Faulkner, William (Vol. 14)
Faulkner, William 1897–1962
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. See also William Faulkner Criticisim (Volume 1), and Volumes 3, 8, 9, 11, 18.
John T. Irwin
My sense of the relationship between Faulkner, Freud, and Nietzsche is that they were writers who addressed themselves to many of the same questions, and that at numerous point their works form imaginative analogues to one another. (pp. 2-3)
It is precisely because I understand Faulkner, Freud, and Nietzsche to be related specifically as writers that I treat the works of all three as literary texts whose implications are ultimately philosophical. (p. 3)
The figure of Quentin Compson—the narrator locked in an incestuous, suicidal struggle with his dark twin, the story—is the shadow that falls in one form or another across the works of most postwar American novelists; it is a presence, a pervasive influence that the novelist who aspires to major status must come to terms with. (p. 20)
Of the many levels of meaning in [Absalom, Absalom!], the deepest level is to be found in the symbolic identification of incest and miscegenation and in the relationship of this symbolic identification both to Quentin Compson's personal history in The Sound and the Fury and to the story that Quentin narrates in Absalom; Absalom! (pp. 25-6)
One reason that the voices of the different narrators sound so much alike is that we hear those voices filtered through the mind of a single listener: Quentin's consciousness is the fixed point of view from which the reader...
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As a fictionist Faulkner was not of any school, nor would he have abetted or blessed the recruitment of one…. In each work, and throughout each, he is his own man; and at his truest and best he has not yet been proved imitable. In various ways at many points he brilliantly intensified and refined effective fictional practices, by apt extensions of known artistic techniques…. [His] accomplishments remain unparalleled; and with the conspicuous tangentiality and cultural dispersions in more recent American fiction, it becomes plain that no one since him draws any such strong bow so closely aimed. What is still to be fully appreciated … is that despite some extravagances and excursions into the baroque, Faulkner stands as the central and preeminent American novelist, and if that fabulous entity the great American novel has already loomed above the horizon, it must be one of his major displays of mastery, such as Absalom, Absalom!, Light in August, Go Down, Moses, or the Snopes trilogy. (p. 144)
Realistic regionalist, regional realist—the factors are reciprocal in the substantive and artistic unity of a Faulknerian work. This will be felt if the thrust of his realism and the focus of his regionalism are closely discerned. Their interrelations are complex yet harmonized. Faulkner cannot be given two discrete faces, even though sharply drawn, as a kind of realist and conversely a kind of regionalist…. His realism and...
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William Faulkner's "address upon Receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature" is a classic statement of humanist affirmation. (p. 366)
The text that appears in freshman anthologies is a noble statement, a model of rhetoric transcending platitude. But the text that Faulkner delivered to the Swedish Academy—albeit an identical one—is false and insincere. It lacks eloquence, because Faulkner did not fully believe what he was saying.
The first half—yes. He did believe what he said about other writers: that they had "forgotten the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself which alone can make good writing," and that those who fail to confront the "old verities and truths of the heart" doom themselves to write "not of the heart but of the glands." These sentiments reflect principles he had always held. But the final, longest paragraph of the Speech presents a teleological defense of his foregoing remarks which contradicts not only the pessimism implicit in his early works but opinions he was expressing in current books as well. That paragraph will be familiar to most students of modern literature:
Until [the writer] relearns [the old universal truths], he will write as though he stood among and watched the end of man. I decline to accept the end of man. It is easy enough to say that man is immortal simply because he will endure: that when the last ding-dong of doom has...
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As I Lay Dying is a remarkable illustration of [the fusion of form and content], for in this tour de force the author blends the architectonic structure of a wheel within a wheel with subject matter based on the age-old quest resulting in geographically, psychologically, and philosophically cyclical movement. Two antithetical perspectives are represented in this novel, that of Bundrens and non-Bundrens toward the journey to Jefferson. These perspectives can be conceived of architectonically as the rims of two concentric wheels moving in opposite directions through time and space. The Bundren perspective is the inner wheel with the somewhat varying viewpoints of the individual family members represented as points on the wheel directed toward the hub of the wheel, Addie Bundren, the primary motivation for the journey. An outer rim, that of non-Bundrens, constitutes a different perspective toward the Jefferson trip. This rim of perspective views Addie and the Bundrens themselves in the process of their peregrination and regards the trip as absurd. (pp. 101-02)
Despite the fact that Addie has but one segment, written as though she were still alive and yet significantly placed after her death, her consciousness suffuses the entire book. (p. 108)
[All] of the Bundrens, in one way or another, sense and acknowledge Addie's continued presence, just as the entire family has internalized Addie's distrust of...
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In Absalom, Absalom! the richness of texture and detail is so great that the full effect of the many narrative frames is easily obfuscated. The comparison between the present (the narrative frames) and the past (Sutpen's story) accentuates many of the central themes of the primary story, imparting a sense of timelessness to the story and showing how myth is created to contrast with the reality from which it grows. Yet a far more subtle and revolutionary effect of the novel's overlapping and interwoven frames is the manner in which they—as they reflect and distort both the primary story and one another—comment on the problems of epistemology, the imagination, art, and the creative process.
While Faulkner is centrally concerned with the imagination in all his novels,… he never directly extended this concern to the province of art…. Perhaps this omission was caused by a more traditional attitude toward art than, for instance, such a novelist as Gide or Mann had—one which both did not so radically question the possible conflict between the traditionally moral function of the novel and a more purely esthetic perspective, and one that accepted art's traditional function of representing an ultimate reality. Such an attitude might seem inconsistent with Faulkner's depiction within his novels of the imagination as a distorting mechanism that limited rather than increased man's contact with reality; but Faulkner … never fully...
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Elizabeth M. Kerr
Faulkner was both a realist and a romanticist and was positively Gothic: an artist can view life from various perspectives if his vision is sufficiently comprehensive and penetrating. Faulkner loved his land and his people too much to reject them in their everyday aspects, without romantic or Gothic makeup and lighting, and some of his characters share his love of the ordinary. He was enough of a romanticist to feel keenly the difference between the reality he observed and what his land and his people had been at their best, between the sometimes nightmarish present and the fine dreams they had cherished.
Faulkner achieved the fusion of dream and reality in his Yoknapatawpha novels…. By assuming many points of view and imaginatively sharing the experiences of many diverse characters, by showing the outer world as it appeared to the mentally deficient, the psychologically disturbed, or the romantic idealist, Faulkner revealed the inner worlds of dream and nightmare and the razor's edge which separated them. As the omniscient author or through a rational, humanistic central intelligence or narrator, he showed a world of everyday experience, cherished in its multiplicity and uniqueness. The scope provided by this fictional world, despite its short history and limited boundaries, accommodated a variety of approaches, within a single novel or within the Yoknapatawpha cycle. In this cycle, only As I Lay Dying, The Town, and...
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