William Faulkner Biography
Born: September 25, 1897
New Albany, Mississippi
Died: July 6, 1962
William Faulkner, a major American twentieth-century author, wrote historical novels portraying the decline and decay of the upper crust of Southern society. The imaginative power and psychological depth of his work ranks him as one of America's greatest novelists. He also received the 1949 Nobel Prize for Literature.
Youth and experience
William Cuthbert Falkner (as the family spelled its name) was born on September 25, 1897, in New Albany, Mississippi. He grew up in Oxford, Mississippi, the oldest of four brothers. Both parents came from wealthy families reduced to poverty by the Civil War (1861–65; a war fought between the Northern and Southern states of the United States). A great-grandfather, Colonel William Falkner, had written The White Rose of Memphis, a popular novel of the 1880s. William was named in honor of his great-grandfather. William's father owned a hardware store and
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In 1918, after the U.S. Army rejected him for being underweight and too short (5 feet 5 inches), Faulkner enlisted in the Canadian Air Force. During his brief service in World War I (1914–18; a war that involved most countries in Europe as well as many other nations in the world, and in which the United States participated from 1917–18), he suffered a leg injury in a plane accident. In 1918 he left the air force and returned home to Oxford.
In 1919 Faulkner enrolled at the University of Mississippi as a special student, but left the next year for New York City. After several odd jobs in New York he left and again returned to Mississippi, where he became postmaster at the Mississippi University Station. He was fired in 1924 for reading on the job. In 1925 he and a friend made a walking tour of Europe, returning home in 1926.
During the years 1926 to 1930 Faulkner published a series of novels, none commercially successful. But in 1931 the success of Sanctuary freed him of financial worries. He went to Hollywood for a year as a scriptwriter and an adviser.
It was not until after World War II (1939–45; a war in which France, Great Britain, the United States, the Soviet Union, and China fought against Germany, Italy, and Japan) that Faulkner received critical acclaim. The turning point for Faulkner's reputation came in 1946, when Malcolm Cowley published the influential The Portable Faulkner (at this time all of Faulkner's books were out of print). The rapid and widespread praise for Faulkner's work was recognized in a 1949 Nobel Prize for Literature.
Faulkner had married Estelle Oldham, his childhood sweetheart, in 1929, and they lived together in Oxford until his death. He was a quiet, dashing, courteous man, mustachioed and sharp-eyed. He constantly refused the role of celebrity: he permitted no prying into his private life and rarely granted interviews. William Faulkner died on July 6, 1962, in a hospital in Byhalia, Mississippi. He was sixty-four years of age.
Poetry and short stories
During the early 1920s Faulkner wrote poetry and fiction. In the volume of verse The Marble Faun (1922), a printer's error allegedly introduced the "u" into the author's name, which he decided to retain. His friend, Philip Stone, supplied money for another book of poems, The Green Bough (1933).
Faulkner is considered a fine writer of the short story, and some of his stories, such as "A Rose for Emily," are widely anthologized (put into a collection of literature). His collections— These Thirteen (1931), Doctor Martino and Other Stories (1934), Go Down, Moses and Other Stories (1942), and Knight's Gambit (1949)—deal with themes similar to those in his novels and include many of the same characters.
Soldiers' Pay (1926) and Mosquitoes (1927) precede Sartoris (1927), Faulkner's first important work, in which he begins his Yoknapatawpha saga. This saga, Faulkner's imaginative re-creation of the tragedy of the American South, is written so that each novel works with the others to clarify and redefine the characters. The novel introduces families that reappear in many of Faulkner's novels and stories: the Sartoris and Compson families, representing the land-owning, aristocratic Old South; and the Snopes clan, representing the ruthless, commercial New South.
