Biography (Dictionary of World Biography: Twentieth Century)
Article abstract: Using the South as his inspiration and setting, Faulkner wrote a series of novels and stories which reflect universal human truths and conditions; he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1951 and is regarded as one of the greatest of American novelists.
William Cuthbert Faulkner was the eldest son of Murry and Maud Butler Falkner (he changed the spelling of the family name). The Falkner family traced its heritage back across the South, through Tennessee and the Carolinas, but its most outstanding member was William Clark Falkner, grandfather of the novelist.
Known as the “Old Colonel,” William Clark Falkner was the object of his grandson’s rapt attention and emulation. The Colonel was a warrior who fought in the Mexican War and in the Civil War; a successful businessman who built railroads and owned plantations; a writer, whose novel The White Rose of Memphis (1881) was a best-seller; and a martyred hero, shot down in the street by a political enemy. His larger-than-life statue stood among the ruins of the family plantation when William Faulkner was a boy.
By contrast, Murry Falkner was a well-meaning but ineffectual man, drifting from job to job, largely on the strength of the family name, and overshadowed by his strong-willed wife. William Faulkner took after his mother in physical appearance: He was a light, short man with fine features and dark eyes. Although small, he was not frail; he was later active in sailing and flying and was an avid horseman to the very end of his life. He developed a tenacious determination to pursue his own course; in later years, his confidence would be badly shaken by disappointments, but never destroyed. As a youth he had a natural tendency toward isolation, detachment, and observation, which was later to serve him well as a writer.
Shortly before Faulkner was five, the family moved to Oxford, Mississippi. Faulkner started off well in school but soon began to decline in performance; he was never graduated from high school. He retreated into observation: For example, he preferred to watch, rather than dance, even at parties with his sweetheart, Estelle Oldham.
Faulkner’s courtship of Estelle was desultory, his prospects were poor, and she married another man. Two months later, Faulkner joined the Royal Air Force in Canada, giving false information about his nationality and adding a “u” to his name. Although he later claimed combat experience and a wound from action over France, he was still in training in Toronto when the war ended. By December, 1918, he was back in Oxford.
Faulkner enrolled at the University of Mississippi at Oxford as a veteran. He did not fit in with the other students—they mocked him as “Count No-Count” because of his affectations and poverty—and his only interest was writing for campus literary journals. Within a year, he had withdrawn from the university and had drifted through a series of part-time jobs.
During this time, he continued to write, mostly poetry. In 1924, his first book, The Marble Faun, was published; Faulkner had to pay a subsidy to the publisher. The next year, he moved to New Orleans, where his career as a writer truly began.
In New Orleans, Faulkner met the author Sherwood Anderson, who encouraged his development and recommended his first novel, Soldiers’ Pay (1926), for publication. The book was followed by Mosquitoes (1927). Neither volume did particularly well, but Faulkner’s next novel, although not published as written until after his death, changed his career.
In 1927, he completed Flags in the Dust (1973; published posthumously), a long, densely populated work about the aristocratic Sartoris family in mythical Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi. This mythical county was Faulkner’s great discovery as a writer, his own “postage stamp of soil” that would be the source for some of the greatest writing of the first half of the twentieth century. Ironically, Flags in the Dust was rejected by the publisher.
Stung, but increasingly sure of his talent, Faulkner continued to write. His next work was his first masterpiece, The Sound and the Fury (1929). The novel concerns the tangled, flawed history of the Compson family, residents of Jefferson, the county seat of Yoknapatawpha. In the work a characteristic obsession of Faulkner emerges: the need to tell and retell the events of the past, from several different points of view, and with versions by several characters. Using stream-of-consciousness narrative (new at the time) and daring to employ an idiot as one of the principal narrators, The Sound and the Fury was a dense, sometimes difficult, but powerful work, dealing with a sense of loss and a longing for the past. The character Quentin Compson yearns for faded family glory and wrestles with incestuous desire for his sister Caddie; later a suicide in Boston, he also appears in other Faulkner tales of Yoknapatawpha. The novel was generally well received but did not earn for Faulkner much money.
