Styron, William: The Confessions of Nat Turner
(researched by Laura Lindsay)

Assignment 1: Bibliographical Description

1 First edition publication information (publisher, place, date, etc.)

Published on October 9, 1967 by Random House Inc. New York, New York Simultaneously published in Toronto, Canada by Random House of Canada. note: the first actual printing was done in September of 1967 by Random House.

2 First edition published in cloth, paper, or both? If both, simultaneous or staggered?

The first edition was published in fine, bead black cloth with gold, silver and orange stamping. On the cover is a gold-stamped holograph Styron signature with an orange stamped star beneath it. Over the cloth is an orange dust jacket which portrays the profile figure of a large black winged angel with a sword. Beneath the angel in large print is the title, author and Random House claim. Jacket deisgn is by Paul Bacon. The back of the dust jacket features a large black and white photograph of the author.

3 JPEG image of cover art from first edition, if available

4 Pagination

1[blank]2[Books by William Styron] [ i],half title; [ii], blank; [iii], title page;[iv],cpoyright page; [v],dedication page; [vi],blank; [vii], alpha-omega symbol; [viii], blank; [ix], authorís note; [x], blank; [xi], table of contents; [xii], blank; [xiii]-xvi, ìTO THE PUBLICí; 1[divisional half-title] 2,[ epigraph]; [3]-115,text of Part I; [116],blank;[117],divisional half title; [118]blank;[119]-253, text of Part II; [254]blank;[255], divisional half title;[256], blank; [257]-417, text of part III; [418], blank; [419], divisional half title; [420],blank; [421]-428,text of part IV; [429],epilogue;[430],bigraphical note.

5 Edited or Introduced? If so, by whom?

No introduction or editing

6 Illustrated? If so, by whom?

No illustrations

7 JPEG image of sample illustration, if available

8 General physical appearance of book (Is the physical presentation of the text attractive? Is the typography readable? Is the book well printed?)

The Confessions of Nat Turner was the latest in a string of popular novels by William Styron and its presentation is symbolic of its place in literary circles. Set in Primer Old Style, the book is made to give the true feeling of a first edition.. The text is 35 lines (p.241) ;159 (166) x 103 mm; 10 lines = 45mm; face 2.67 (1.67x) mm. Since Nat Turner was published fairly recently the text remains in pristine condition. The dust jacket is only worn at the very corners and the orange has not even begun to fade from its original bold color.

9 JPEG image of sample chapter page, if available

10 Paper (Assess the original quality of the paper used for the book. Is the paper in the copy or copies you examined holding up physically over time?)

The paper used for Nat Turner is wove unwatermarked; thickness .14 mm (pp.35-36) ; total bulk 31 mm ; yellowish white; uncoated smooth. The edges of the paper have been purposely left rough so that each page appears to have been individually cut. Additionally, no two pages extend the same length from the binding so that they appear to have been individually put into place. Like the rest of the book, the paper is nearly pristine in appearance and texture.

11 Description of binding(s)

The pages of Nat Turner have been stiched together, complete with red and yellow headband and tailbands. In addition to the stamping on the cover, the spine is stamped as follows: [silver stamped] [logo] [gold-stamped] THE / CONFES- / SIONS/ OF/ NAT/ TURNER/ [orange stamped] [rule by [rule] / [gold-stamped] WILLIAM / STYRON / RANDOM HOUSE / [silver-stamped] [8 closely spaced rules] . The back is unstamped.

12 Transcription of title page


13 JPEG image of title page, if available

14 Manuscript Holdings

No information available.

15 Other (typograpical information from title page, etc.)

note 1: There is a special collection of first editions of which only five hundred copies exist. Each edition is printed on special paper and is specially bound in red cloth. In addition, each is signed and numbered by William Styron. There is one available copy in Special Collections which contains a personal inscription from Styron to the Barrett Collection. note 2; The particular edition that I was able to view was, apparently a Christmas gift. On the inside leaf of the book there is an inscription that reads; Merry Christmas / to Randy / from / Mother and Father Palmer ë67. note 3: Styron includes both an epigraph and an epilogue to the novel. The epigraph reads;

      		And God shall wipe away all tears from
		 their eyes and there shall be no more 
		death, neither sorrow, nor crying,
		 neither shall there be any more pain: 
		for the former things are passed away.
The epilogue reads:
                   and he said unto me, It is done. 
     		I am the alpha and the Omega, the beginning and
		the end. I will give unto him that is 
		athirst of the fountain of the water 
		of life freely. He that overcometh shall inherit 
		all things; and I will be his God and 
		he shall be my son. 
Oddly enough, Styron prefaces the book with an alpha sign, but leaves out an omega sign.

