The Compson’s Relationship to the County and Its History


Although Yoknapatawpha County is never actually mentioned in The Sound and the Fury, readers should understand the connection between the Compson family history and the county’s history.  In Appendix: Compson, 1699-1945, found in the back of the Second Norton Critical Edition of the novel, but first published by Faulkner in The Portable Faulkner, readers find a descriptive genealogy of the Compson family.  However, the appendix first begins with a description of a Chickasaw Chief, Ikkemotubbe, who was “dispossessed” and “granted out of his vast lost domain a solid square mile of virgin North Mississippi dirt as truly angled as the four corners of a cardtable top” to Jason Lycurgus Compson, the grandson of Quentin Maclachan Compson (203).  The next description is of General Andrew Jackson who signed the treaty forcing the Chickasaw Indian tribe to give up their lands for white settlement and move to Oklahoma, which took place around 1833.  This sets the stage for the entrance of the Compsons and other white families into Yoknapatawpha County and the town of Jefferson.

The first Compson description is of Quentin Maclachan Compson, who fled from Scotland to Carolina following the Scottish defeat by the British crown in 1746.  Attempting to stay out of the British-American conflict (rather, not wanting to lose to an English king again), he moved to Kentucky with his grandson, Jason Lycurgus Compson, in 1779.  His son (Jason’s father), Charles Stuart Compson, was a British soldier who was left for dead on a Georgia battlefield.  After being reunited with his son, and burying his father in Harrodsburg, Kentucky, Charles Stuart attempted to be a schoolteacher, but ended up a gambler instead.  He became involved in a conspiracy to secede the Mississippi Valley to Spain, which failed.  He was forced to flee from the country, in Compson family tradition, passing on the impaired integrity of the family name. 

In 1811, Jason Lycurgus Compson arrived at the Chickasaw Agency in Okataba, Mississippi where he became a clerk at the agency, and later a business partner.  Two years after his arrival, Jason traded his prized racehorse to Ikkemotubbe for a square mile of land which would later become the center of Jefferson.  The forested square mile became outfitted with slavequarters, stables, kitchengardens, formal lawns, promenades, and pavilions and the area became more populated and the village of Jefferson grew up around it.  Jason had a son, Quentin Maclachan Compson II who became a governor and was known as the “the last Compson who would not fail at everything he touched save longevity and suicide” (206).  Quentin II had a son: Brigadier General Jason Lycurgus II, a sorry excuse for a general, who put the first mortgage on the Compson land in 1866 and sold off bits of land to pay for that mortgage until his death in 1900.  His son, Jason Lycurgus Compson III, father of Quentin, Caddy, Jason IV, and Benjy, sold more land (all but the house, the kitchengarden, the stables, and one servant’s cabin where the Gibson family lived) to a golf club in 1910 to pay for Caddy’s wedding and Quentin’s education at Harvard.  This is where the downward spiral of the Compson family grew significantly greater and, by this time, the Snopes family had basically taken over Jefferson and become the dominant family in Yoknapatawpha.    

Following his mother’s death in 1933, Jason Compson IV converted the house into apartments and sold it to a man who turned it into a boardinghouse; while Jason got into the cotton business and moved into an apartment above his shop in town.  This brought an end to Compson ownership of any large tract of land in Yoknapatawpha.  With Quentin dead, Caddy gallivanting in Europe, Miss Quentin run off with a man and Jason’s money, Benjy institutionalized, and Jason childless, the Compson family virtually came to an end.

The Compson family history is a sad one, filled with delinquency and despair, and seems to fall in line with that of Yoknapatawpha County and its town of Jefferson.  One can wonder: which relied on the other more?  The Compsons were the first white settlers there, establishing what would become the heart of the county.  Yet, the county appeared equally as important (if not more so) to the Compsons, as with every bit of land that was sold, the family seemed to fall apart more and more, until eventually the family and the family’s holdings on the county ceased to exist altogether.

Published on May 5, 2009 at 12:23 am  Comments (1)  

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  1. Note that the Compson family is associated with a history of failed causes: the failed Jacobite rebellion in England which attempted to re-establish the deposed Stuart monarchy, the failed Confederate rebellion in America, etc.

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