In 1929, Faulkner also published a revised, shortened version of Flags in the Dust, entitled Sartoris. The novel was not as technically adventurous as The Sound and the Fury, but it added to the rapidly growing population of Yoknapatawpha County and established themes and plots that Faulkner would develop for the remainder of his career.
Estelle Oldham Franklin, Faulkner’s early love, had returned to Oxford with her two children; in May, 1929, her divorce was granted, and she and Faulkner were married on October 7. They bought a large, dilapidated antebellum house near Oxford and named it Rowan Oak. They would have two daughters: The first would die in infancy; the second, Jill, was Faulkner’s greatest pleasure from the marriage, which was destined to be a troubled one; on their honeymoon, Estelle attempted to drown herself....
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Faulkner’s novels deal explicitly with such controversial topics as rape, incest, masturbation, castration, adultery, impotence, and racism. Despite the fact that such topics are always peripheral to his primary concerns, his novels have been attacked continuously as being shocking and immoral. None of his works was ever subject to direct governmental censorship, but they have often been subjected to cultural censorship.
Boni and Liveright, publishers of Faulkner’s second novel, Mosquitos (1927), insisted on deleting passages that they felt verged on perversion. When Faulkner submitted the manuscript for Sanctuary (1931), which in part deals with the brutal rape of a young college student and her subsequent descent into sexual and moral depravity, to his new publishers, Cape and Smith, in June of 1929, Hal Smith wrote back saying “I can’t publish this. We’d both be in jail.” However, Smith eventually decided to take a chance on the book, so Sanctuary, Faulkner’s fifth novel, was published in 1931. Reviews of the book expressed both horror at its subject matter and admiration for its power. In the public mind Faulkner became associated with sadism, violence, and decadence. His own father was outraged by Sanctuary and sought to have it suppressed and withdrawn...
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Biography (Critical Survey of Short Fiction, Second Revised Edition)
William Faulkner spent most of his life in Mississippi, although as a young man he went briefly to Paris and lived for a time in New Orleans, where he knew Sherwood Anderson. He trained for the Royal Air Force in Canada during World War I, but the war was over before he saw action. He attended the University of Mississippi in Oxford for a year, where he published poems and reviews in a campus periodical; and after dropping out, he worked for a time in the university post office. He married Estelle Oldham, and they had a daughter, Jill. Except for periodic and often unhappy stays in Hollywood to work on screenplays—in order to support a large number of dependents—Faulkner lived and wrote in Oxford, where he had available to him...
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Biography (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
William Faulkner was born William Cuthbert Falkner in New Albany, Mississippi, on September 25, 1897. His ancestors had emigrated from Scotland in the eighteenth century. Faulkner’s great-grandfather, William Clark Falkner, was a colonel in the Civil War, wrote the popular romance The White Rose of Memphis (1881), and provided a model for the patriarch of the Sartoris clan in The Unvanquished. Faulkner’s family was very important to him. The eldest son of Maud and Murry Falkner, William Cuthbert later became the head of the family. He took this responsibility seriously, struggling most of his life to care for those whom, whether by blood or moral commitment, he considered members of his family. In 1924, he...
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Biography (Critical Survey of Mystery & Detective Fiction, Revised Edition)
William Cuthbert Falkner was born on September 25, 1897, in New Albany, Mississippi, the son of Murry C. Falkner and Maud Butler Falkner. The eldest of four brothers, William would eventually change the spelling of his family name to Faulkner, which he believed to be its original form. He moved with his family to Oxford, Mississippi, in 1902. There he grew up and was educated, until he left high school without receiving his diploma. He joined the Royal Air Force in Canada in 1918 and trained as a pilot but was never sent to Europe. From 1919 to 1920, Faulkner attended the University of Mississippi. From 1921 to 1924, he served without distinction as university postmaster; he may even have been discharged from the position (the...
