|Born||William Cuthbert Falkner|
September 25, 1897
New Albany, Mississippi, U.S.
|Died||July 6, 1962 (aged 64)|
Byhalia, Mississippi, U.S.
|Education||University of Mississippi (Did not graduate)|
William Cuthbert Faulkner (//; September 25, 1897 – July 6, 1962) was an American writer known for his novels and short stories set in the fictional Yoknapatawpha County, based on Lafayette County, Mississippi, where Faulkner spent most of his life. A Nobel Prize laureate, Faulkner is one of the most celebrated writers of American literature and is considered the greatest writer of Southern literature.
Born in New Albany, Mississippi, Faulkner's family moved to Oxford, Mississippi when he was a young child. With the outbreak of World War I, he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force but did not serve in combat. Returning to Oxford, he attended the University of Mississippi for three semesters before dropping out. He moved to New Orleans, where he wrote his first novel Soldiers' Pay (1925). He went back to Oxford and wrote Sartoris (1927), his first work set in the fictional Yoknapatawpha County. In 1929, he published The Sound and the Fury. The following year, he wrote As I Lay Dying. Seeking greater economic success, he went to Hollywood to work as a screenwriter.
Faulkner's renown reached its peak upon the publication of Malcolm Cowley's The Portable Faulkner and his being awarded the 1949 Nobel Prize in Literature. He is the only Mississippi-born Nobel laureate. Two of his works, A Fable (1954) and his last novel The Reivers (1962), won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Faulkner died from a heart attack on July 6, 1962, following a fall from his horse the prior month.
William Cuthbert Faulkner was born on September 25, 1897 in New Albany, Mississippi, the first of four sons of Murry Cuthbert Faulkner (1870 – 1932) and Maud Butler (1871 – 1960). His family was upper middle-class, but "not quite of the old feudal cotton aristocracy". After Maud rejected Murry's plan to become a rancher in Texas, the family moved to Oxford, Mississippi in 1902, where Faulkner's father later became the business manager of the University of Mississippi. Besides short periods elsewhere, Faulkner lived in Oxford for the rest of his life.
His family, particularly his mother Maud, his maternal grandmother Lelia Butler, and Caroline "Callie" Barr (the African American nanny who raised him from infancy) influenced the development of Faulkner’s artistic imagination. Both his mother and his grandmother were avid readers as well as painters and photographers, educating him in visual language. While Murry enjoyed the outdoors and encouraged his sons to hunt, track, and fish, Maud valued education and took pleasure in reading and going to church. She taught her sons to read before she sent them to public school and she also exposed them to literary classics such as the works of Charles Dickens and the Grimms' Fairy Tales.
Faulkner spent his boyhood listening to stories which were told to him by his elders including stories which were about the Civil War, slavery, the Ku Klux Klan, and the Faulkner family. Faulkner's grandfather also told him about the exploits of William's great-grandfather and namesake, William Clark Falkner, a successful businessman, writer, and Confederate hero. Telling stories about "Old Colonel", as his family called him, had already become something of a family pastime when Faulkner was a boy. According to one of Faulkner's biographers, by the time William was born, his great-grandfather had "long since been enshrined as a household deity." Young William was greatly influenced by the history of his family and the region in which he lived. Mississippi marked his sense of humor, his sense of the tragic position of "black and white" Americans, his characterization of Southern characters, and his timeless themes, including fiercely intelligent people who are dwelling behind the façades of good ol' boys and simpletons.
Faulkner initially excelled in school and skipped the second grade. However, beginning somewhere in the fourth and fifth grades of his schooling, Faulkner became a much quieter and more withdrawn child. He occasionally played hooky and became indifferent regarding schoolwork. Instead, he took an interest in studying the history of Mississippi. The decline of his performance in school continued, and Faulkner wound up repeating the eleventh and twelfth grades, never graduating from high school.
As a teenager in Oxford, Faulkner dated Estelle Oldham (1897–1972), the popular daughter of Major Lemuel and Lida Oldham, and he also believed he would marry her. However, Estelle dated other boys during their romance, and, in 1918, one of them, Cornell Franklin (five years Faulkner's senior), proposed marriage to her before Faulkner did. Her parents insisted she marry Franklin for various reasons: he was an Ole Miss law graduate, had recently been commissioned as a major in the Hawaii Army National Guard, and came from a respectable family with whom they were old friends. Estelle's marriage to Franklin fell apart ten years later, however, and they divorced in April 1929.
