William Faulkner Biography


(History of the World: The 20th 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.

Early Life

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.

Life’s Work

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. Throughout the years, both Faulkner and his wife were afflicted with problems, stemming from alcoholism, adultery, and lack of money.

Faulkner attempted to meet his financial burdens through writing. He sent “commercial fiction” to popular magazines such as the Saturday Evening Post and Collier’s, but these pieces never brought enough steady income to meet expenses. His next novel, As I Lay Dying (1930), was another well-written but poorly selling work. In despair, he concocted a work designed for mass appeal: Sanctuary (1931), a lurid tale of abduction, corruption, and rape, set in Yoknapatawpha. Before its publication, however, Faulkner extensively revised the novel, putting sensationalism aside for artistic integrity. Despite this effort, Sanctuary brought him notoriety but no great income.

In 1932, Faulkner took the first of several scriptwriting jobs in Hollywood. He was not comfortable with the work, disliked California, and believed that his talent was being abused and perhaps irretrievably wasted. He was unhappy, drank heavily, and had affairs but had to continue with the scriptwriting jobs because of financial pressures. In 1932, his father died, and Faulkner assumed responsibility for the entire family.

The publication of Light in August (1932) deepened and expanded the Yoknapatawpha saga and was Faulkner’s first major meditation on the tangled relationships of blacks and whites in the South. The book did little to relieve Faulkner’s financial situation. He continued to work, on and off, in Hollywood but returned to Oxford whenever he could. Faulkner found writing increasingly difficult during this period. He published two volumes of short stories and a novel, Pylon (1935), but made slow progress on his major work, which would become the novel Absalom, Absalom! (1936). When Dean Faulkner, his younger brother, was killed in an airplane crash in 1935, Faulkner added Dean’s family to his other financial obligations.

Faulkner continued work on Absalom, Absalom!, which finally appeared in 1936. The novel is his most dense and compact, taking titanic events from the past and recounting them through multiple narrators in the present. The tale of Thomas Sutpen, his effort to carve out a kingdom and found a dynasty in the Mississippi wilderness, is approached from several points of view, and the repetition and interplay between the stories that are told and the lives of the tellers (among then Quentin Compson, from The Sound and the Fury) give the novel the enduring, archetypal aspect of myth and fable. Adding to this resonance are echoes from the Bible, Greek myths, and Southern history. The novel can be difficult to read, because it demands that the reader participate in its development by piecing together the puzzling strands of the plot; still, it is Faulkner’s greatest single work.

For the next six years, Faulkner divided his time between Hollywood work and his own writing. He published four novels during this period: The Unvanquished (1938), drawn together from short stories; The Wild Palms (1939); The Hamlet (1940), which was the first of a trilogy dealing with the Snopes family, an innumerable clan of rapacious poor whites who threaten to overwhelm Yoknapatawpha County; and Go Down, Moses (1942), another novel written as a set of interconnected stories, dealing with the McCaslin family, whose members include both blacks and whites in an intricate knot of kinship. After this work, Faulkner published no new novels for six years, working in Hollywood in an attempt to pay off his massive debts. His literary reputation declined: In 1939, he had been on the cover of Time magazine; by 1946, only Sanctuary remained in print.

His reputation was revived in 1946, with the publication of The Portable Faulkner, edited by Malcolm Cowley. Faulkner contributed new material, including a map of Yoknapatawpha County and a genealogy for his characters. Two years later, he published Intruder in the Dust (1948), not his greatest novel, but his first to sell really well: His chronic money problems were ended.

Faulkner’s writing had always been admired in Europe, particularly in France, and in 1951, his achievements were recognized with the Nobel Prize. Earlier, in 1948, he had been elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. The appreciation his writing had long deserved was at last being granted.

Published in 1954, A Fable cost Faulkner the most effort of any of his novels, but emerged as the least effective. He returned to the land and people he knew best with The Town (1957) and The Mansion (1959), thus completing the Snopes trilogy. The approach in these works was expansive and leisurely, the narrative straightforward and traditional, in contrast to his earlier experimentation.

Increasingly recognized at home and abroad, Faulkner toured Japan, South America, and Greece for the State Department and was not afraid to involve himself with the growing crisis over segregation in his native South, urging racial understanding and cooperation. In 1962, he published his final work, The Reivers. On July 6, 1962, Faulkner died in Byhalia, Mississippi.