Assignment 2: Publication and Performance History

1 Did the original publisher issue the book in more than one edition? If so, briefly describe distinguishing features of each (illustrations, cover art, typography, etc.); if not, enter N/A

The original publisher issued the first edition of The Confessions of Nat Turner in five versions; the first edition previously described in assignment one; a book of the month club version, a limited signed issue, a pre-publication issue, and a Krochís & Bretanoís specially signed issue. The book of the month club version is textually identical to the first trade edition with only a few minor variations in terms of aesthetics. The casing differs in that the stamping includes gold, silver, orange and blind. The edges of the book are unstained and top edge cut. Also, the back of the case is stamped with a square dot in the right hand corner in order to identify it as a book of the month club edition. The jacket portrays the same pictures and stamping as the trade edition along with the additional stamp BOOK OF THE MONTH CLUB*SELECTION on the front flap. The back flap also has this stamping. The exact publishing date of this edition is unknown but would be thought to be sometime after the trade edition. The limited signed edition was issued simultaneously with the trade edition. Its differences are slightly greater as there are only 500 copies that were printed, each individually signed and numbered by the author. The one held here at The University of Virginia also contains a personal note from the author to the Barret Collection in which it is held. This particular edition has no jacket and is encased in red cloth. An interesting note to make here is that the issue described in James L. Westís descriptive bibliography has the cloth as being orange. While everything else matches perfectly, I am positive that the one held here in the Barret Collection is, indeed, red cloth. The edges of this edition are stained brown and it is stitched together with a brown and white headband and tailband. This edition, while published simultaneously with the trade edition, was worth, as expected, more than twice the cost.. The trade edition was only $6. 95; this edition was $15.00. The pre-publication edition was issued by Random House in September of 1967. According to Styronís editor at Random House, ìan undetermined number of copies of Nat Turner were made up from sheets of the first impression and were bound in heavy paper wrappers that duplicated the design and colors of the jacket of the first trade edition. These special copies were sent to selected book reviewers and critics in advance of the official publication date ì. Lastly, the Kroch and Bretanoís special signed issue was published by Random House in Chicago and is identical to the trade edition except that Styron has signed his name in blue ink on the inside pages, much as in the other signed edition. The date of publication and price is unavailable.

2 JPEG image of cover art from one subsequent edition, if available

3 JPEG image of sample illustration from one subsequent edition, if available

4 How many printings or impressions of the first edition?

The first edition not only has several different impressions, but several different platings so that its lineage goes something like this: First edition, first plating, five first impressions and then one impression each for the next eight impressions. First edition, second plating, one impression. First edition, third plating, two first impressions issued simultaneously by Jonathan Cape in London. First edition, fourth plating,one impression. First edition, fifth plating, one impression by an unknown Taiwan publisher.

5 Editions from other publishers? If so, list their dates and publishers; if not, enter N/A

Throughout its relatively short history, The confessions of Nat Turner has been published by thirteen other publishers besides Random House Inc. Jonathan Cape, London 1968 ( pre-publication issue as well 1968) Panther Books, London, 1968 1970 1971 Corgi, London 1967 1980 Transworld, London 1967 1987 Black Swan, London 1987 New American Library / Signet, New York 1967 1968 1977 New American Library /Dutton, September 1968 ( out of print) Modern Library, New York 1970 1994 Franklin Library, Franklin Center, PA. 1979 (limited edition) Bantam Books, October 1981 Buccaneer Books Inc. 1994 Random House Books for Young Readers, August 1994 Publisher unknown, Taiwan (Taiwan piracy)

6 Last date in print?

The last date in print is 1994.

7 Total copies sold? (source and date of information?)

The complete data for the total number of copies sold is forthcoming. For right now, the only facts I can give are the following: The first printing issued 75, 000 copies. As of October 30, 1967, only three weeks after it was published, there were 200,000 copies in print. By November 13, the book was selling at a rate of over 5,000 copies a week. The total for the year 1967 ended at 110,000 copies sold, plus Book of the Month Club distribution, which would further increase the totals.

8 Sales figures by year? (source and date of information?)

Again, in terms of sales figures, the rest of the data will be forthcoming. The only facts I can give now are as follows: The original price of the book was $6.95 for the trade edition. The sales just in the week ending October 22, 1967 totaled $6,800.

9 Advertising copy (transcribe significant excerpts, briefly identify where ads were placed)

Finding an advertisement copy of the book proved to be somewhat difficult. While much was written about it, there seemed to be few graphics to go along with the literature. The one example I did find was in Publisherís Weekly, the week of August 28, 1967, page 143. It reads as follows: William Styronís / new novel/ THE CONFESSIONS OF NAT TURNER/ This magnificent book- a perfect/ fusion of an extraordinary writer and/ an absorbing subject- is based / on the life of Nat Turner, a Negro/ preacher who led the only effective,/ sustained revolt in the annals of American Negro slavery. A Book of / the Month Club selection. October / $6.95. Limited edition $15.00./ First printing 75,000. Underneath the caption appears a large picture profile of the author.

10 JPEG image of sample advertisement, if available

11 Other promotion

information unavailable

12 Performances in other media? If so, list media, date, title, production information; if not, enter N/A

The Confessions of Nat Turner is also available in recordings. The Recorded Book Society , New York, New York, 1967 -eight sound discs transcribed by Dwight Weist are available thanks in part to the Book of the Month Club Inc, in cooperation with Recording for the Blind, Inc. Books on Tape, Newport Beach CA. 1967 -an unabridged recording of the book by Wolfram Kandinsky in twelve sound cassettes Books on Tape, Newport Beach, CA. 1985 -special library edition transcribed into twelve sound cassettes by Wolfram Kandinsky.

