The Mansion is the compelling final novel in Faulkner’s Snopes Trilogy, a series remarkable for the way Faulkner is able to focus the activity on a character, Flem Snopes, who is less and less present in each novel. Told again by multiple narrators, each unreliable in his own way (they are all male), the story’s truth is one we don’t begin to really understand until the final omniscient chapters.
This last novel concludes the events of the previous two and in many ways reinterprets them. It begins with Mink Snopes, serving 20 years for a murder he committed in The Hamlet. This event, not so important in the first book except for demonstrating the sheer cussedness of the Snopes clan, becomes the focus of the third book. The Town related how Mink paid no attention to his own murder trial, simply waiting for his powerful cousin Flem to arrive and get him out of his mess. But Flem never arrived, respectability having bitten him by then, and Mink went to jail vowing to kill Flem when he got out.
The beginning of The Mansion returns us back a few years in the events covered by The Town to when Mink is two years from freedom, having rigorously followed the advice he was given when he went in, to do everything he is told to do and not try to escape. Mink has been concentrating all this time on one thing, getting out and having his revenge.
As he is also a Snopes, Flem knows this, so he frames another cousin, Montgomery Ward Snopes, for an offense that is worse than the one Montgomery actually committed, to get him in to the penitentiary. Then Flem pays Montgomery to convince Mink that Flem is helping him escape, further humiliating Mink by getting him to make the attempt in a dress, and then turning him in during the attempt. Mink earns himself twenty more years in the pen–or Flem earns it for him.
The middle portion of the novel focuses on Linda Snopes, Eula’s daughter, who thinks Flem is her father, and her relationship with the upright Gavin Stevens. Stevens helped her escape Jefferson in The Town, and the largest portion of The Mansion covers her life before and after her return to Jefferson from a more exotic life in New York City. Despite her willingness, Stevens refuses to marry her because of the 20 years difference in their ages. She embarks on an apparently naïve and bumbling career of good works.
Finally, the novel comes back to Mink, as he unexpectedly learns he may be eligible for parole two years early, if only he can find a relative to sign for him. His wife died years ago, his children are long dispersed, but a relative does sign for him, Linda Snopes. The novel builds to a climax after his release, following Mink as he tries to get his final revenge against Linda’s father Flem and Gavin Stevens tries to prevent it.
I think the achievement this trilogy represents is astounding, written as if it were gossip told around an old country store (and later in Gavin Stevens’ law office), centering on one man but leaving that man an enigma, almost a ghost in his own life. Events are told and retold, interpreted and reinterpreted, and so this “oral” history of Faulkner’s fictional county in Mississippi is created.