Faulkner is a giant figure in American literature. His greatest novels deal with the people of Yoknapatawpha County, its town of Jefferson, and the Mississippi countryside, yet their themes and characters are not limited to any one place or time but touch universal human needs and emotions.

Faulkner has been termed a regional writer, a “Southern” writer. While it is true that his own creation is set in a vividly real South, Faulkner’s strength goes beyond any one locality. As he wrote to Malcolm Cowley:

I’m inclined to think that my material, the South, is not very important to me. I just happen to know it, and don’t have time in one life to learn another one and write at the same time. Though the one I know is probably as good as another, life is a phenomenon but not a novelty, the same frantic steeplechase toward nothing everywhere and man stinks the same stink no matter where in time.

Faulkner was able to achieve this universality through his knowledge and re-creation of a specific place, the South, and through his specific, always individual, characters. More than any other American writer in this century, he has established and peopled a world that is so real that it continues to live off and outside the printed page.

As a writer, Faulkner excelled in several areas: He was adept at the creation of character and the development of plot; his technical mastery was established early and made his method of narrative as important, and as interesting, as his content. He was equally skilled at recounting dramatic, passionate events and spinning the tall-tale humor of frontier American literature.

Faulkner’s greatest gift and his greatest accomplishment was his use of language, particularly powerful, cadenced, hypnotic rhetoric. More than any other American writer of the twentieth century, he explored and exploited the vast range and variety of American English in all its forms, features, dialects, and tones, and through language he crafted a series of works that will long endure.


Blotner, Joseph. Faulkner: A Biography. 2 vols. New York: Random House, 1974. The most exhaustive and definitive life of Faulkner. Blotner was a friend and associate while Faulkner was writer-in-residence at the University of Virginia. Contains an enormous amount of background material covering all aspects of Faulkner’s life and career.

Brooks, Cleanth. William Faulkner: The Yoknapatawpha Country. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1963. A distinguished literary critic gives an informed and thoughtful view of Faulkner’s writings and accomplishments.

Cowley, Malcom, ed. The Faulkner-Cowley File: Letters and Memories, 1944-1962. New York: Viking Press, 1966. A collection of letters to and from Faulkner and Cowley during their association, with explanatory material by Cowley. Faulkner provides many hints and suggestions as to the intent of his works and how he created his characters.

Friedman, Alan W. William Faulkner. New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1985. Part of the “Literature and Life” series, this is a good, basic introduction to Faulkner’s life and career and makes an excellent starting point for the beginning student of Faulkner.

Hoffman, Frederick. William Faulkner. 2d rev. ed. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1966. Introductory volume which covers the main works quickly, touching on the highlights. Short on biographical information.

Howe, Irving. William Faulkner: A Critical Study. 3rd rev. ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1975. Updating of an early and generally perceptive study of Faulkner’s work, with special emphasis on the social settings and situations of his novels.

Kenner, Hugh. A Homemade World: The American Modernist Writer. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1975. Has only one section on Faulkner but is especially good at explaining his techniques in creating a world of written text. Offers some intriguing suggestions for further study.

Minter, David. William Faulkner, His Life and Work. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980. A chronological study of the man and his works. The critical readings illuminate the novels, especially the lesser-known works.

Wagner, Linda, ed. William Faulkner: Four Decades of Criticism. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1973. Useful collection of writings on Faulkner’s novels and stories; helpful in showing the growing appreciation of his work by critics.

Warren, Robert Penn, ed. Faulkner: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1966. A good survey of the response to Faulkner by the major literary critics; touches on most of the major novels.

William Faulkner Biography

(Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

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 from the market. Ironically, Sanctuary was a great financial and popular success, made Faulkner a more widely respected artist, and lead to a reexamination of his previous novels, which included The Sound and the Fury (1929) and As I Lay Dying (1930).

None of Faulkner’s other novels was ever as controversial as Sanctuary; in fact, with the publication of Light in August in 1932 and Absalom, Absalom! in 1936, he was widely recognized as one of America’s greatest novelists. His artistic achievement was acknowledged by the literary world when he received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1950. In spite of the fact that his novels frequently dealt with sensational topics, his primary concerns were, in the words of his Nobel Prize acceptance speech: “the problems of the human heart in conflict with itself. . . . the old verities and truths of the heart, the old universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed—love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice.” Faulkner had no sympathy for writers who wrote about sex or violence or degradation just for their own sake. He believed that sex, greed, and violence were powerful forces in human life, and, consequently, that any writer interested in dealing truthfully with mankind and the human heart must do justice to their roles in human life. He said that a writer “shouldn’t be inhibited by any fear of censorship. If he knows it to be true and worth telling, then he should tell it.”