13 Translations? If translated, give standard bibliographic information for each translation. If none, enter N/A

The Confessions of Nat Turner has been published in over twenty-one foreign countries. In some cases the book has been published by more than one publisher within a given country and has many times been through a second printing. The translations are listed according to country of publication. Austria: Die Biekenntnisse des Nat Turner, Vienna; Buchgemeinschaft Donauland, 1970 Bulgaria: Samopriznaiiata na Nat Turnur / Uiliam Stairun; prevod ot originala Krustan Diankov, Plovdiv: Izdatelstvo Khristo G. Danov, 1972 ( located here at UVA in special collections PS 3569.T9 C612) Brazil: As Confissoes de Nat Turner, Rio de Janeiro: Editora Expressao e Cultura, 1968 Czechoslovakia( Czech, Hungarian, and Slovak) Hungarian- Nat Turner Vallomasai, Bratislava: Madach Konyvkiado,1969 Slovak- Priznanie Nata Turnera, Bratislava: Tatran, 1970 Czech- Doznani Nata Turnera, Prague; Svoboda, 1972 Denmark: Nat Turner En oprorers bekendesler, Copenhagen, Glydendal 1968 Finland: Nat Turnerin Kapina. Helsinki, Kustannusosakeyhtio, Otava, 1969 France: Les Confessions de Nat Turner, Paris, Gallimard/ Du Monde Entier, 1969 1988 Germany and Switzerland: Die Biekenntnisse des Nat Turner, Munich/Zurich: Droemer Knaur, 1968 Die Bekenntnisse des Nat Turner( second edition), Stuttgart:Europ.Buch-u. Phonoklub; Gutersloh: Bertelsmann Lesering, 1970 Hungary: Nat Turner Vallomasai, Budapest; Europa Konyvkiado, 1971 Italy: Le confessioni di Nat Turner, Torino: Einaudi, 1968 (1st edition) Le confessioni di Nat Turner, Milan: Club delgi editori, 1969( second edition) Le confessionoi di Nat Turner, Verona; Mondadori, 1973( 3rd edition) Le confesssioni di Nat Turner, Milano: Arnoldo Mondadori Editore, 1973(1st edition) Le confessioni di Nat Turner, Italy: Leonardo, 1989 ( 1st edition) Le confessioni di Nat Turner, Italy: Euroclub, 1976( 1st editiion) Japan: Nat Turner no kokuhaku, Tokyo: Kawade shobo shinsha, 1970 Mexico: Las confesiones de Nat Turner, Mexico, D.F.: Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes, 1990 The Netherlands: De bekentenissen van Nat Turner, Amsterdam; J.M.Meulenhoff, 1969 Norway: Nat Turners bekjennelser, Oslo: J.W.Cappelens Forlag, 1969 Poland: Wyznania Nata Turnera, Warsaw: Czytelnik, 1973 Portugal: As Confissoes de Nat Turner, Lisbon; Livaria Bertrand, 1968 As confissoes de Nat Turner, Sacavem, Prtugal; Lisbon : Distri editora; Circulo de Leitores, 1985 1967 As Confissoes de Nat Turner, Rio de Janeiro: Rocco 1985 Romainia: (in Hungarian) Nat Turner vallomasai, Bucharest: Kriterion Konyvkiado, 1974 Spain: Las confesiones de Nat Turner, Barcelona: Editorial Lumen, 1968 Sweden: Nat Turners bekannelser, Stockholm: Wahlstrom & Widstrand, 1968 Yugoslavia: (Slovene) Izpovedi Nata Turnerja, Ljubljana: Zalozba, 1969 -unknown, possibly the Taiwainese piracy: The confessions of Nat Turner, Tíai-chung shih: Tíai-wan Tung hai chíu pan she, 1967

14 Serialization? If serialized, give standard bibliographic information for serial publication. If none, enter N/A

Harperís Magazine, September 167, pp.51-102. A 45,000-word excerpt from the book appeared in Harperís Magazine prior to the bookís official publication. Taken from the central portion of the book, the excerpt is, ì a long reverie that takes place in Natís mind as he lingers in jail through the cold, autumnal days before his executionî. The piece is illustrated by Robert White and Henry Wolf. These illustrations are unique in that they do not appear in the finished novel.

15 Sequels/Prequels? Give standard bibliographic information for each. If none, enter N/A

There are no sequels or prequels to this novel as of yet.