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A white Southerner ahead of his time in many respects, William Faulkner was a product of family and region. He was named for his great-grandfather, a Confederate colonel and railroad builder, on whom he later based the character of Colonel John Sartoris of Sartoris and The Unvanquished (1938). Although he never finished high school, the young Faulkner read obsessively: the Bible, William Shakespeare, and poets such as John Keats, Algernon Charles Swinburne, and the Imagists, who were introduced to him by his lifelong friend, Phil Stone.
After publishing The Marble Faun (1924), a small book...
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Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
William Cuthbert Faulkner (FAWK-nur), one of the greatest American novelists of the twentieth century, was born in New Albany, Mississippi, in 1897. He was heir to a family whose heritage embraced the history of the South, from antebellum riches to the hard times that followed the Civil War. The most notable influence on Faulkner was his grandfather, William Clark Falkner (the novelist changed the spelling of the family name). Known as the “Old Colonel,” William Clark Falkner was a towering figure whose achievements included service in the Mexican War and Civil War and authorship of a best-selling novel, The White Rose of Memphis (1881). Faulkner idolized his grandfather and considered him a true hero, a martyr; he was...
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Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
William Faulkner was born William Cuthbert Falkner in New Albany, Mississippi, September 25, 1897, to Murry C. and Maud Butler Falkner. He was the oldest of four children, all boys. The family moved in 1898 to nearby Ripley and in 1902 to Oxford, Mississippi, the author’s primary home throughout his life. His father’s employment included being treasurer of a railroad, owner of businesses, and administrator of the University of Mississippi. Faulkner’s early loves included trains, horses, hunting, and reading. After years of truancy and low performance, he quit high school in his senior year. Friendship with the future lawyer Phil Stone and frequenting the university campus were positive influences.
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Biography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Faulkner wrote more than nineteen novels and dozens of stories. His best have established him as one of the great novelists and storytellers. Each work is complete in itself, yet his works also inform and relate to one another. His variety is vast: Settings range from the Civil War to the twentieth century, from Mississippi to war-torn France. He used the people and places of his own region to write on universal themes, creating not only characters but also entire families and communities. His reputation grew steadily, first in Europe and Japan, later in the United States and the rest of the world.
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William Faulkner—store-clerk, carpenter, general construction-worker, coal shoveler, deck-hand, cadet-aviator, and ultimately a prime incarnation of the Great American Novelist—was a product of the Deep South. Born in New Albany, Mississippi, the son of a railroad worker, he joined Britain's Royal Air Force in 1918 attended the University of Mississippi, Oxford, and then seemed to lurch through life, changing jobs and travelling. With the appearance of Soldiers' Pay (1926), a novel published with the assistance of his friend Sherwood Anderson he launched himself on the career for which he would become famous.
Many a paradox clings to Faulkner, a traditionalist and even a reactionary who struck out into the realms of extreme literary innovation. Focusing on simple, or sometimes even simple-minded, characters, he employed complex syntax, interior monologue, disrupted chronology, and multiple perspectives to create what might be called realistic allegories. Often, at the core of the most complicated narrative, one finds a Biblical or folkloric motif; and, despite his frequent defense of peculiarly Southern values, Faulkner was often a penetrating critic of America's perennial race conflict. Then again, this extraordinary artist turned out to be an ordinary man, afflicted by his own peccadillos (a taste for strong drink, for example); and at moments, though in complete control of his formidable literary powers, he allowed himself to be drawn into situations that compromised his gifts, as when he worked briefly as a studio writer in Hollywood.
