FAULKNER, original surname FALKNER (b. Sept. 25, 1897, New Albany, Miss.,
U.S.--d. July 6, 1962, Byhalia, Miss.), American novelist and short-story
writer who was awarded the 1949 Nobel Prize for Literature.
Youth and early
As the eldest of
the four sons of Murry Cuthbert and Maud Butler Falkner, William Faulkner
(as he later spelled his name) was well aware of his family background
and especially of his great-grandfather, Colonel William Clark Falkner,
a colourful if violent figure who fought gallantly during the Civil
War, built a local railway, and published a popular romantic novel called
The White Rose of Memphis. Born in New Albany, Miss., Faulkner soon
moved with his parents to nearby Ripley and then to the town of Oxford,
the seat of Lafayette county, where his father later became business
manager of the University of Mississippi. In Oxford he experienced the
characteristic open-air upbringing of a Southern white youth of middle-class
parents: he had a pony to ride and was introduced to guns and hunting.
A reluctant student, he left high school without graduating but devoted
himself to "undirected reading," first in isolation and later
under the guidance of Phil Stone, a family friend who combined study
and practice of the law with lively literary interests and was a constant
source of current books and magazines.
In July 1918, impelled
by dreams of martial glory and by despair at a broken love affair, Faulkner
joined the British Royal Air Force (RAF) as a cadet pilot under training
in Canada, although the November 1918 armistice intervened before he
could finish ground school, let alone fly or reach Europe. After returning
home, he enrolled for a few university courses, published poems and
drawings in campus newspapers, and acted out a self-dramatizing role
as a poet who had seen wartime service. After working in a New York
bookstore for three months in the fall of 1921, he returned to Oxford
and ran the university post office there with notorious laxness until
forced to resign. In 1924 Stone's financial assistance enabled him to
publish The Marble Faun, a pastoral verse-sequence in rhymed octosyllabic
couplets. There were also early short stories, but Faulkner's first
sustained attempt to write fiction occurred during a six-month visit
to New Orleans--then a significant literary centre--that began in January
1925 and ended in early July with his departure for a five-month tour
of Europe, including several weeks in Paris.
His first novel,
Soldiers' Pay (1926), given a Southern though not a Mississippian setting,
was an impressive achievement, stylistically ambitious and strongly
evocative of the sense of alienation experienced by soldiers returning
from World War I to a civilian world of which they seemed no longer
a part. A second novel, Mosquitoes (1927), launched a satirical attack
on the New Orleans literary scene, including identifiable individuals,
and can perhaps best be read as a declaration of artistic independence.
Back in Oxford--with occasional visits to Pascagoula on the Gulf Coast--Faulkner
again worked at a series of temporary jobs but was chiefly concerned
with proving himself as a professional writer. None of his short stories
was accepted, however, and he was especially shaken by his difficulty
in finding a publisher for Flags in the Dust (published posthumously,
1973), a long, leisurely novel, drawing extensively on local observation
and his own family history, that he had confidently counted upon to
establish his reputation and career. When the novel eventually did appear,
severely truncated, as Sartoris in 1929, it created in print for the
first time that densely imagined world of Jefferson and Yoknapatawpha
County--based partly on Ripley but chiefly on Oxford and Lafayette county
and characterized by frequent recurrences of the same characters, places,
and themes--which Faulkner was to use as the setting for so many subsequent
novels and stories.
The major novels.