Assignment 3: Biographical Sketch of the Author

1 Paste your biographical sketch here (maximum 500 words)

William Styron was born on June 11, 1925. Son of native North Carolinian William Clark Styron and Pauline Margaret Abraham Styron, Styron's southern roots run deep. His paternal grandmother was raised on a plantation and owned slaves. Styron himself was raised in Hilton Village, a small town several miles upriver from Newport News, Virginia. His father was a graduate of North Carolina College of Agriculture and Mechanics and worked for forty years as an engineer at the Newport News Shipbuilding and Dry Dock company. His mother was an accomplished musician who eventually became the music supervisor of schools in Pennsylvania and Colorado. Not long after Styron was born however, his mother developed cancer and became an invalid. She died when Styron was fourteen. Styron was her only child. Upon his mother's death, Styron was sent from the local public school, Morrison High to an Episcopal preparatory school called Christchurch in Urbana, Virginia. Styron enjoyed school life, perhaps a little too much, taking often to drinking, a habit that would haunt him throughout his life. He also took to writing though, and first published in the Christchurch newspaper in 1940. He graduated at the age of seventeen and proceeded to attend Davidson College in North Carolina after being rejected from Hampden-Sydney on account of his record from high school. An interesting note- his father did not let him apply to the University of Virginia as he felt it was too " wild a place for the likes of Bill. " Styron published in the Davidson newspaper and literary magazine as well. When Styron was eighteen he joined the Navy V-12 program and was transferred to Duke University in Durham, North Carolina. He was immediately sent to Paris Island boot camp upon his arrival at Duke where he spent four and a half months. He was commissioned as second lieutenant only weeks before the atom bomb was dropped and then proceeded to guard the naval prison in New York Harbor for a few moths until the Japanese surrendered. Styron then returned to Duke where he continued to write and publish under the tutelage of creative writing professor William Blackburn. After graduation from Duke, where he failed to qualify as a Rhodes Scholar, something he would later write about, he went to New York City to work as an editor at McGraw-Hill. While working, he took a creative writing class taught by Hiram Haydn at the New School for social Research. He was fired in the fall of 1947 from his editorial position. It was then that he began working on his first novel, Lie Down in Darkness. Styron's first publication in a non-school affiliated press was the following year when in 1948 he published " A Moment in Triste" in American Vangard. Lie Down in Darkness was published by Bobbs-Merrill three years later, the same year Styron was recalled to active duty in the Marine Corps. He was discharged only months later because of congenital cataract. This was to be his last service for the armed forces and the beginning of his prolific career as a writer. As Styron's career began to take shape, so too did his personal life . On May 4, 1953 he married Rose Burgunder in Rome. Their first child, daughter Susanna, was born two years later in 1955. Styron have two other children , both daughters; Paola was born in 1958 and was born in 1966. His family grew up in the home Styron still occupies on 12 Rucum road in Roxbury, Connecticut . The Family also owns a summer home in Vineyard Haven, Massachusetts. Throughout his tenure as a writer Styron has published eleven books, almost all of them exclusively with Random House. The other publishers he worked were Bobbos-Merrill on his first novel; Vintage on his second novel; Simon and Schuster on a book entitled, Doing Justice: A Trial Judge at Work in 1990; and on his latest book, Fathers and Daughters: In Their Own Words which was published by Chronicle Books in 1994. Currently he is working on a semi-biographical novel about the Marine Corps. His works have become widely renowned as witnessed in the numbers of awards he as won, including the Pulitzer prize for The confessions of Nat Turner in 1968, the Howells Medal for Fiction in 1970 and the American Book Award for Sophie's Choice in 1980. Perhaps one of Styron's most important personal pieces, however, is his 1990 work, Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness. In it, Styron writes of his own severe clinical depression that resulted in hospitalization on the Yale-New Haven Psychiatric ward in 1986. He was released later that year. The early death of his mother and his forty year bout with alcohol were said to be instigating factors in his illness. Styron's manuscripts are held by the Library of Congress in Washington D.C., and at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.

Assignment 4: Reception History

1 Paste contemporary reception history in here (maximum 500 words)

William Styron's eagerly awaited novel, the Confessions of Nat Turner, was projected to be controversial from its inception. Literary critics questioned how a white southern man would piece together the life history of one of the most revered african american heroes. Stryon responded with a four hundred page first person narrative that for some evoked a timeless piece of the past, while for others it only served to offend. Each of Styron's critics and admirers focused their attentions on two main areas of the novel: the "risky" use of the first person in telling the story and the historical impact and present day connotations. For those that felt Styron's novel was an overwhelming success, the use of the first person narrative was regarded as a bold, yet rewarding attempt to humanize Nat's character. Elliot Fremont Smith stated in his review that appeared in the New York Times, " there is also the problem of the authenticity of turner's inner voice...he thinks, recalls, recants in a voice that many readers will think can only be Mr. Styron's, it is so activated, literate, sensitive and modern. Of course it is Mr. Styron's voice...yet it also faithfully reflects...-the voice of the real Nat Turner as it comes through in the actual confession." The novel's success hinged on authenticity, both of Nat's voice and his actions. Again the New York Times review applauded Styron for his historical presentation of slavery in Virginia stating, " It is one of those rare books that shows us our American past, our present-ourselves evokes slavery and its continuing heritage as it has rarely been evoked before in imaginative literature. " The Wall Street journal October 1967; " a powerful, brooding, sometimes horrifying , always eloquent novel that captures as perhaps no other single book, the overwhelming historical tragedy that was slavery, in the aftermath of which the people of the United States, white and black suffer today". Of the many critics of Stryon's approach to the characterization of a black slave his most ardent opposition came in the form a book published a year after the release of Nat Turner entitled, Ten Black Writers Respond. The book is a series of essays assailing Styron as a racist, a perpetuator of southern white stereotypes and a outright liar. In an essay entitled " The Confessions of Willie Styron, " John Kilkens says, " Americans loved this fake illusion of reality because it legitimized all of their myths and prejudices about the American black man, and further, because it cut yet another great American black man down to the size of a boy. " The title alone of John A. Williams essay states how he feels about the novel. It reads, " The manipulation of history and fact : an ex-southerner's apologist tract for slavery and the life of Nat Turner; or William Styron's faked confessions." The Journal of Negro History also attacked Styron for his arrogant assumption that he could somehow imagine what it is like to be an African American or what it must have been like to be a slave. The journal's review describes Styron's depiction of Nat turner as a, "..caricature, drawn from his (Styron's) own sick and bigoted fancies" For a more complete listings of book reviews check The Book Review Index Alderman reference Z1219.B788