Soldiers' Pay was followed, in rather rapid succession, by Mosquitoes (1927), Sartoris (1929), The Sound and the Fury (1929), As I Lay Dying (1929), Sanctuary (1931), Light in August (1932), and Absalom, Absalom! (1936), a sequence which established Faulkner's reputation as a major presence in American letters and a leading figure in experimental prose. Considering the density of these novels, the achievement which they represent can only be considered as one of the most remarkable in the twentieth century. Unlike James Joyce who labored for forty years over two immense and experimental novels, Faulkner turned out one book after another, as if possessed. Much of Faulkner's work is unified through being integrated into the fictional—or rather mythical—Yoknapatawpha County in northern Mississippi, the imaginary setting of his best-known stories and novels, including ‘‘Barn-Burning’’ and ‘‘The Bear.’’ Like Thomas Hardy's Wessex, Yoknapatawpha County represents an immense act of creative imagination. Faulkner's synthesis of place, history, character, and atmosphere easily leads the reader into believing that Yoknapatawpha is a real place. Of course, real elements go into its making, drawn from the actual South that Faulkner knew so well.
Because the novels that he wanted to write—the difficult ones—sold poorly, Faulkner sometimes produced potboilers (works deliberately and entirely designed to make money for the author), of which Sanctuary, a story of abduction, rape, and murder, is a good example. It was probably on the strength of Sanctuary that Faulkner found himself summoned to Hollywood. His best-known screen-writing effort is his film adaptation of the 1939 Raymond Chandler novel The Big Sleep (1939). After a short while, Faulkner returned to novel-writing, which he practiced until his death in 1962. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1949 as well as two Pulitzer Prizes for his novels A Fable (in 1955) and The Reivers (posthumously, in 1963). Faulkner's later work (including, ironically, A Fable) sometimes seems to be a parody of the earlier writing, but there are enough exceptions to the trend to justify the claim that Faulkner was a great artist from the beginning of his career until the end.
William Cuthbert Faulkner (family name originally Falkner) was born in New Albany, Mississippi, on September 25,1897. He was the oldest of four sons. His family was middle-class and descended from a man who became the model for one of Faulkner's own characters: his great-grandfather, Colonel William Clark Falkner, who commanded a Mississippi unit in the Civil War. Upon returning from the war, Colonel Falkner founded a railroad that his son later took over. His family's colorful history and its intersections with the history of the South provided Faulkner with models for such families as the Compsons.
Faulkner's family moved to Oxford when he was very young, and in Oxford Faulkner developed a love for the outdoors that comes out in much of his fiction. During World War I Faulkner enlisted in the Canadian Air Force but never saw combat. Upon his return he began to write in earnest. For much of the 1920s, Faulkner wandered, moving from the University of Mississippi to New York to New Orleans to Europe and back to New Orleans. Faulkner published his first book, The Marble Faun, a collection of poems, in 1924. The book was named after one of Nathaniel Hawthorne's books and, like Hawthorne, with its publication, Faulkner added a letter to his last name.
In 1926, Faulkner published his first novel, Soldiers' Pay. Although the novel could hardly be called a success either artistically or financially, Faulkner's course was set. In 1929 he published Sartoris, his first novel set, like ‘‘That Evening Sun,’’ in Yoknapatawpha. Others soon followed, including his masterpieces The Sound and the Fury,As I Lay Dying, and Absalom, Absalom!. Faulkner gained a great deal of critical recognition because of these works but never saw the financial success he craved. To that end he wrote two books, Sanctuary and Requiem for a Nun, whose sensational subject matter was intended to make them best-sellers and, he hoped, would tempt Hollywood to make movies from them. He also signed on with a Hollywood studio to write screenplays in the 1930s. Two of the famous movies to which he contributed are the film version of Hemingway's To Have and Have Not and the film version of Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep, both starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.
Faulkner attempted to get a military commission during the Second World War but was unsuccessful. During the 1940s, Faulkner rededicated himself to the craft of fiction and produced two other masterpieces, Go Down, Moses and The Hamlet. Also in this decade, critical opinion of Faulkner changed drastically. The prominent critic Malcolm Cowley edited and, in 1946, published The Portable Faulkner, an anthology that drew from works throughout Faulkner's career. With the publication of this book, Faulkner quickly became regarded as America's greatest living writer. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1949. In the years following the Nobel Prize, Faulkner continued to write and, in 1957, moved to Charlottesville to become the Writer-in-Residence at the University of Virginia. After completing his final work, the Huckleberry Finn-inspired The Reivers, Faulkner died of a heart attack in 1962.