Faulkner had meanwhile
"written [his] guts" into the more technically sophisticated
The Sound and the Fury, believing that he was fated to remain permanently
unpublished and need therefore make no concessions to the cautious commercialism
of the literary marketplace. The novel did find a publisher, despite
the difficulties it posed for its readers, and from the moment of its
appearance in October 1929 Faulkner drove confidently forward as a writer,
engaging always with new themes, new areas of experience, and, above
all, new technical challenges. Crucial to his extraordinary early productivity
was the decision to shun the talk, infighting, and publicity of literary
centres and live instead in what was then the small-town remoteness
of Oxford, where he was already at home and could devote himself, in
near isolation, to actual writing. In 1929 he married Estelle Oldham--whose
previous marriage, now terminated, had helped drive him into the RAF
in 1918. One year later he bought Rowan Oak, a handsome but run-down
pre-Civil War house on the outskirts of Oxford, restoration work on
the house becoming, along with hunting, an important diversion in the
years ahead. A daughter, Jill, was born to the couple in 1933, and although
their marriage was otherwise troubled, Faulkner remained working at
home throughout the 1930s and '40s, except when financial need forced
him to accept the Hollywood screenwriting assignments he deplored but
very competently fulfilled.
Faulkner with intimate access to a deeply conservative rural world,
conscious of its past and remote from the urban-industrial mainstream,
in terms of which he could work out the moral as well as narrative patterns
of his work. His fictional methods, however, were the reverse of conservative.
He knew the work not only of Honoré de Balzac, Gustave Flaubert,
Charles Dickens, and Herman Melville but also of Joseph Conrad, James
Joyce, Sherwood Anderson, and other recent figures on both sides of
the Atlantic, and in The Sound and the Fury (1929), his first major
novel, he combined a Yoknapatawpha setting with radical technical experimentation.
In successive "stream-of-consciousness" monologues the three
brothers of Candace (Caddy) Compson--Benjy the idiot, Quentin the disturbed
Harvard undergraduate, and Jason the embittered local businessman--expose
their differing obsessions with their sister and their loveless relationships
with their parents. A fourth section, narrated as if authorially, provides
new perspectives on some of the central characters, including Dilsey,
the Compsons' black servant, and moves toward a powerful yet essentially
unresolved conclusion. Faulkner's next novel, the brilliant tragicomedy
called As I Lay Dying (1930), is centred upon the conflicts within the
"poor white" Bundren family as it makes its slow and difficult
way to Jefferson to bury its matriarch's malodorously decaying corpse.
Entirely narrated by the various Bundrens and people encountered on
their journey, it is the most systematically multi-voiced of Faulkner's
novels and marks the culmination of his early post-Joycean experimentalism.
Although the psychological
intensity and technical innovation of these two novels were scarcely
calculated to ensure a large contemporary readership, Faulkner's name
was beginning to be known in the early 1930s, and he was able to place
short stories even in such popular--and well-paying--magazines as Collier's
and Saturday Evening Post. Greater, if more equivocal, prominence came
with the financially successful publication of Sanctuary, a novel about
the brutal rape of a Southern college student and its generally violent,
sometimes comic, consequences. A serious work, despite Faulkner's unfortunate
declaration that it was written merely to make money, Sanctuary was
actually completed prior to As I Lay Dying and published, in February
1931, only after Faulkner had gone to the trouble and expense of restructuring
and partly rewriting it--though without moderating the violence--at
proof stage. Despite the demands of film work and short stories (of
which a first collection appeared in 1931 and a second in 1934), and
even the preparation of a volume of poems (published in 1933 as A Green
Bough), Faulkner produced in 1932 another long and powerful novel. Complexly
structured and involving several major characters, Light in August revolves
primarily upon the contrasted careers of Lena Grove, a pregnant young
countrywoman serenely in pursuit of her biological destiny, and Joe
Christmas, a dark-complexioned orphan uncertain as to his racial origins,
whose life becomes a desperate and often violent search for a sense
of personal identity, a secure location on one side or the other of
the tragic dividing line of colour.
affluent by Sanctuary and Hollywood, Faulkner took up flying in the
early 1930s, bought a Waco cabin aircraft, and flew it in February 1934
to the dedication of Shushan Airport in New Orleans, gathering there
much of the material for Pylon, the novel about racing and barnstorming
pilots that he published in 1935. Having given the Waco to his youngest
brother, Dean, and encouraged him to become a professional pilot, Faulkner
was both grief- and guilt-stricken when Dean crashed and died in the
plane later in 1935; when Dean's daughter was born in 1936 he took responsibility
for her education. The experience perhaps contributed to the emotional
intensity of the novel on which he was then working. In Absalom, Absalom!