2 Paste subsequent reception history in here (maximum 500 words)

The controversies that surrounded Nat Turner in the year of its publication are the same controversies that critics will argue about today. While reviews of the novel are not as easily available now as they were at the time of its publication, the few that I was able to come across raised many of the same questions that reviewers of the sixties were trying to answer. The main points of contention rested on the use of the first person and the perpetuation of black stereotypes by the white community. More importantly , however, were the reflective comments made in these articles about the impact of Nat Turner on the race relations of the 1960s and the ongoing problems of race that remain within our society to date. In a review in the Nation in 1973, Kermit Vanderbilt stated, " rereading his( Styron's ) meditation on history now, we can recognize more clearly that his controversial portrait of Nat Turner was a paradigm of the passions and deferred hopes of both militants and pacifists in the black movement of the 1960's. " In two other separate articles, Styron himself commented on Nat Turner's historical and social significance. In an article for American Heritage in 1992, the twentieth anniversary of Nat Turner's publication, Styron discussed the racist tag that was so quickly attached to his novel, especially after the publication of the essays of the ten black writers. He quotes Professors Gross and Bender about Nat Turner's boycott by African Americans; " Like the white school children in South Carolina at the turn of the century who had to take an oath never to read Uncle Tom's Cabin because there was not truth in Mrs. Stowe, present day blacks are being similarity assured that they can safely despise Mr. Styron's book without having to read it. " Similarly, Styron's article that appeared in the Boston Globe on the thirtieth anniversary of Nat Turner's publication, speaks of the attacks upon Styron's own personal character by members of the African American community. Styron states, " the overall lament was that I had written a malicious work, deliberately falsifying history, that was an affront to black people everywhere; I was labeled ?psychologically sick, ? morally senile' and was accused of possessing a ?vile racist imagination.' " Styron acknowledges wholeheartedly the risks he undertook in the writing of Nat Turner. He acknowledges as well the poor state of racial relations in our country as a sad comment on the slow progress we have made since the days of Nat Turner. He does not, however, apologize for choosing to write Nat Turner as he did, in a personal, imaginative, historically based, if not entirely factual, manner. In his defense in both articles, as well as in a speech delivered April 7, 1997 at the PEN gala in Cambridge, Mass. Styron quotes friend and African American novelist James Baldwin; " Each of us, helplessly and forever, contains the other-male in female, female in male, white in black, and black in white. We are part of each other."