When he was 17, Faulkner met Phil Stone, who became an important early influence on his writing. Stone was four years his senior and came from one of Oxford's older families; he was passionate about literature and had bachelor's degrees from Yale and the University of Mississippi. Stone read and was impressed by some of Faulkner's early poetry, becoming one of the first to recognize and encourage Faulkner's talent. Stone mentored the young Faulkner, introducing him to the works of writers such as James Joyce, who influenced Faulkner's own writing. In his early 20s, Faulkner gave poems and short stories he had written to Stone in hopes of their being published. Stone sent these to publishers, but they were uniformly rejected. In spring 1918, Faulkner traveled to live with Stone at Yale, his first trip to the North.
Although he initially planned to join the British Army in hopes of being commissioned as an officer, Faulkner joined the Canadian RAF with a forged letter of reference and left Yale to receive training in Toronto. Accounts of Faulkner being rejected from the United States Army Air Service due to his short stature, despite wide publication, are false.
Despite his claims, records indicate that Faulkner was never actually a member of the British Royal Flying Corps and never saw active service during the First World War. Despite claiming so in his letters, Faulkner did not receive cockpit training or even fly. Faulkner returned to Oxford in December 1918, where he told acquaintances false war-stories and even faked a war wound.
In 1918, Faulkner's surname changed from "Falkner" to "Faulkner". According to one story, a careless typesetter made an error. When the misprint appeared on the title page of his first book, Faulkner was asked whether he wanted the change. He supposedly replied, "Either way suits me."
In adolescence, Faulkner began writing poetry almost exclusively. He did not write his first novel until 1925. His literary influences are deep and wide. He once stated that he modeled his early writing on the Romantic era in late 18th- and early 19th-century England. He attended the University of Mississippi ("Ole Miss") in Oxford, enrolling in 1919, going three semesters before dropping out in November 1920. Faulkner joined the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity, and pursued his dream to become a writer.
William was able to attend classes at the university because his father had a job there as a business manager. He skipped classes often and received a "D" grade in English. However, some of his poems were published in campus publications.
In 1922, his poem "Portrait" was published in the New Orleans literary magazine Double Dealer. The magazine published his "New Orleans" short story collection three years later.
Faulkner spent the first half of 1925 in New Orleans, Louisiana, where many bohemian artists and writers lived, specifically in the French Quarter where Faulkner lived beginning in March. During his time in New Orleans, Faulkner's focus drifted from poetry to prose and his literary style made a marked transition from Victorian to modernist. The Times-Picayune published several of his short works of prose. After being directly influenced by Sherwood Anderson, he made his first attempt at fiction writing. Anderson assisted in the publication of Soldiers' Pay and Mosquitoes, Faulkner's second novel, set in New Orleans, by recommending them to his publisher. The miniature house at 624 Pirate's Alley, just around the corner from St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans, is now the site of Faulkner House Books, where it also serves as the headquarters of the Pirate's Alley Faulkner Society.
Also in New Orleans, Faulkner wrote his first novel, Soldiers' Pay. Soldiers' Pay and his other early works were written in a style similar to contemporaries Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, at times nearly exactly appropriating phrases.
During the summer of 1927, Faulkner wrote his first novel set in his fictional Yoknapatawpha County, titled Flags in the Dust. This novel drew heavily from the traditions and history of the South, in which Faulkner had been engrossed in his youth. He was extremely proud of the novel upon its completion and he believed it a significant step up from his previous two novels—however, when submitted for publication to Boni & Liveright, it was rejected. Faulkner was devastated by this rejection but he eventually allowed his literary agent, Ben Wasson, to significantly edit the text, and the novel was published in 1929 as Sartoris.[note 1] The work was notable in that it was his first novel that dealt with the Civil War rather than the contemporary emphasis on World War I and its legacy.
In autumn 1928, just after his 31st birthday, Faulkner began working on The Sound and the Fury. He started by writing three short stories about a group of children with the last name Compson, but soon began to feel that the characters he had created might be better suited for a full-length novel. Perhaps as a result of disappointment in the initial rejection of Flags in the Dust, Faulkner had now become indifferent to his publishers and wrote this novel in a much more experimental style. In describing the writing process for this work, Faulkner later said, "One day I seemed to shut the door between me and all publisher's addresses and book lists. I said to myself, 'Now I can write.'" After its completion, Faulkner insisted that Ben Wasson not do any editing or add any punctuation for clarity.