The Sound and the Fury
The book generally regarded as Faulkner's masterpiece, The Sound and the Fury (1929), is written in a style that differs from most novels of the time. It uses a stream-of-consciousness method (where the author lets his thoughts flow freely), creating a different manner of thought in each of its four sections. The novel records the breakdown of the Compson family, which serves to suggest a breakdown of the southern ways of the past. Each section takes place in a single day; three sections are set in 1928 and one in 1910. The difficulties begin with the fact that the section set in 1910 is placed second in the book, while the other three set in 1928 are not in the order in which they occur during their three-day span.
The Benjy section (April 7, 1928) is the most difficult section to read. Because the mentally impaired Benjy lives in a state where things rarely change, his report is purely physical, and the reader must figure out his own order of time. Faulkner gives two aids, however: the device of signaling time shifts by alternating the typeface between bold and italic, and the different people attending Benjy.
Out of Benjy's jumbled report comes background information for the novel. He is thirty-three years old, and in the constant care of an African American youth named Luster. Benjy is troubled by the absence of his sister, Candace, though she has been out of the household for eighteen years. The oldest son, Quentin, was sent to Harvard, where he committed suicide. Mrs. Compson is a self-pitying woman; Mr. Compson is a drunkard; Uncle Maury is a womanizer; Candace is lacking in morals and, in turn, her daughter, confusingly called Quentin (after her dead uncle), is also morally loose.
Ironically, the most sensitive and intelligent Compson, Quentin (whose day in the novel is June 1, 1910), shares Benjy's obsession about their sister. Candace and the past dominate Quentin's section, which is set in Boston on the day he commits suicide. He is oppressed by the knowledge that the pregnant Candace is to be married off to a northern banker. The upcoming marriage is the reason for his suicidal state.
Jason, the third Compson brother, whose day in the novel is April 6, 1928, is one of the great comic villains of literature. He has an irrational, jealous hatred of Candace. Now head of the family, he complains of his responsibilities as guardian of Candace's daughter, Quentin, while systematically stealing the money Candace sends for her care. Jason is greedy, cunning, and concerned only with money and possessions. What makes him humorous is his self-pity. Jason's lack of soul is evident in all of his habits. He leaves no mark on anything and lives totally in the present, which serves to represent the New South.
The novel's final section, the only one told in the third person, gives the point of view of the sensible old black servant, Dilsey (her day is April 8, 1928). As with other Faulkner African American characters, her presence is chiefly practical: her good sense and solidity point at the selfishness and self-absorption of the white characters. In this section Jason meets with an overwhelming defeat. The novel's chief assumption is that the Southern way of life is doomed.
As I Lay Dying (1930) is an absurd epic that uses the multiple stream-of-consciousness method to tell the ridiculous, humorous story of a family of poor whites intent on fulfilling the mother's deathbed request for burial. The story in Light in August (1932) takes place in a single day. Although complicated by a subplot, Light in August generates enormous power and probably ranks second among Faulkner's books.
Faulkner's creativity declined after 1935. Though occasionally interesting and at times brilliant, his work tended to be increasingly repetitious.
For More Information
Blotner, Joseph. Faulkner: A Biography. New York: Random House, 1974.
Fargnoli, A. Nicholas, and Michael Golay. William Faulkner A to Z: The Essential Reference to His Life and Work. New York: Checkmark Books, 2001.
Gray, Richard. The Life of William Faulkner: A Critical Biography. Cambridge, MA: Blackwell, 1994.
Oates, Stephen B. William Faulkner, the Man and the Artist: A Biography. New York: Harper & Row, 1987.
Williamson, Joel. William Faulkner and Southern History. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.
Biography of William Faulkner
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Biography of William Faulkner
William Faulkner was an enormous man in literature despite the fact that he stood less than five foot six. He reshaped the way in which the world views literature today. Faulkner was one of the greatest influences to American culture of his time. In fact, his influence spread throughout many years to come. Faulkner started out as a child with a dream, and with this dream he redefined the literary society of America.