Assignment 5: Critical Analysis

1 Paste your critical analysis in here (maximum 2500 words)

William Styron's, The Confessions of Nat Turner, was the long awaited masterpiece of a promising southern writer. Although his first novels, Lie Down in Darkness(1951), The Long March(1953), and Set this Houses on Fire(1960) all achieved minimal popularity, they won the interest of literary critics. Styron's southern proponents were eager to compare him with the well loved William Faulkner as the next great southern novelist. Styron's response to the hype that surrounded the release of his fourth novel was a four hundred page tale that incited a wealth of response, a Pulitzer prize award, close to a year long run on the best seller list, and left a burning question about the state of race relations in the United States that still exists today. The Confessions of Nat Turner was published on October 9, 1967. It debuted on the best seller list at #7 during the week of October 23. By November 6, it had been catapulted to #1. It enjoyed a thirteen week run at the top of the charts as compiled by Publisher's Weekly. Nat Turner stood alone on the fiction list as the only novel that was primarily classified as an historically based tale. Other novels that enjoyed popularity throughout the year 1967 ranged from the number one spot held by The Arrangement, the story of a Beverly Hills personality which sold over 212,000 copies that year, to a quartet of suspense, or politico-suspense novels like, Topaz, Rosemary's Baby, The Plot, and The Gabriel Hounds. The other novels that rounded out the list were The Chosen, a tale of a young boy ?s rebellion against the orthodox ways of life of his Hassidic rabbi father, Christy, and The Eighth day, a novel by well-known author Thornton Wilder. Although the fiction books were not historically based, the top selling nonfiction novel was; The Death of a President, a look in to the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. In fact, the sales figures of Death of a President exceeded all those by non fiction and fiction books alike by over 500, 000. It seems that Nat Turner benefited not from the popular trends of the year 1967, but of the year prior when at least one of the genres that novels were concerned with was history. Novels such as Tai-Pan, a historical novel about Hong Kong and The Fixer, a tale of a handyman in Czarist Russia graced the 1966 best seller list which was characterized by the overwhelming landslide of sales figures in the non fiction category. The top ten leading non fiction titles outsold the ten leading fiction novels 2 to 1 in 1966, with the first ten novels all selling 100, 000 plus copies. Only the top three fiction novels sold more than 100, 000. Nat Turner was, it seems, less a trendsetter than a follower. Certainly, this is even more apparent when one looks at the best seller lists for 1968. This compilation was clearly dominated by suspense (Airport by Arthur Haley) espionage( The Salzburg Connection by John Le Carre) and sex ( Couples by John Updike). While Nat Turner may not have reflected the popular tends of novels, it certainly reflected and resounded through current events of the time. To many African Americans, the story of Nat Turner was one of legend. The tale of a militant black slave who fought for freedom by rising against the slave owners of the Southampton region of Virginia was a cherished part of African America history and folklore. For many African Americans, Nat Turner's struggle was emblematic of their own, and at no time was this more readily apparent than in the 1960s. The beginning of the sixties marked a new era in the struggle for civil rights. Racial tensions exploded across America from the deep south all the way to the northeast. Youth involvement gave the movement new life, along with an increased sense of militancy. Sit ins and demonstrations, pictures of black students assaulted by white policemen filled the airwaves and television screens as the movement breathed air into the homes of every American, black and white. As the movement gained momentum in the middle years of the sixties, increasing violence against movement members caused a split within movement leaders. Instances such as the one in 1964 when three young members of CORE, (Congress of Racial Equality) disappeared in a small town in Mississippi, only to have their bodies surface later that year, caused the younger members of the civil rights movement to demand a heightened sense of militancy among blacks. When Stokley Carmichal ascended to the head position of the SNCC( Student Non Violent Coordinating Committee) , it marked the first steps toward the infusion of black power into the movement's agenda. Shortly before Nat Turner was released in 1967, there was a series of riots that left 26 dead in Newark and 43 dead in Detroit. Violence such as this, along with the assassination of two prominent leaders of the civil rights movement, Malcolm X in 1965 and Martin Luther King Jr., in 1968, forced every American to take a deeper look at themselves and at society. Although the civil rights movement was certainly the most contingent event occurring in the sixties with reference to Nat Turner, one cannot forget that this was also the time of the escalating war in Vietnam, the assassination of President Kennedy and later his brother Robert. It was in the center of this turmoil that William Styron gave his novel up to the fires of the American public. Reactions to Styron's novel ranged from that of an overwhelming success, to racist propaganda. Critics response to Nat Turner hinged on three main points of contention; namely whether the reviewer was black or white, whether they felt that telling the story in the first person narrative was an attempt to change Nat's character or to enhance it and lastly, whether or not the story was indeed historically based, or severely mishandled. The southern response to Styron's novel was largely popular. Southerners felt that Styron had accurately been able to bring the legend of Nat Turner and the feel of the Tidewater region in 1831 to life. To them, reliving the past through the story of Nat Turner was an important peek into a stained history they had difficulty reconciling with their immense sense of pride in being southern. The Southern Literary Journal stated that, " The Confessions of Nat Turner is a paradigm of the present: William Styron has used memory and imagination for a liberation-ours and his-from time future as well as time past. Nat's ultimate redemption, Styron suggests, is our own......We are therefore redeemed from time...." Nat Turner gave southerners piece of mind about the past, a release from the burden of the terrible history of slavery, almost an excuse. Nat Turner was, for the southerner, a reconciliation, a way, as Core states, to be redeemed. In the same review, the notion of historical accuracy is raised and passed as George Core states that, " Styron's slight departures from the text of the original Confessions are beside the point." Core also declares, " I will flatly say that Nat Turner's story, as Styron presents it, is a historical novel." Core also wrote a piece for the Southern Review in which he further emphasizes the point that Nat Turner is indeed an historical novel. In this particular review, however, the racial stereotypes of the southern community come through in some of Core's statements. For instance he states that, " Styron's most difficult problem is to depict the Negro mind, the mind of an uncommonly sensitive and intelligent man who in many ways does not outgrow his primitiveness and naiveté.." Core later writes that Styron "... creates Nat with a sensitivity and intelligence which are greater than he possessed in fact." Culturally bias reviews such as this dangerously flooded the markets, so that Nat Turner became at the same time a magnificent hit and a terrible failure, depending on which review one read and which biases one already held. Part of the South's praise for Styron extended from their comparisons between Styron and Faulkner, especially Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom! which also touches on the issues surrounding race relations. The Mississippi Quarterly stated that Styron was surely, " a careful student of Faulkner and the modern novel. " Another comparison made in style and content is to that of Robert Penn Warren's All the King's Men in which Penn Warren depicts the big city machine of Willie Starks, a fictions character modeled very close to the real life big city bossman, The Southern Review claimed that, " Like Faulkner, Warren and Lytle, William Styron is a born storyteller who recognizes that narrative movement is at the heart of the novel.." The most notable similarity between the three novelists however, is that they are all southern born novelists. In the opening of George Core's piece in the Southern Review, he exemplifies just how important Styron's southern heritage is when he says that, " The Confessions of Nat Turner not only shows that its author has at last found his true voice and idiom, but it also demonstrates that novels of the highest order can still be written in the South. " Just as Styron's heritage proved to be an added incentive to read the novel to southerners, his white southern background proved to be his nemesis in the black community. Comparisons to Faulkner abounded from the black community as well, although this time with negative connotations. In John Oliver Killens essay entitled, The Confessions of Willie Styron, he states, " William Styron, darling of liberal critics, inheritor of the mantle bequeathed to him by ?Sippian Willie Faulkner, like his namesake, Marse Willie, has not been able to transcend his southern-peckerwood background." The comparison here is often drawn between the stereotypes of blacks as portrayed in Faulkner's, The Sun Also Rises, with those emulated by the characters in Nat Turner. Critics accuse both Faulkner and Styron of depicting blacks according to racial prejudices. As mentioned in previous assignments, Styron's most ardent form of attack came in the form of a book published the year after Confessions called, William Styron's Nat Turner: Ten Black Writers Respond. The book contained ten essays which vilified Styron as an arrogant southern man who overtook the voice of a prominent black legend and turned him into a fool. From the ten essays the greatest source of controversy comes from the omission of certain facts from the original Confessions concerning Nat's family history, his sex life and why he planned the revolt. According to the original Confessions, Nat did have a surviving relationship with both his father and his grandmother. Styron omits these relationships by telling the reader that Nat's grandmother died shortly after giving birth to Nat's mother and concocting the tale of Nat's father as having run off after being hit by his owner. There is also historical evidence to suggest that Nat Turner had a wife. Styron, however, not only makes absolutely no reference to a wife, but instead fills Nat's sexual desires with a homosexual encounter at the age of eighteen as well as continual masturbation scenes which hold white women as the object of Nat's desires. Lastly, while African Americans cling to the image of Nat as a heroic figure who rose up against the oppression of slavery in the name of freedom, critics feel that Styron's suggested reasoning for Nat's revolt is his desire to become more " white. " Scenes such as the one that Styron depicts when Nat is waiting to be picked up by his new owner recall this theme of Nat's passion for a better life, which centered around being white:

