William Styron: three studies of compositional method

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Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University


William Styron is one of the most respected and frequently studied authors of his generation. Critical recognition of his role as a shaping force in post-modernist fiction has resulted in the production of a large body of published work: a full-scale descriptive primary bibliography and an extensive annotated secondary one; a collection of recent Styron criticism; and two published casebooks that explore Styron's most recent novel, The Confessions of Nat Turner.

Traditional scholarly study of Styron's work is, however, sorely lacking. This study addresses this need by examining several extant Styron manuscripts: Chapter I deals with the holograph manuscript, the “working" typescript, and the "editorial" typescript of Styron's first novel, Lie Down in Darkness (1951). Chapter II treats the unpublished discarded opening to the author's second novel, Set This House on Fire (1960). The final chapter focuses on Styron's annotations on the endpapers of his copy of William S. Drewry's The Southampton Insurrection, an important source for The Confessions of Nat Turner (1967). These documents supply clues to Styron's compositional method and therefore add to our understanding of the author, his fictions, and his reading public.