In 1929, Faulkner married Estelle Oldham, with Andrew Kuhn serving as best man at the wedding. Estelle brought with her two children from her previous marriage to Cornell Franklin and Faulkner hoped to support his new family as a writer. Faulkner and Estelle later had a daughter, Jill, in 1933. He began writing As I Lay Dying in 1929 while working night shifts at the University of Mississippi Power House. The novel was published in 1930.
Beginning in 1930, Faulkner sent some of his short stories to various national magazines. Several of these were published and brought him enough income to buy a house in Oxford for his family, which he named Rowan Oak. He made money on his 1931 novel, Sanctuary, which was widely reviewed and read (but widely disliked for its perceived criticism of the South). With the onset of the Great Depression, Faulkner was not satisfied with his economic situation. With limited royalties from his work, he published short stories in magazines such as The Saturday Evening Post to supplement his income.
By 1932, Faulkner was in need of money. He asked Wasson to sell the serialization rights for his newly completed novel, Light in August, to a magazine for $5,000, but none accepted the offer. Then MGM Studios offered Faulkner work as a screenwriter in Hollywood. Faulkner was not an avid movie goer and had reservations about working in the movie industry. As André Bleikasten comments, he “was in dire need of money and had no idea how to get it…So he went to Hollywood.” It has been noted that authors like Faulkner were not always hired for their writing prowess but "to enhance the prestige of the …writers who hired them." He arrived in Culver City, California, in May 1932. The job began a sporadic relationship with moviemaking and with California, which was difficult but he endured in order to earn "a consistent salary that supported his family back home."
Initially, he declared a desire to work on Mickey Mouse cartoons, not realizing that they were produced by Walt Disney Productions and not MGM. His first screenplay was for Today We Live, an adaptation of his short story "Turnabout", which received a mixed response. He then wrote a screen adaptation of Sartoris that was never produced. From 1932 to 1954, Faulkner worked on around 50 films. In early 1944, Faulkner wrote a screenplay adaptation of Ernest Hemingway's novel To Have and Have Not. The film, which starred Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart, was released later that year and remains the only film with contributions from two Nobel Prize Laureates.
Faulkner was highly critical of what he found in Hollywood, and he wrote letters that were "scathing in tone, painting a miserable portrait of a literary artist imprisoned in a cultural Babylon." Many scholars have brought attention to the dilemma he experienced and that the predicament had caused him serious unhappiness. In Hollywood he worked with director Howard Hawks, with whom he quickly developed a friendship, as they both enjoyed drinking and hunting. Howard Hawks' brother, William Hawks, became Faulkner's Hollywood agent. Faulkner continued to find reliable work as a screenwriter from the 1930s to the 1950s. While staying in Hollywood, Faulkner adopted a "vagrant" lifestyle, living in brief stints in hotels like the Garden of Allah Hotel and frequenting bars at the Musso & Frank Grill and Roosevelt Hotel. He had an extramarital affair with Hawks' secretary and script girl, Meta Carpenter.
With the onset of World War II, in 1942, Faulkner tried to join the United States Air Force but was rejected. He instead worked on local civil defense. The war drained Faulkner of his enthusiasm. He described the war as "bad for writing". Amid this creative slowdown, in 1943, Faulkner began work on a new novel that merged World War I's Unknown Soldier with the Passion. Published over a decade later as A Fable, it won the 1954 Pulitzer Prize. The award for A Fable was a controversial political choice. The jury had selected Milton Lott's The Last Hunt for the prize, but Pulitzer Prize Administrator Professor John Hohenberg convinced the Pulitzer board that Faulkner was long overdue for the award, despite A Fable being a lesser work of his, and the board overrode the jury's selection, much to the disgust of its members.
Faulkner was awarded the 1949 Nobel Prize in Literature for "his powerful and artistically unique contribution to the modern American novel". It was awarded at the following year's banquet along with the 1950 Prize to Bertrand Russell.
When Faulkner visited Stockholm in December 1950 to receive the Nobel Prize, he met Else Jonsson (1912–1996), who was the widow of journalist Thorsten Jonsson (1910–1950). Jonsson was a reporter for Dagens Nyheter from 1943 to 1946, who had interviewed Faulkner in 1946 and introduced his works to Swedish readers. Faulkner and Else had an affair that lasted until the end of 1953. At the banquet where they met in 1950, publisher Tor Bonnier introduced Else as the widow of the man responsible for Faulkner winning the Nobel prize.