	Solitary and sovereign as I gazed down upon this wrecked backwater of time, I
	suddenly felt myself its possessor; in a twinkling I became white-white as clabber
	cheese, white, stark white, white as marble Episcopalian... Now, looking down at
	the shops and barns and cabins and distant fields, I was no longer the grinning
	black boy in velvet pantaloons; for a fleeting moment instead I owned all, and
	so exercising the privilege of ownership by unlacing my fly and pissing loudly on
	the same worn stone where dainty tiptoeing feet had gained the veranda steps a
	short three years before. What a strange, demented ecstasy.! How white I was!
	What wicked joy! (p.232).
African American critics saw this passage as an attempt to render Nat as a certain type of traitor, ashamed of his blackness, not wanting to help his people be free but wanting to help them achieve the life of a white man. As Alvin F. Poussaint states in his essay, The Confessions of Nat Turner and the Dilemma of William Styron, " Styron's reconstruction of events is an example of the stereotyped belief that black people rebel primarily because of an unfulfilled psychological need to be white and not because of a sense of their own dignity." Perhaps the most troubling part of Nat's apparent obsession with all things white within the African American community, is his affection for white women. Certainly Styron's imaginative writings concerning this area of Nat's life could be construed as an attempt to somehow explain why it is that the leader of the revolt himself took part in the killing of only one white person, that person being a young woman named Margaret Whitehead. For the critics, however ,this reasoning was not justification enough for the continual references to white women as the main objects of Nat's unrequited lustings. For instance, even as Nat is about to be hanged, his last thoughts are consumed with the image of his young white misses:
	 And as I think of her, the desire swells within me and stirred by a longing so great
	that like those memories of time past and long ago voices, flowing waters, rushing
	winds, it seems more than my heart can abide. Beloved, let us love one
	another..,and now beyond my fear, beyond my dread and emptiness, I feel the
	warmth flow into my loins and my legs tingle with desire. I tremble and I search
	for her face in my mind, seek her young body, yearning for her suddenly with a
	rage that racks me with a craving beyond pain; with tender stroking motions I pour
	out my love within her; pulsing flood; she arches against me, cries out, and the
	twain-black and white-are one.(p.426).
Alvin Poussaint again questions why Styron would choose to cause Nat to have an " overwhelming, erotic and quasi-religious attachment to this young girl and her ?whiteness'. " Poussaint begs the question, " Why is not the author able to imagine that Nat Turner had a young, feminine, beautiful and courageous black woman who stood by his side throughout his heroic plan to revolt against slavery!?" Just as one is able to see the biases seep through in the reviews by the southerners, the notion of Nat as a legend can be seen in the reviews by African Americans. Through reading the reviews of black critics, it seems quite obvious that any defiling of character that Styron did to Nat Turner was taken as a personal affront to the character of the African Americans community as a whole. Although most reviews focused their attentions on the racial controversy that surrounded the novel, there were some that made sure to comment on the style of Styron's prose. Whether or not the reviewers felt that the prose came from Styron's point of view as imposed on Nat, or Nat's point of view as imaginatively conjured by Styron, most critics agreed that it was beautifully drawn. Certainly the novel would not have won the Pulitzer prize in 1968 had not Styron been capable of such enlightening literary prose. Most notable were the passages that described the natural setting of the tidewater region. Since Styron grew up in the region, it was surely to his benefit to have been able to experience them first hand. Passages such as the one that follow are characteristic of Styron's ability to bring the words to life so that the reader feels as if he or she is right there alongside the characters: This particular passage describes Nat's view from his cell window:
 	Over Jerusalem hung a misty nightfall, over the brown and stagnant river and the
	woods beyond, where the water oak and cypress merged and faded one into the
	other, partaking like shadows of the somber wintry dusk. In the houses nearby,
	lamps and lanterns flickered on in yellow flame and far off there was a sound of
	clattering china and pots and pans and back doors slamming as people went about
	fixing supper..Already the dusty fall of snow had disappeared; a rime of frost lay in
	its place, coating the earth with icy wet pinpricks of dew, crisscrossed by the tracks
 	of squirrels. In chilly promenade two guards with muskets paced round the jail in
	greatcoats, stamping their feet against the brittle ground.(p.114-115).