(1936) Thomas Sutpen arrives in Jefferson from "nowhere,"
ruthlessly carves a large plantation out of the Mississippi wilderness,
fights valiantly in the Civil War in defense of his adopted society,
but is ultimately destroyed by his inhumanity toward those whom he has
used and cast aside in the obsessive pursuit of his grandiose dynastic
"design." By refusing to acknowledge his first, partly black,
son, Charles Bon, Sutpen also loses his second son, Henry, who goes
into hiding after killing Bon (whom he loves) in the name of their sister's
honour. Because this profoundly Southern story is constructed--speculatively,
conflictingly, and inconclusively--by a series of narrators with sharply
divergent self-interested perspectives, Absalom, Absalom! is often seen,
in its infinite open-endedness, as Faulkner's supreme "modernist"
fiction, focused above all on the processes of its own telling.
Later life and works.
The novel The Wild
Palms (1939) was again technically adventurous, with two distinct yet
thematically counterpointed narratives alternating, chapter by chapter,
throughout. But Faulkner was beginning to return to the Yoknapatawpha
County material he had first imagined in the 1920s and subsequently
exploited in short-story form. The Unvanquished (1938) was relatively
conventional, but The Hamlet (1940), the first volume of the long-uncompleted
"Snopes" trilogy, emerged as a work of extraordinary stylistic
richness. Its episodic structure is underpinned by recurrent thematic
patterns and by the wryly humorous presence of V.K. Ratliff--an itinerant
sewing-machine agent--and his unavailing opposition to the increasing
power and prosperity of the supremely manipulative Flem Snopes and his
numerous "poor white" relatives. In 1942 appeared Go Down,
Moses, yet another major work, in which an intense exploration of the
linked themes of racial, sexual, and environmental exploitation is conducted
largely in terms of the complex interactions between the "white"
and "black" branches of the plantation-owning McCaslin family,
especially as represented by Isaac McCaslin on the one hand and Lucas
Beauchamp on the other.
For various reasons--the
constraints on wartime publishing, financial pressures to take on more
scriptwriting, difficulties with the work later published as A Fable--Faulkner
did not produce another novel until Intruder in the Dust (1948), in
which Lucas Beauchamp, reappearing from Go Down, Moses, is proved innocent
of murder, and thus saved from lynching, only by the persistent efforts
of a young white boy. Racial issues were again confronted, but in the
somewhat ambiguous terms that were to mark Faulkner's later public statements
on race: while deeply sympathetic to the oppression suffered by blacks
in the Southern states, he nevertheless felt that such wrongs should
be righted by the South itself, free of Northern intervention.
reputation--which had always lagged well behind his reputation in Europe--was
boosted by The Portable Faulkner (1946), an anthology skillfully edited
by Malcolm Cowley in accordance with the arresting if questionable thesis
that Faulkner was deliberately constructing an historically based "legend"
of the South. Faulkner's Collected Stories (1950), impressive in both
quantity and quality, was also well received, and later in 1950 the
award of the Nobel Prize for Literature catapulted the author instantly
to the peak of world fame and enabled him to affirm, in a famous acceptance
speech, his belief in the survival of the human race, even in an atomic
age, and in the importance of the artist to that survival.
The Nobel Prize
had a major impact on Faulkner's private life. Confident now of his
reputation and future sales, he became less consistently "driven"
as a writer than in earlier years and allowed himself more personal
freedom, drinking heavily at times and indulging in a number of extramarital
affairs--his opportunities in these directions being considerably enhanced
by a final screenwriting assignment in Egypt in 1954 and several overseas
trips (most notably to Japan in 1955) undertaken on behalf of the U.S.