Although Faulkner undertook goodwill tours for the U.S. State Department in the late 1950’s and spoke out against the McCarthy hearings and racial segregation, he was essentially an apolitical man and writer. He was, in fact, passionate about the sanctity of his private life and resented intrusions of the press into his personal affairs. He felt that every citizen who was neither a criminal nor a politician had an absolute right to privacy and that the press, the government, and moral watchdog groups were destroying the last vestiges of individual privacy under the guise of freedom of the press or national security or morality. He did not advocate censorship of the press; rather he called upon his fellow citizens and the press to take the meanings of liberty, individuality, and personal freedom more seriously.

William Faulkner Biography

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

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 in the town and surrounding countryside the prototypes for the characters that inhabit his major works. In the late 1950’s, he accepted a position as a writer-in-residence at the University of Virginia and traveled to Japan on behalf of the Department of State. Although his literary reputation waned in the 1940’s, when virtually all of his earlier works were out of print, Faulkner’s stature as a writer grew after 1946, when The Portable Faulkner was published by Malcom Cowley and especially after 1950, when he accepted the Nobel Prize, when his collected stories were published, and when his novels began to be reprinted. Faulkner drove himself harder physically as he grew older, and he was troubled throughout his life with alcohol binges into which he would often fall after completing a book. These factors contributed to his death in 1962.

William Faulkner Biography

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

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 changed the spelling of his family name to Faulkner.

Faulkner discovered his storytelling gifts as a child, but his writing career did not really begin until after his brief training for the Royal Air Force in Canada, shortly before the World War I Armistice in 1918. He attended the University of Mississippi for one year, worked at odd jobs, and published a volume of poetry, The Marble Faun (1924). He took writing more seriously, with encouragement from Sherwood Anderson, while living in New Orleans in 1925. The influence of Anderson, especially his “The Book of the Grotesque” from Winesburg, Ohio (1919), seems to pervade Faulkner’s work. During his apprenticeship he spent several months traveling in Europe. Out of his experiences in New Orleans and Europe came a number of journalistic sketches, most dealing with New Orleans, and a group of short stories set in Europe.

The early novels are interesting, but Faulkner began to show his powers as a prose stylist and as a creator of psychologically deep and interesting characters in Sartoris, which he had originally written as Flags in the Dust. Beginning with The Sound and the Fury through Go Down, Moses, Faulkner wrote the major novels and stories of his Yoknapatawpha series. Of the ten novels he published in these thirteen years, five are generally considered to be masterpieces: The Sound and the Fury, As I Lay Dying, Light in August, Absalom, Absalom!, and Go Down, Moses. At least two others, Sanctuary and The Hamlet, are widely studied and admired. The entire series of novels set in the mythical Yoknapatawpha County, Faulkner’s “little postage stamp of native soil,” is sometimes considered as a great work in its own right, especially when all of the Snopes Trilogy (The Hamlet, The Town, The Mansion) is included with the above-named masterpieces. Stories from his two collections of the 1929-1942 period regularly appear in anthologies; “Old Man” and “The Bear,” which are parts of The Wild Palms and Go Down, Moses, are perhaps his best-known novellas.

Faulkner’s personal life was difficult and has provoked much critical interest in tracing relationships between his life and his work. The family-arranged and unhappy marriage to Estelle Oldham in 1929 ended in divorce. Both Faulkner and his wife were subject to alcoholism. He carried on a virtually continuous struggle against debt, resentful and unhappy over the necessity of working in Hollywood in order to keep his family solvent. Though Faulkner was a fiercely loyal husband and father, he was also capable of philandering.

Faulkner preferred to work at home in Mississippi. Still, he traveled a great deal, first for education, later to deal with publishers and to work in Hollywood, and finally as a goodwill ambassador for the United States. He met and formed acquaintances with several important contemporaries, notablyNathanael West,Sherwood Anderson, and Howard Hawkes.

Faulkner died of a heart attack on July 6, 1962, after entering the hospital to deal with one of his periodic drinking bouts.