As Wilfrid Sheed states in his review of Styron's Nat Turner in 1967, Styron's nature writings, " ..are some of the best nature writings going.." A review done in October in the New York Times hailed Nat Turner as a " triumph," and a " rich, powerful and cathartic novel.."Certainly much of this praise was a result of Styron's carefully crafted writing which, despite the opinions about its content, was nevertheless exquisite. With all the questions and controversies raised by Nat Turner, it seems impossible that the novel would not have been a success. Any book that stirred up so many emotions across so many racial lines is bound to find itself on the best seller list. It is not remarkable then that Nat Turner enjoyed such a successful run through the years of 1967 and 68. What is remarkable, however, is the fact that William Styron was courageous enough to write this novel in the first place, especially as it is written in the first person narrative. Through all my readings of reviews I have found this aspect of the novel to be the one pointed out time and time again as the center of what is right or what is wrong with the novel. By giving Nat a direct voice Styron begged for the criticism to fall down upon him. After all, how dare a middle class white male attempt to give a voice to a slave? How dare William Styron pretend to imagine that he can possibly feel the pain and emotion of an African American when his ancestors were those that owned slaves themselves? Was it arrogance that led Styron to this decision, was it a basic deep set racism, or was it simply an author's attempt to give Nat's story as virile a life as possible? If one choose to believe the first two answers, then it is very possible to read Nat Turner as a racist novel. The opening scene which describes Nat's vision of a white temple could symbolize his desire to assimilate in to white culture. Nat's derogatory statements about the field hands, himself being a house servant, could be construed as Nat looking down on his own race as inferior beings. The ommitance of Nat's most famous statement taken from the real Confessions when he responds to his lawyer's question of " Do you not find yourself mistaken now? with "Was not Christ crucified? could be seen as an attempt to tear down an African American hero. However, if one chooses to accept Styron's novel and the use of the first person narrative as a means to infiltrate the character of Nat Turner and bring this legend to life through an imaginative tale based, and not grounded, in historical fact, then Styron's novel is a book well worth reading. As David Galloway noted in his book, The Absurd Hero in American Fiction, " when The Confessions of Nat Turner appeared , there was a predictable, if unhappily misguided see the work as a manifesto or, at least, as a footnote to history rather than what it so memorably is; the compelling existential portrait of an agonist." This reading of the novel gives Styron more leeway with his descriptions, a green light to use his literary ability to create the Nat Turner he wants to create. Here, Styron is first and foremost a novelist, a writer attempting to tell the best story possible. Although the fault of the controversy surrounding Nat Turner lies mainly with the desire of the critics to view Nat Turner as much more than a novel, part of the blame lies also with Styron himself. His was the first novel to give life to the legend of Nat Turner and thus it was ultimately up to him to create Nat's character as millions of Americans would see him. Most average Americans did not even know the story of Nat Turner and so not only was Styron introducing the character of Nat Turner, but he was doing so to an audience who had no preconceived notions of what Nat Turner was all about. It would have been impossible for Styron to not be aware of the mounting tensions and racial violence that encompassed our nation at the time of his novel's release, nor could he have been immune to the rising sentiments of black power and militantism. He could not have turned his back on the hundreds of student protests against the government's involvement in Vietnam, or the terrible tragedies of the assasinations of extremely important social and political figures. Styron had to have known what Nat Turner would do to stir the already heightened emotions of Americans, black and white, who read his novel. Styron's disclaimer at the beginning of Nat Turner stating that, " I have rarely departed from the known facts about Nat Turner and the revolt of which he was the leader.. " only added fuel to the fire. Was this novel historically accurate? Was this the Nat Turner we should all accept as the real man? By calling his novel a " meditation on history" Styron welcomed any and all to find out just how close to the facts he came. He also invited anyone to look and see what facts he choose to include and why. In essence Styron provided his critics with a both a ways and a means to attack the novel as well as his own personal character. Indeed, the critics took full opportunity of the window Styron had left them. Even today Styron carries with him the burden and the boost of Nat Tuner. In a speech given by Styron at the PEN gala awards in Cambridge, Mass in April of 1997, Styron acknowledged that while Nat Turner is still in print and, " widely retains an ambiguous image for black readers.." Surely, this ambiguity is part of what made Nat Turner so popular in 1967 and continues its popularity today. The numerous award won by Styron for his work on Nat Turner also points to the importance of the novel in American literature, whether one sees it as a racist composition or not. After finally being able to read the novel myself I too was left with an ambiguous feeling about the character of Nat Turner. At times I did feel that Nat's affection for the white community seemed to guide his desires, yet I also saw in these desires a real need to assert his freedom and his power. Without question, The Confessions of Nat Turner is a powerfully wrought complex tale of revenge and justice. I cannot fault Styron for his abilities as a writer and a storyteller. Certainly he deserves the recognition his work has gained. Just as surely, however, does Nat Turner, the man and the legend deserve recognition for his life and accomplishments. Perhaps Styron was not the best man to have given the literary world its only peek into Nat Turner's psyche, but, if nothing, else Styron did, at last, provide a vehicle to showcase Nat Turner to the world.

You are not logged in. (Sign in)