State Department. He took his "ambassadorial" duties seriously,
speaking frequently in public and to interviewers, and also became politically
active at home, taking positions on major racial issues in the vain
hope of finding middle ground between entrenched Southern conservatives
and interventionist Northern liberals. Local Oxford opinion proving
hostile to such views, Faulkner in 1957 and 1958 readily accepted semester-long
appointments as writer-in-residence at the University of Virginia in
Charlottesville. Attracted to the town by the presence of his daughter
and her children as well as by its opportunities for horse-riding and
fox-hunting, Faulkner bought a house there in 1959, though continuing
to spend time at Rowan Oak.
The quality of Faulkner's
writing is often said to have declined in the wake of the Nobel Prize.
But the central sections of Requiem for a Nun (1951) are challengingly
set out in dramatic form, and A Fable (1954), a long, densely written,
and complexly structured novel about World War I, demands attention
as the work in which Faulkner made by far his greatest investment of
time, effort, and authorial commitment. In The Town (1957) and The Mansion
(1959) Faulkner not only brought the "Snopes" trilogy to its
conclusion, carrying his Yoknapatawpha narrative to beyond the end of
World War II, but subtly varied the management of narrative point of
view. Finally, in June 1962 Faulkner published yet another distinctive
novel, the genial, nostalgic comedy of male maturation he called The
Reivers and appropriately subtitled "A Reminiscence." A month
later he was dead, of a heart attack, at the age of 64, his health undermined
by his drinking and by too many falls from horses too big for him.
By the time of
his death Faulkner had clearly emerged not just as the major American
novelist of his generation but as one of the greatest writers of the
20th century, unmatched for his extraordinary structural and stylistic
resourcefulness, for the range and depth of his characterization and
social notation, and for his persistence and success in exploring fundamental
human issues in intensely localized terms. Some critics, early and late,
have found his work extravagantly rhetorical and unduly violent, and
there have been strong objections, especially late in the 20th century,
to the perceived insensitivity of his portrayals of women and black
Americans. His reputation, grounded in the sheer scale and scope of
his achievement, seems nonetheless secure, and he remains a profoundly
influential presence for novelists writing in the United States, South
America, and, indeed, throughout the world.
wrote works of psychological drama and emotional depth, typically with
long serpentine prose and high, meticulously-chosen diction. Like most
prolific authors, he suffered the envy and scorn of others, and was
considered to be the stylistic rival to Ernest Hemingway (his long sentences
contrasted to Hemingway's short, 'minimalist' style). He is perhaps
also considered to be the only true American Modernist prose fiction
writer of the 1930s, following in experimental tradition European writers
such as James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, and Marcel Proust, and known for
using groundbreaking literary devices such as stream of consciousness,
multiple narrations or points of view, and time-shifts within narrative.
Faulkner was born
William Falkner (no "U") in New Albany, Mississippi, and raised
in and heavily influenced by that state, as well as the general ambience
of the South. Mississippi marked his sense of humor, his sense of the
tragic position of Blacks and Whites, his keen characterization of usual
Southern characters and his timeless themes, one of them being that
fiercely intelligent people dwelled behind the facade of good old boys
and simpletons. An early editor misspelled Falkner's name as "Faulkner",
and the author decided to keep the spelling.
celebrated novels include The Sound and the Fury (1929), As I Lay Dying
(1930), Light in August (1932), The Unvanquished (1938), and Absalom,
Absalom (1936), which are usually considered masterpieces. Faulkner
was a prolific writer of short stories: his first short story collection,
These 13 (1931), includes many of his most acclaimed (and most frequently
anthologized) stories, including "A Rose for Emily," "Red
Leaves," "That Evening Sun," and "Dry September."
During the 1930s, in an effort to make money, Faulkner crafted a sensationalist
"pulp" novel entitled Sanctuary (first published in 1931).