William Cuthbert Faulkner was born on September 25, 1897, in New Albany, Mississippi. Faulkner was the son of Maud and Murry Faulkner. He was the eldest of four sons, and was named after his great grandfather, who was a bestselling writer of “The White Rose of Memphis.” When Faulkner was young, he showed an artistic talent for drawing and writing poetry. Estelle Oldham and Phil Stone were acquaintances of him while in his youth who would become important figures in Faulkner’s future. Stone found great interest in Faulkner’s poetry, which soon caused him to recognize William’s unmistakable talent. He set out to advise Faulkner and give him models for his study of literature. He said that “Always dream and shoot higher than you know you can do. Don't bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself.” (William Faulkner). It was in this way that he conducted his literature, for the rest of his life was sloppy and indulgent. He worked as a postmaster and a scoutmaster for Boy Scouts, and in both he was asked to resign for drinking, and poor work. He dropped out of both high school and college in favor of partying, but during his stay in college, Faulkner was able to create many short stories and poems which were featured in the school newspaper and the yearbook. Faulkner may have been irresponsible and incompetent, but his writings proved to be extravagant works of art that redefined American literature for centuries to come.
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William Faulkner World Views Biography Memphis Phil Talent Scouts Shoot Foot
William Faulkner’s work was defining to the culture of America during the early 1900’s and beyond. Faulkner invented characters to create a saga such as the series of literary works which involved an imaginary county known as Yoknapatawpha. Those works’ “theme was the decay of the Old South, as represented by the Sartoris and Compson families, and the emergence of ruthless and brash newcomers, the Snopeses.” (www.olemiss.edu). The New Orleans culture he lived in influenced much of his writing. Many of his great works, including Soldiers’ Pay, Mosquitoes, and the New Orleans Sketches Collection were written at that locale. He went on to write Sartoris, which he considered to be extremely good but could not get it published. He began writing The Sound and the Fury for fun. That was at the time his writing career was at rock bottom because of his lack of money. It turned out that both of these novels got published. The structure of The Sound and the Fury was revolutionary. It was divided into four parts, and when put together they created a large image of the slow demise of a once- powerful and prominent southern family. The theme of their demise is especially exhibited with the gradual decline of Cady Compson, and her eventual disappearance. Another novel that he had written in 1929, Sanctuary, was one which Faulkner claimed to be simply a moneymaker. Unfortunately, because of its subject, the novel was immediately turned down by the publisher although he eventually got it published. Faulkner’s writing during these years revolutionized literary culture.
Later in his life, Faulkner slowed down in his writing. He moved to Hollywood to be a screenwriter. Faulkner became good friends with Howard Hawks, and his efforts in Hawks’ scripts granted him on-screen credit. One of the first movies directed by Hawks and which he received credit in was Today We Live which was based on Faulkner’s short story Turn about. In June 1930, Faulkner married Estelle Oldham. A year later they had a daughter, Alabama, who died after only a few days of being born. In June of 1933, Estelle gave birth to Faulkner’s only surviving daughter, Jill. Faulkner was awarded a Nobel Prize for literature in 1949. "His powerful and artistically unique contribution to the modern American novel" (The Life of William Faulkner: A Critical Biography pg 38). In addition to winning the Nobel Prize, Faulkner also received two Pulitzer prizes, however, they were not awarded for his most famous novels. To establish a fund to support and encourage New Fiction writes, Faulkner donated a portion of his Nobel winnings which eventually established the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. In 1957, Faulkner became the writer in residence at the University of Virginia where he lived until his death at Wright’s Sanatorium in Mississippi. He died at the age of 64. Like many other American writers, Faulkner struggled with a serious alcohol addiction.
Faulkner influenced more than just the literature of America. Across the entire culture, his works shaped the way people viewed society, in a literary sense. In fact, a modern day rock band derived there name from one of Faulkner’s most celebrated novel, As I Lay Dying. William Faulkner will go down in history as one of America’s greatest writers.
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