Faulkner's Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech on the immortality of the artists, although brief, contained a number of allusions and references to other literary works. However, Faulkner detested the fame and glory that resulted from his recognition. His aversion was so great that his 17-year-old daughter learned of the Nobel Prize only when she was called to the principal's office during the school day. He donated part of his Nobel money "to establish a fund to support and encourage new fiction writers", eventually resulting in the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, and donated another part to a local Oxford bank, establishing a scholarship fund to help educate African-American teachers at Rust College in nearby Holly Springs, Mississippi.
In 1951, the government of France made Faulkner a Chevalier de la Légion d'honneur.
Faulkner served as the first Writer-in-Residence at the University of Virginia at Charlottesville from February to June 1957 and again in 1958.
In 1961, Faulkner began writing his nineteenth and final novel, The Reivers. The novel is a nostalgic reminiscence, in which an elderly grandfather relates a humorous episode in which he and two boys stole a car to drive to a Memphis bordello. In summer 1961, he finished the first draft. During this time, he injured himself in a series of falls.
On June 17, 1962, Faulkner suffered a serious injury in a fall from his horse, which led to thrombosis. He suffered a fatal heart attack on July 6, 1962, at the age of 64, at Wright's Sanatorium in Byhalia, Mississippi. Faulkner is buried with his family in St. Peter's Cemetery in Oxford.
From the early 1920s to the outbreak of World War II, Faulkner published 13 novels and many short stories. This body of work formed the basis of his reputation and earned him the Nobel Prize at age 52. Faulkner's prodigious output include celebrated novels such as The Sound and the Fury (1929), As I Lay Dying (1930), Light in August (1932), and Absalom, Absalom! (1936). He was also a prolific writer of short stories.
Faulkner's 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". He set many of his short stories and novels in Yoknapatawpha County—which was based on and nearly geographically identical to Lafayette County (of which his hometown of Oxford, Mississippi, is the county seat). Yoknapatawpha was Faulkner's "postage stamp", and the bulk of work that it represents is widely considered by critics to amount to one of the most monumental fictional creations in the history of literature. Three of his novels, The Hamlet, The Town and The Mansion, known collectively as the Snopes Trilogy, document the town of Jefferson and its environs, as an extended family headed by Flem Snopes insinuates itself into the lives and psyches of the general populace.
His short story "A Rose for Emily" was his first story published in a major magazine, the Forum, but received little attention from the public. After revisions and reissues, it gained popularity and is now considered one of his best.
Faulkner wrote two volumes of poetry which were published in small printings, The Marble Faun (1924), and A Green Bough (1933), and a collection of mystery stories, Knight's Gambit (1949).
The peacefullest words. Peacefullest words. Non fui. Sum. Fui. Non sum. Somewhere I heard bells once. Mississippi or Massachusetts. I was. I am not. Massachusetts or Mississippi. Shreve has a bottle in his trunk. Aren't you even going to open it Mr and Mrs Jason Richmond Compson announce the Three times. Days. Aren't you even going to open it marriage of their daughter Candace that liquor teaches you to confuse the means with the end I am. Drink. I was not. Let us sell Benjy's pasture so that Quentin may go to Harvard and I may knock my bones together and together. I will be dead in. Was it one year Caddy said.
— An example of Faulkner's prose in The Sound and the Fury (1929)
Faulkner was known for his experimental style with meticulous attention to diction and cadence. In contrast to the minimalist understatement of his contemporary Ernest Hemingway, Faulkner made frequent use of "stream of consciousness" in his writing, and wrote often highly emotional, subtle, cerebral, complex, and sometimes Gothic or grotesque stories of a wide variety of characters including former slaves or descendants of slaves, poor white, agrarian, or working-class Southerners, and Southern aristocrats.
In an interview with The Paris Review in 1956, Faulkner remarked:
Let the writer take up surgery or bricklaying if he is interested in technique. There is no mechanical way to get the writing done, no shortcut. The young writer would be a fool to follow a theory. Teach yourself by your own mistakes; people learn only by error. The good artist believes that nobody is good enough to give him advice. He has supreme vanity. No matter how much he admires the old writer, he wants to beat him.
Writer Flannery O'Connor stated that "the presence alone of Faulkner in our midst makes a great difference in what the writer can and cannot permit himself to do. Nobody wants his mule and wagon stalled on the same track the Dixie Limited is roaring down".