Born on September 25, 1897 William Faulkner belonged to a once-wealthy family of former plantation owners. Raised among a circle of acquaintances similar to General Compson and Major deSpain, Faulkner knew first-hand about life in the South after the Civil War. His fictional Yoknapatawpha County, and its county seat, Jefferson, represent the actual Lafayette County and the city of Oxford, Mississippi, where Faulkner lived most of his life. Although Faulkner dropped out of high school and never finished college, he was a passionate fan of poetry and originally planned to become a poet. He worked for a brief period as a bank clerk before being accepted into the Royal Canadian Air Force during World War I although he never saw combat action.
After working in a New York bookstore and as the university postmaster at the University of Mississippi, Faulkner began publishing stories and poems. His novel The Sound and the Fury brought him to the attention of several critics. Once he realized his talent for fiction writing, Faulkner became a prolific writer, publishing almost twenty novels and several short stories in addition to two volumes of poetry. He also wrote screenplays, essays, and newspaper articles. In his later years, Faulkner traveled widely, giving lectures at American colleges as well as in other countries. He won two Pulitzer Prizes for fiction and a National Book Award. He died on July 6, 1962.
Much of Faulkner's work concerns the decline of Southern life in the aftermath of the Civil War. Once perceived to be a gracious, genteel society, the South as portrayed by Faulkner consists largely of impoverished descendants of former plantation families eking out a living alongside sharecroppers of African-American descent as well as those farmers who had never been affluent. Although these rural areas may seem isolated from world events such as wars and economic depression, Faulkner's works often mirror outside struggle within his fictional county. "The Bear," for example, creates a sense of disillusionment and grief at the decline of natural man in the face of man-made "progress." The story examines how modern society, with its advanced warfare techniques and increasingly mechanized workforce, threatens to destroy man and nature for good.
Another issue of great concern for Faulkner was the ongoing racism that continued to plague the South. Faulkner hated slavery and the social problems that remained in spite of emancipation, and his works often reflect his ongoing concern. Ike McCaslin shares Faulkner's horror at the idea of slavery. He rejects his inheritance in an attempt to escape his connection to this history.
As a writer of the early part of the twentieth century, Faulkner became an influential figure during the modernist period, a movement characterized by experimental forms of fiction such as interior monologue, multiple narrators, and shifts in narrative time. Each of these characteristics can be found in "The Bear," particularly in section four, which Faulkner labored over for several years after completing the first portion of the hunting story.
William Faulkner was born in New Albany, Mississippi, on September 25, 1897. His family moved to Oxford, Mississippi, just before he was five. Faulkner belonged to a once-wealthy family of former plantation owners. He spent his boyhood hunting and fishing in and around Lafayette County. He grew up listening to the stories and myths of the region, and he was especially impressed by the legendary life of the great-grandfather who was his namesake. He was a high school dropout, but he nevertheless developed a passion for literature, originally planning to be a poet. After working briefly as a clerk for the Winchester Repeating Arms Company, he reported to a recruiting station to sign up for World War I. He hoped to become a pilot and fight the Germans in the skies over France; however, they rejected him for being too small. He later signed on with the Royal Canadian Air Force (RCAF) to train as a pilot, but the war ended before he saw any combat.
After the war ended, Faulkner worked in a bookstore in New York, where he met Elizabeth Prall Anderson, the wife of noted writer Sherwood Anderson. His apprenticeship as a serious writer began when he traveled to New Orleans and lived among a group of writers and artists, including Anderson, who encouraged Faulkner’s vision. Although he originally dreamed of being a poet, he ultimately found his voice in fiction. His invention of the mythical Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi, gave him an almost endless source of colorful characters and stories. His greatest novels and short stories are set in Yoknapatawpha.