Its themes of evil and corruption (bearing Southern Gothic tones), resonate
to this day. A sequel to the book, Requiem for a Nun, is the only play
that he has published. It involves an introduction that is actually
one sentence that spans for a couple pages. He received a Pulitzer Prize
for A Fable, and won a National Book Award (posthumously) for his Collected
Faulkner was also
an acclaimed writer of mysteries, publishing a collection of crime fiction,
Knight's Gambit, that featured Gavin Stevens, an attorney, wise to the
ways of folk living in Yoknapatawpha County. He set many of his short
stories and novels in his fictional Yoknapatawpha County, based on--and
nearly identical to in terms of geography--Lafayette County, of which
his hometown of Oxford, Mississippi is the county seat; Yoknapatawpha
was his very own "postage stamp" and it is considered to be
one of the most monumetal fictional creations in the history of literature.
In his later years
Faulkner moved to Hollywood to be a screenwriter (producing scripts
for Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep and Ernest Hemingway's To Have
and Have Not--both directed by Howard Hawks). Faulkner started an affair
with a secretary for Hawks, Meta Carpenter.
Faulkner was known
rather infamously for his drinking problem as well, and throughout his
life was known to be an alcoholic.
He was awarded the
Nobel Prize in literature in 1949. He drank shortly before he had to
sail to Stockholm to receive the distinguished prize. Once there, he
delivered one of the greatest speeches any literature recipient had
ever given. In it, he remarked "I decline to accept the end of
man...Man will not only endure, but prevail..." Both events were
fully in character. Faulkner donated his Nobel winnings, "to establish
a fund to support and encourage new fiction writers", eventually
resulting in the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction.
as Writer-In-Residence at the University of Virginia from 1957 until
his death in 1962.
(1897-1962), who came from an old southern family, grew up in Oxford,
Mississippi. He joined the Canadian, and later the British, Royal Air
Force during the First World War, studied for a while at the University
of Mississippi, and temporarily worked for a New York bookstore and
a New Orleans newspaper. Except for some trips to Europe and Asia, and
a few brief stays in Hollywood as a scriptwriter, he worked on his novels
and short stories on a farm in Oxford.
In an attempt to
create a saga of his own, Faulkner has invented a host of characters
typical of the historical growth and subsequent decadence of the South.
The human drama in Faulkner's novels is then built on the model of the
actual, historical drama extending over almost a century and a half
Each story and each novel contributes to the construction of a whole,
which is the imaginary Yoknapatawpha County and its inhabitants. Their
theme is the decay of the old South, as represented by the Sartoris
and Compson families, and the emergence of ruthless and brash newcomers,
the Snopeses. Theme and technique - the distortion of time through the
use of the inner monologue are fused particularly successfully in The
Sound and the Fury (1929), the downfall of the Compson family seen through
the minds of several characters. The novel Sanctuary (1931) is about
the degeneration of Temple Drake, a young girl from a distinguished
southern family. Its sequel, Requiem For A Nun (1951), written partly
as a drama, centered on the courtroom trial of a Negro woman who had
once been a party to Temple Drake's debauchery. In Light in August (1932),
prejudice is shown to be most destructive when it is internalized, as
in Joe Christmas, who believes, though there is no proof of it, that
one of his parents was a Negro. The theme of racial prejudice is brought
up again in Absalom, Absalom! (1936), in which a young man is rejected
by his father and brother because of his mixed blood. Faulkner's most
outspoken moral evaluation of the relationship and the problems between
Negroes and whites is to be found in Intruder In the Dust (1948).
In 1940, Faulkner
published the first volume of the Snopes trilogy, The Hamlet, to be
followed by two volumes, The Town (1957) and The Mansion (1959), all
of them tracing the rise of the insidious Snopes family to positions
of power and wealth in the community. The reivers, his last - and most
humorous - work, with great many similarities to Mark Twain's Huckleberry
Finn, appeared in 1962, the year of Faulkner's death.
From Nobel Lectures,
Literature 1901-1967, Editor Horst Frenz, Elsevier Publishing Company,
died on July 6, 1962.