Faulkner, William (Vol. 11)
Faulkner, William 1897–1962
See also William Faulkner Criticism (Volume 1), and Volumes 3, 6, 8, 9, 14, 18, 28.
Faulkner, an American novelist, short story writer, and poet, is considered one of the greatest writers America has produced. Although a variety of attitudes and themes are evident in his work, Faulkner is best known as the chronicler of the decadent South. His genius transcends regionalism, however: in his evocation of the mythical Yoknapatawpha, Faulkner's brilliant narrative technique, complexity of characterization, and innovative use of time sequence mark him as a major figure in American letters. Twice the recipient of the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize, Faulkner also received the Nobel Prize in 1950.
Faulkner has not only remained guilty of occasional carelessness, especially in sentence construction, but seems to have persisted in mannerisms. On the other hand, his progress as a stylist has been steady and rapid; his third novel, Sartoris, while still experimenting toward a technique, was a notable advance over his first two in style as well as in theme and narrative structure, and in his fourth novel, The Sound and the Fury, style is what it has continued to be in all his subsequent work, a significant factor, masterfully controlled. (p. 53)
Repetition of words, for instance, has often seemed an obvious fault. At times, however, Faulkner's repetitions may be a not unjustifiable by-product of his thematic composition. Some of his favorites in Absalom, Absalom!—not just Miss Rosa's "demon," which may be charged off to her own mania, nor "indolent" applied to Bon, but such recurrent terms as effluvium, outrage, grim, indomitable, ruthless, fury, fatality—seem to intend adumbration of the tale's whole significance and tone. Nor is the reiteration as frequent or as obvious here as in earlier books; perhaps Faulkner has been making an experiment over which he is increasingly gaining control. (pp. 53-4)
[His] word-series, while conspicuous at times, may have a place in a style as minutely analytical as Faulkner's. In their typical form they are not redundant, however elaborate, and...
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Kenneth G. Johnston
The sound of ticking clocks and watches often provides the accompaniment for William Faulkner's tales of decline and change in the South. A clock strikes the quarter hours in the afternoon quiet of the Sartoris mansion; Miss Emily's "invisible watch" marks the passage of time within the shadowed rooms of the decaying Grierson house; and Quentin Compson's timepiece, once his grandfather's, its hands twisted off, ticks on, adding to the sound and the fury of his final day. The sound is appropriate because, as Robert Penn Warren has observed, "the anguish of time, the tension of change," is Faulkner's basic theme. But in Faulkner's short story "Barn Burning," there is a silent clock. In the wagon of Abner Snopes, "among the sorry residue of the dozen and more movings," there is a clock, "which would not run, stopped at some fourteen minutes past two o'clock of a dead and forgotten day and time." (p. 434)
"Barn Burning" is a chapter in the continuing story of [the South's] stubborn retreat. A generation after the war, the planter-aristocracy is still quite powerful as we see by the fact that Major de Spain is a large landowner and lives in a white mansion, staffed by Negro servants and furnished with imported rugs and glittering chandeliers. But there has been an erosion of his authority…. The Justice of the Peace, although finding against the plaintiff Snopes, reduces by half the penalty assessed against him by his landlord. It is thus...
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Although Faulkner never thought of his work as political in the usual sense … early in his career he commenced a determined struggle against dehumanization in his social milieu (soulless technology and commercialism, the alienation of human powers and identity) and, more importantly, in the literary milieu itself. By the time he wrote The Sound and the Fury he had experimented with versions of at least three of those dominant aesthetic modes of his time which were, according to [George] Lukács, the modernist options. Unlike most of his contemporaries, Faulkner had sensed the denial of human and artistic potential latent in those modes and, at least in his essential method, rejected them. The three modes may be roughly characterized as positivism (detached observation, a transparent medium); art for art's sake (literary solipsism, an opaque medium); and primitivism (deference to states of existence unrealizable in art and unavailable to its audience).
Faulkner's second novel, Mosquitoes (1927), may well be his weakest, but it contains, as Michael Millgate and Hyatt Waggoner have shown, a powerful and pertinent literary manifesto. The satire of Dawson Fairchild (usually identified with Sherwood Anderson) as a "bewildered stenographer … clinging spiritually to one little spot of the earth's surface," noting "details of dress and habit and speech,… trivialities in quantities," implicitly rejects several related...
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Robert Martin Adams
There are little touches [in Faulkner's early novel, Soldier's Pay,] of narrative pace—crucial incidents withheld …, ironic juxtapositions, abrupt yet unmarked transitions within and between scenes which would confirm a sense of Joyce if one approached them with the Joyce parallel already in mind. Yet as a whole, Faulkner's novel is not Joycean in either theme or style. The almost wordless figure of Lieutenant Mahon, a massive, unmovable rock in the stream of time, fills the center of the novel; he can hardly fail to remind us of Benjy, who will occupy a similar position in The Sound and the Fury, but for such a figure there is no parallel in Joyce at all. Around his unmoving figure the characters range themselves in response to various motivations and impulses, but not in accord with an underlying pattern, least of all a mythological one. The book fulfills "normal" narrative expectations by moving in time; its structure involves no sense of the cyclical. In all these ways, therefore, Soldiers' Pay, even as it confirms Faulkner's early acquaintance with Joyce, makes clear that mannerisms and surfaces were what the young Faulkner chiefly imitated. And much the same argument could be made regarding Mosquitoes, which an early reviewer commended, rather condescendingly, on the ground that the writing was occasionally good when it wasn't Joyce. It is a study of ephemerids, with more contempt for its characters and more...
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How can we be "in" history and "outside" it at one and the same time? The problem that dogged Faulkner throughout his career can be stated as simply as that, but not his answer to it—because, of course, the answer does not lie in this expressed opinion or in that but in the imaginative discovery of Yoknapatawpha County. Loving his inheritance and hating it, involved with its mythology and yet well aware of the difference between history and myth, Faulkner was in a sense obliged to create his fictional world—a paradigm of his region existing beyond established categories, where all that he had found in the South and felt about it could be absorbed into a coherent form of knowledge….
[Whenever] in his later years—when he was inclined to be more expansive on such matters—Faulkner was asked to talk about his home and his relationship to it, those two words, "loving" and "hating," came up almost inevitably, closely linked together. (p. 201)
With Sartoris … began the chronicles of Yoknapatawpha County. They did not, of course, spring full grown from Faulkner's head: he built them up slowly, adding a character here or altering a detail there, so that they have a repetitive, incremental pattern rather than a strictly chronological or logically consistent one. We need not infer from this, though, that (as some critics have argued) Faulkner was ever unaware of what he was doing in principle. Far...
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