Faulkner's contemporary critical reception was mixed, with The New York Times noting that many critics regarded his work as "raw slabs of pseudorealism that had relatively little merit as serious writing".
Faulkner's work has been examined by many critics from a wide variety of critical perspectives, including his position on slavery in the South and his view that desegregation was not an idea to be forced, arguing desegregation should "go slow" so as not to upend the southern way of life. The essayist and novelist James Baldwin was highly critical of his views around integration.
The New Critics became interested in Faulkner's work, with Cleanth Brooks writing The Yoknapatawpha Country and Michael Millgate writing The Achievement of William Faulkner. Since then, critics have looked at Faulkner's work using other approaches, such as feminist and psychoanalytic methods. Faulkner's works have been placed within the literary traditions of modernism and the Southern Renaissance.
According to critic and translator Valerie Miles, Faulkner's influence on Latin American fiction is considerable, with fictional worlds created by Gabriel García Márquez (Macondo) and Juan Carlos Onetti (Santa Maria) being "very much in the vein of" Yoknapatawpha: "Carlos Fuentes's The Death of Artemio Cruz wouldn't exist if not for As I Lay Dying". Fuentes himself cited Faulkner as one of the most important writers to him. Faulkner also had great influence on Mario Vargas Llosa, particularly on the early novels The Time of the Hero, The Green House and Conversation in the Cathedral. Vargas Llosa has claimed that during his student years he learned more from Yoknapatawpha than from classes.
The works of William Faulkner are a clear influence on the French novelist Claude Simon, and the Portuguese novelist António Lobo Antunes. Cormac McCarthy has been described as a "disciple of Faulkner".
After his death, Estelle and their daughter, Jill, lived at Rowan Oak until Estelle's death in 1972. The property was sold to the University of Mississippi that same year. The house and furnishings are maintained much as they were in Faulkner's day. Faulkner's scribblings are preserved on the wall, including the day-by-day outline covering a week he wrote on the walls of his small study to help him keep track of the plot twists in his novel, A Fable.
Some of Faulkner's works have been adapted into films such as James Franco's As I Lay Dying (2013). They have received a polarized response, with many critics contending that Faulkner's works are "unfilmable". Faulkner's final work, The Reivers, was adapted into a 1969 film starring Steve McQueen.
Faulkner remains especially popular in France, where a 2009 poll found him the second most popular writer (only after Marcel Proust). Contemporary Jean-Paul Sartre stated that "for young people in France, Faulkner is a god", and Albert Camus made a stage adaptation of Faulkner's Requiem for a Nun.
He also won the U.S. National Book Award twice, for Collected Stories in 1951 and A Fable in 1955.
The United States Postal Service issued a 22-cent postage stamp in his honor on August 3, 1987. Faulkner had once served as Postmaster at the University of Mississippi, and in his letter of resignation in 1923 wrote:
As long as I live under the capitalistic system, I expect to have my life influenced by the demands of moneyed people. But I will be damned if I propose to be at the beck and call of every itinerant scoundrel who has two cents to invest in a postage stamp. This, sir, is my resignation.
On October 10, 2019, a Mississippi Writers Trail historical marker was installed at Rowan Oak in Oxford, Mississippi honoring the contributions of William Faulkner to the American literary landscape.
The manuscripts of most of Faulkner's works, correspondence, personal papers, and over 300 books from his working library reside at the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library at the University of Virginia, where he spent much of his time in his final years. The library also houses some of the writer's personal effects and the papers of major Faulkner associates and scholars, such as his biographer Joseph Blotner, bibliographer Linton Massey, and Random House editor Albert Erskine.
Southeast Missouri State University, where the Center for Faulkner Studies is located, also owns a generous collection of Faulkner materials, including first editions, manuscripts, letters, photographs, artwork, and many materials pertaining to Faulkner's time in Hollywood. The university possesses many personal files and letters kept by Joseph Blotner, along with books and letters that once belonged to Malcolm Cowley. The university achieved the collection due to a generous donation by Louis Daniel Brodsky, a collector of Faulkner materials, in 1989.
Further significant Faulkner materials reside at the University of Mississippi, the Harry Ransom Center, and the New York Public Library.
The Random House records at Columbia University also include letters by and to Faulkner.
In 1966, the United States Military Academy dedicated a William Faulkner Room in its library.
Main article: William Faulkner bibliography
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