William Faulkner Biography

(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery 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 evidence is inconclusive). During this period, Faulkner was primarily writing poetry, and in 1924 The Marble Faun, a book of verse, was privately published. Then he took up a six-month residence in New Orleans, Louisiana, where he became friendly with Sherwood Anderson and wrote sketches for the Times-Picayune and The Double Dealer. Anderson later helped him to publish his first novel, Soldiers’ Pay (1926).

After spending some time in Paris and in northern Italy, Switzerland, and England, Faulkner returned to Oxford, where he would live for most of the rest of his life. From 1926 onward, he was a full-time writer. He married Estelle Oldham Franklin in 1929, and they had one daughter. Having published five novels that were qualified critical successes but financial failures, he wrote Sanctuary (1931) expressly to make money. The book gave him a popular reputation for the first time and, because it was adapted as a motion picture, introduced him to Hollywood. He intermittently worked as a Hollywood screenwriter during three separate periods: from 1932 to 1933 for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, from 1935 to 1937 for Twentieth Century Fox, and from 1942 to 1945 for Warner Bros.

Although Faulkner’s books sold only modestly for many years, he accumulated a wealth of critical honors, including two O. Henry Awards, two National Book Awards, two Pulitzer Prizes, and the Nobel Prize in Literature. He was elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1939 and was named writer-in-residence at the University of Virginia in 1957. By the end of his life, he was acknowledged to be, along with Ernest Hemingway, the foremost American novelist of his generation. He died at Byhalia, Mississippi, on July 6, 1962.

William Faulkner Biography

(Society and Self, Critical Representations in Literature)

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 of poems, Faulkner traveled to New Orleans, where his life changed when author Sherwood Anderson encouraged him to write stories about his “own little postage stamp of native soil.” For Faulkner, this place became his fictional Yoknapatawpha County. Jefferson, Yoknapatawpha’s county seat, is based loosely on Faulkner’s home town of Oxford, Mississippi. The need for money to support his wife and daughter led him through ten years of writing movie scripts, a job that he detested but that did not deter him from his real work in Oxford.

Faulkner identified with the old aristocracy, which he saw weakened by its inability to adapt to a changing South. His writing also reveals understanding of and compassion for African Americans and poor whites. In the late 1940’s, he began to speak out in favor of civil rights for African Americans, challenging traditional assumptions of the South. His novel Intruder in the Dust underscores this position.

In Faulkner’s South, the past is everywhere, brooding over the present, and the present is fleeting, becoming the past. He was steeped in the history and folklore of his region, from the terrible events of the Civil War to the bitter truths of racism. In 1949, William Faulkner became the fourth American to be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. His Nobel Prize address is famous for its ringing defense of humanity: “I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail . . . because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance.”

William Faulkner Biography

(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical 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 shot down in the street by a political enemy. He is present in the strong, independent characters in many of Faulkner’s novels.

Quiet and reserved as a youth, Faulkner was unremarkable in school and diffident in his courtship of Estelle Oldham. When World War I began, Faulkner enlisted in the Royal Air Force in Canada; he never saw action. Following the war he returned to Mississippi and briefly attended the University of Mississippi. He drifted through a series of part-time jobs and then in 1925 moved to New Orleans. There he met Sherwood Anderson, who encouraged Faulkner’s development and helped secure publication of his first novel, Soldiers’ Pay, in 1926.

The turning point in Faulkner’s career came in 1929 with the publication of The Sound and the Fury, which concentrates on the mythical Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi. This became the background and source of all Faulkner’s truly important works. The novel centers on the tangled, flawed history of the Compson family, residents of Jefferson, the county seat of Yoknapatawpha. In this work Faulkner’s characteristic themes and styles emerge; he displays his need to tell and retell the events of the past from the viewpoints of many different characters. Other novels followed in rapid succession, most notably As I Lay Dying, Sanctuary, and Light in August.

In October, 1929, Faulkner married the recently divorced Estelle Oldham Franklin; the couple settled at Rowanoaks, a mansion near Oxford, Mississippi. In order to meet his increased responsibilities Faulkner had to divide his time between his own work and writing screenplays and “commercial fiction” for magazines such as The Saturday Evening Post.

Despite these difficulties Faulkner in 1936 published Absalom, Absalom!, a dense, compact mixture of various elements of Southern history, Greek myth, and biblical parable. It is Faulkner’s most profound exploration of the relationship between past and present, and it occupies a key position in his canon. Once again the actions of the central character—in this case, Thomas Sutpen—are recounted and reviewed from differing angles by several narrators, among them Quentin Compson from The Sound and the Fury.

