first published in 1881 and revised in 1893, recounts his efforts to keep alive the struggle for racial equality in the years after the Civil War.

Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer David W. Blight edited Speeches & Writings, the largest single-volume edition of Douglass's writings ever published, with 34 speeches and 67 pieces of journalism presented herein. It includes such classic works as "What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?," which was Douglass's incandescent skewering of the slaveholding rebublic; "There Was a Right Side in the Late War," a scathing rebuke of the push to rewrite the Civil War's history; "Lessons of the Hour," on lynching and the emergence of Jim Crow; and as a special feature, the 1853 novella "The Heroic Slave," which was Douglass's lone work of fiction.

Frederick Douglass: Autobiographies is kept in print thanks to a gift from Roland and Paula Hirsch to the Guardians of American Letters Fund, made in memory of Felix Eduard Hirsch, Elisabeth Feist Hirsch, Paul Gottleib Heide, and Charlotte Dale Heide.

Frederick Douglass: Speeches & Writings is published and kept in print with support from the Berkley Family Foundation and Elizabeth W. Smith.

William Faulkner: Stories (LOA #375)

Edited by Theresa M. Towner

Library of America; hardcover, 1150 pages; $45.00

This latest volume of the collected writings of William Faulkner from the Library of America presents all the stories the author gathered for his book collections, in newly edited and authoritative texts. 

These 54 stories were carefully curated by the author in three classic collections - including Knight's Gambit, Collected Stories, and Big Woods - that have their own artistic coherence and integrity.

Faulkner called the short story the "most-demanding form after poetry," and the works here show that he not only mastered the form, but revolutionized its possibilities, as he took an breadth of vision and placed it into narratives that conjure an intimate sense of place and the abiding presence of history and legend.  

In Knight's Gambit, from 1949, there are six stories that feature Yoknapatawpha County lawyer Gavin Stevens, a literary precursor of Atticus Finch. While sympathetic to the foibles of his small-town and country neighbors, Stevens, who was trained at Harvard and Heidelberg, is equal parts detective, confessor, and knight-errant, single-minded in his pursuit of justice but clear-eyed in his understanding that "justice is accomplished lots of times by methods that wont bear looking at."

Collected Stories, released in 1950, won the National Book Award and is regarded as one of the major works of American short fiction. The 42 stories were grouped by Faulkner into six thematic sections that survey the range of his literary universe, from World War I France to Hollywood to the towns and forests of Mississippi. It was published just months before Faulkner was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, and includes such memorable works as the Gothic-inflected "A Rose for Emily," the heartbreaking "That Evening Sun," and "The Brooch," which is a powerful and unsettling story about a man torn between his mother and his wife.

Big Woods (1955) is the final collection that Faulkner oversaw through press, and the hunting stories in here were significantly revised for book form, linked with what he called "interrupted catalysts,"brief passages adopted from earlier novels and stories. "The Bear" is the first story in the collection, one of Faulkner's enduring masterpieces, and it is a haunting tale about the initiation into adulthood and the terrible pull of the past. The stories that follow move into the twentienth century to trace the disappearance of the wilderness and the cultures it sustained.

The volume concludes with an appendix that contains two classic stories not included in Collected Stories, "The Hound" and "Spotted Horses," plus his 1950 Nobel Prize acceptance speech and the fictionalized autobiographical essay "Mississippi."

Theresa M. Towner, the Editor of this engrossing volume, holds the Asbel Smith Chair of Literary Studies at the University of Texas at Dallas. She is the author of The Cambridge Introduction to William Faulkner and Faulkner on the Color Line: The Later Novels, co-author of Reading Faulkner: Collected Stories, and editor of Digitizing Faulkner: Yoknapatwpha in the Twenty-First Century.

About The Library of America: An independent nonprofit organization, the Library of America was founded in 1979 with seed funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Ford Foundation. It helps to preserve our nation's literary heritage by publishing, and keeping in print, authoritative editions of America's best and most significant writing. 

Library for America editions will last for generations and withstand the wear of frequent use. They are printed on lightweight, acid-free paper that will not turn yellow or brittle with age. Sewn bindings allow the books to open easily and lie flat. Flexible, yet strong binding boards are covered with a closely woven rayon cloth. The page layout has been designed for readability, as well as elegance.

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