Faulkner used pieces of his own life and family history in his fiction. His great-grandfather, William Clark Falkner (Faulkner added the “u” to the spelling of his name when he joined the RCAF so that it would appear ‘‘more British’’)—who was also known as the Old Colonel—served as the inspiration for Colonel Sartoris. Colonel Sartoris, who plays a small but important role in “A Rose for Emily,’’ is also a major character in the novel Flags in the Dust. Faulkner based part of the character of Emily on a cousin, Mary Louise Neilson, who had married a Yankee street paver named Jack Barron. More importantly, the character of Miss Emily is the town eccentric—Faulkner certainly understood eccentricity, having made it a lifelong practice. For example, when he was in his twenties taking language classes at the University of Mississippi, he was known as “Count No Count” for what many considered to be an aloof, arrogant, and foppish manner (though his poetry, essays, and sketches were in all of the student publications of the time). Like Emily, Faulkner was often frowned upon in his own home town. He became a pariah in Oxford in the fifties when he spoke out publicly against racism and segregation.
Faulkner published almost twenty novels, several volumes of short fiction, and two volumes of poetry. He wrote many screenplays, essays, and articles for magazines and newspapers. He traveled widely, giving lectures at American colleges as well as foreign universities. He won two Pulitzer Prizes, a National Book Award, and the Nobel Prize for Literature. Faulkner died on July 6, 1962, the same day his great-grandfather, the Old Colonel, had been born on 137 years earlier.
William Cuthbert Faulkner (changed from the original spelling, Falkner) was born on September 25, 1897, in New Albany, Mississippi. He was the first of four sons born to Maud and Murry, a prominent local businessman. The Faulkners moved to Oxford, Mississippi, when William was five; for the rest of his life, Oxford remained his primary home.
Though an avid reader, Faulkner did not like school. In 1914 he quit high school and worked in his grandfather's bank. During this time, he was devastated as a result of a broken marital engagement with Estelle Oldham, who married another man under familial pressure. In 1918 he was refused admission into the armed forces because of his size. Determined to fight in World War I he falsified his credentials to enter the Royal Air Force in Canada, but the war ended before he completed his military training. He attended the University of Mississippi for two years as a special student, from 1919 to 1921.
After his tenure at the University of Mississippi, he worked briefly in a New York bookstore. He returned to Oxford and became postmaster at the university until 1924, when he was fired for writing and socializing while on duty. In 1924, he published his first book, a collection of poems entitled The Marble Faun.
In 1925, he lived for a few months in New Orleans. During that short time he socialized with Sherwood Anderson. It was Anderson's wife, Elizabeth Prall, who encouraged Faulkner to abandon poetry for fiction. He subsequently left New Orleans and traveled to Paris, toured Europe, and began to write his first novel.
His first three novels, Soldiers' Pay (1926), Mosquitoes (1927), and Sartoris (1929) (a shortened version of Flags in the Dust, published in 1973) garnered little attention. In 1929, Faulkner married Estelle Oldham, who had recently divorced her husband. She already had two children, and the couple had two daughters, one of whom died in infancy. Early on, Estelle attempted suicide; this event signaled the beginning of an unhappy union for the couple.
In 1929 Faulkner published his most ambitious work to date, The Sound and the Fury. It garnered much critical praise but was not commercially successful. While working the night shift as a power plant stoker, he wrote and revised As I Lay Dying in under three months. Published in 1930, the novel was praised by critics but attracted little commercial attention.
For the rest of his life, Faulkner made his living as a writer of fiction and Hollywood screenplays. His most accomplished works during the 1930s and 1940s include Light in August, Absalom, Absalom!, The Hamlet, and Go Down, Moses. In 1946 Malcolm Cowley's editing and publication of The Portable Faulkner helped to cement Faulkner's literary reputation and commercial viability.
Faulkner received the 1949 Nobel Prize for Literature and the 1954 Pulitzer Prize for his novel The Fable. During the last ten years of his life, he traveled, lectured, and became an outspoken critic of segregation. From 1957 until his death, he was writer-in-residence at the University of Virginia, near his daughter Jill and her children. In 1962, after years of drinking and a succession of physical problems, he died of a heart attack on July 6 in Oxford.