Although Faulkner continued to publish novels during the late 1930’s and 1940’s, his major efforts were devoted to screenwriting, in order to pay off his considerable debts. As a result his literary reputation declined. Yet it revived following World War II, and in 1949 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. A respected international figure, Faulkner toured Japan, South America, and Greece for the State Department, urging racial understanding during the growing crisis over segregation in his native South. He died after a short illness in Mississippi.

Within the confines of Yoknapatawpha County, Faulkner found the themes that engaged him and allowed the creation of his greatest works. Many of his concerns were universal, but they were embodied in the unique and distinctive characters he created. Most notable among his motifs is the relationship between blacks and whites. This is present in all of his works but most evident in The Sound and the Fury, Intruder in the Dust, and Go Down, Moses. Also important to his writing is the intricate relationship of past and present, which clearly dominates Absalom, Absalom! and is essential to The Sound and the Fury. The social and moral strains on the South as the region moved into modern times occupy a central place in his great trilogy, The Hamlet, The Town, and The Mansion.

As a writer Faulkner excelled in several areas, particularly the creation of character and atmosphere. His greatest gift was his unparalleled command of language, especially a powerful, cadenced rhetoric aptly suited to his themes and locations. Faulkner is a giant of American literature, and his novels have become recognized as archetypal explorations of the enduring theme Faulkner identified as “the human heart in conflict with itself.”

William Faulkner Biography

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

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.

In 1918, Faulkner left Oxford to work in Connecticut at an arms factory. Rejected by the U.S. Army as too short and too small, he joined the Royal Canadian Air Force, training as a cadet in Toronto, Canada, until the end of World War I.

He traveled in the United States and abroad, worked as the university postmaster, attended the university as a special student, and began publishing poems in university and other periodicals. In New Orleans, he was befriended by writer Sherwood Anderson. Important works published early in Faulkner’s career were a collection of poems, The Marble Faun (1924), and two novels, Soldiers’ Pay (1926) and Mosquitoes (1927). Three works in progress during 1927 treated the places and people of Faulkner’s future work: Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi, the Compsons, the Sartorises, and the Snopeses; Faulkner had taken Anderson’s advice to return home and write about what he knew.

The years 1929 through 1937 mark the first major phase of Faulkner’s writing career. Flags in the Dust (not published until 1973), his first “Yoknapatawpha” novel, had been rejected; it was shortened, revised, and published as Sartoris (1929). A few months later his greatest novel, The Sound and the Fury (1929), also appeared. In anger over its poor reception, Faulkner wrote Sanctuary, a violent, salacious novel. It was rejected as unfit for publication.

Also in 1929 he married the recently divorced Estelle Franklin, his childhood sweetheart. Following a honeymoon, they and her two children lived on the University of Mississippi campus. Working and writing in the boiler room, Faulkner published As I Lay Dying (1930). Starting with “A Rose for Emily” (1930), he began publishing short stories in national magazines. Forty-eight would appear in six years, including some of his best stories. Republishing of his works in England and translations elsewhere (the French versions of Maurice Coindreau, for example) added to Faulkner’s international reputation; it would be some time before his own country recognized him. A severely revised Sanctuary was published in 1931, as was the first of many collections of stories, These Thirteen.

In 1932, Faulkner launched a second career, one that would compete for his time and presence for the next thirteen years: He became a Hollywood scriptwriter. Also in 1932, Light in August was published, and Faulkner’s father died, making Faulkner the head of the Falkner family. The next year, his daughter, Jill, was born. Faulkner took flying lessons; soon he would be a pilot, own a plane, help establish the local airport, and instruct would-be pilots.

He published another volume of poems, A Green Bough (1933), and a second collection, Doctor Martino, and Other Stories (1934). His works often served as the bases for films: In 1933, the story “Turn About” (1932) became Today We Live; Sanctuary (1931) became The Story of Temple Drake. In 1935, Faulkner’s brother Dean died in a crash of Faulkner’s plane. Pylon (1935) is a novel set in New Orleans (under another name) about flyers. Publication of Absalom, Absalom! (1936) marked the end of production of the earlier major novels.

During this time Faulkner supported a wife, three children, Dean’s widow and daughter, and two black servants (Uncle Ned and Caroline Barr, known as Mammy Callie), primarily by selling short stories and writing film scripts. In 1929 he had purchased a large antebellum house, the Sheegog place, renaming it Rowan Oak (or Rowanoak); he restored the house and did the landscaping himself. In 1937, he purchased Bailey Woods and renamed it the Greenfield Farm.

The second major period of his writing career seems to have begun with the publishing of The Unvanquished (1938), a novel of the Civil War that uses six previously published stories and one written for this work. Faulkner became less private in his life and in his ideas than he had been previously. His works became more philosophical and at times even moralistic. The Wild Palms (1939) is actually two novellas with alternating chapters. The first of the Snopes trilogy, The Hamlet, appeared in 1940. It was followed by a novel incorporating stories about black people, Go Down, Moses (1942). In 1939, the first of many honors came with Faulkner’s election to the National Institute of Letters.

During the following twenty years, Faulkner’s final period, he became increasingly a public person, speaking out on racial segregation and representing the United States as an ambassador of goodwill in places as diverse as Japan, Venezuela, and Europe. In 1945 he was finally released from a contract to write scripts; in the meantime his contributions to magazines had become fewer. In 1947 he conducted classroom interviews at the University of Mississippi. Later he would become writer-in-residence, doing the same at the University of Virginia and buying a home in Charlottesville.

He received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1950 and the Pulitzer Prize in 1955; the French bestowed membership in the Legion of Honor upon him. His daughter married Paul D. Summers, Jr., in 1954; she gave birth to Faulkner’s three grandsons between 1956 and 1961. Faulkner died in Byhalia, Mississippi, July 6, 1962, while undergoing medical treatment following a fall from a horse.

His works published after 1942 include the novels Intruder in the Dust (1948), Requiem for a Nun (1951), A Fable (1954), The Town (1957), The Mansion (1959), and The Reivers (1962). Collections include The Portable Faulkner (1946), Collected Short Stories of William Faulkner (1950), and Big Woods (1955); also appearing after 1942 were occasional stories, letters to editors, and essays in periodicals. Numerous works, such as collections of interviews, letters, previously unpublished works, biographies, and new editions, have appeared since Faulkner’s death.

William Faulkner Biography

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

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.

William Faulkner Biography

(Short Stories for Students)
William Faulkner Published by Gale Cengage

William Faulkner—store-clerk, carpenter, general construction-worker, coal shoveler, deck-hand, cadet-aviator, and ultimately a prime...

(The entire section is 574 words.)

William Faulkner Biography

(Short Stories for Students)
William Faulkner Published by Gale Cengage

William Cuthbert Faulkner (family name originally Falkner) was born in New Albany, Mississippi, on September 25,1897. He was the oldest of...

(The entire section is 506 words.)

William Faulkner Biography

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

William Cuthbert Faulkner was born September 25, 1897, in New Albany, Mississippi. He grew up in the towns of New Albany and Oxford,...

(The entire section is 290 words.)

William Faulkner Biography

(Short Stories for Students)

Born on September 25, 1897 William Faulkner belonged to a once-wealthy family of former plantation...

(The entire section is 490 words.)

William Faulkner Biography

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

William Faulkner was born on September 25, 1897, in Albany, Mississippi. His family had roots in Mississippi, and Faulkner remained in the...

(The entire section is 290 words.)

William Faulkner Biography

(Novels for Students)

The oldest of four sons of Murry Cuthbert Falkner and Maud Butler Falkner, William Cuthbert Falkner was born in New Albany, Mississippi, on...

(The entire section is 534 words.)

William Faulkner Biography

(Novels for Students)

William Faulkner was born on September 25, 1897, to a genteel southern family that had lost most of its money during the Civil War. Faulkner...

(The entire section is 512 words.)

William Faulkner Biography

(Novels for Students)

William Faulkner was born in New Albany, Mississippi, on September 25, 1897 to Murry Falkner, and Maud Butler Falkner. His father held...

(The entire section is 579 words.)

William Faulkner Biography

(Short Stories for Students)
William Faulkner Published by Gale Cengage

William Faulkner was born in New Albany, Mississippi, on September 25, 1897. His family moved to Oxford, Mississippi, just before he was...

(The entire section is 541 words.)

William Faulkner Biography

(Novels for Students)

William Cuthbert Faulkner (changed from the original spelling, Falkner) was born on September 25, 1897, in New Albany, Mississippi. He was...

(The entire section is 516 words.)