Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 4270
See also William Faulkner Criticism (Volume 1), and Volumes 3, 6, 8, 18.
1897: William Cuthbert Falkner (he added the u to his last name in 1918) is born on 25 September to Murry Cuthbert and Maud Butler Falkner in New Albany, Mississippi,...
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- Critical Essays
See also William Faulkner Criticism (Volume 1), and Volumes 3, 6, 8, 18.
1897: William Cuthbert Falkner (he added the u to his last name in 1918) is born on 25 September to Murry Cuthbert and Maud Butler Falkner in New Albany, Mississippi, where his father is a freight agent for the family-owned Gulf and Chicago Railroad, a sixty-two-mile-long narrow-gauge line.
1898: Murry Falkner’s promotion to passenger agent and treasurer of the family railroad prompts a move to the company’s operations center in Ripley, Mississippi, where he and his father before him were born. The family lives in Ripley until 1902.
1899: Faulkner’s first brother, Murry Charles “Jack” Falkner, is born.
1901: Faulkner’s second brother, John Wesley Thompson Falkner III, called Johncy as a child, is born.
1902: When Faulkner’s grandfather, John Wesley Thompson Falkner, decides to sell the railroad, Murry Falkner moves his wife and three sons to Oxford, Mississippi, where they live briefly in “The Big Place,” the grandfather’s house.
1904: Murry Falkner’s sister, Holland Falkner Wilkins, is widowed. She returns home with her daughter, Sallie Murry Wilkins, who is two years younger than William, to live with the family in “The Big Place.”
1905: Faulkner enters the first grade in Oxford public school.
1906: Faulkner skips second grade and enters third. Near Christmas, his paternal grandmother, Sallie Murry Falkner, dies at home in “The Big Place.”
1907: On 1 June Faulkner’s maternal grandmother, called Damuddy dies after a lingering illness in their home. Faulkner’s youngest brother is born on 15 August and named Dean Swift Falkner for the recently deceased Damuddy, Leila Dean Swift Butler.
1914: World War I begins in the summer, at about the same time that Faulkner establishes a friendship with Phil Stone, four years older and a recent Yale graduate. Stone begins to direct Faulkner’s reading and his first attempts at writing poetry. Faulkner enters eleventh grade, the last required year of secondary schooling.
1915: Though Faulkner returns to Oxford High School for the optional twelfth year, he does not complete it, dropping out of school for good.
1916: Faulkner works briefly as clerk in his paternal grandfather’s bank, the First National Bank of Oxford, reads widely, and develops a fascination with the exploits of European aviators in the war.
1918: Faulkner’s childhood sweetheart, Estelle Oldham, is engaged to a dashing University of Mississippi law graduate, Cornell Franklin. As the marriage date approaches, Faulkner is increasingly distraught. Weeks before the April wedding Phil Stone invites him to New Haven, Connecticut, where Stone has returned to study law at Yale. With Stone’s help, Faulkner devises a plan to join the Canadian unit of the British Royal Air Force, adding a u to his surname to make it look more British. In July, William “Faulkner” begins training at a Toronto ground school.
Faulkner misses the chance to engage in air combat over Europe when the November Armistice ends World War I. No evidence exists that he flew during his training or, as he later claimed, crashed an airplane. Home in Oxford by Christmas, he nevertheless wears a Royal Air Force officer’s uniform, the wings of a pilot, and the service cap of an overseas veteran. “Lapres-midi d’un faune,” a poem titled after a work by the leader of the French symbolist poets, Stephane Mallarme, becomes Faulkner’s first publication in a nationally distributed periodical,The New Republic.
1919-1920: Faulkner takes classes at the University of Mississippi, “Ole Miss,” where his father now works in the business office. As a member of the student dramatic club, Faulkner participates in productions and writes a play bearing the club’s name, Marionettes. He hand-letters and illustrates six copies of the play as gifts for friends.
1921: Faulkner makes an exploratory fall trip to the art scene in New York City. Except for part-time clerking in a bookstore, his trip is without result. By Christmas he returns to his family in Oxford and reluctantly agrees to accept a job arranged for him by family and friends as “fourth-class postmaster” of the University of Mississippi campus post office.
1922: Faulkner’s paternal grandfather dies in Oxford, and Faulkner begins his tenure as campus postmaster. On the job he reads magazines that arrive for his post office patrons and writes essays and poems for student publications. He places a poem in one of the new literary magazines appearing in the South, the New Orleans Double Dealer.
1923: Still postmaster, Faulkner seeks unsuccessfully to place a book-length manuscript, “Orpheus and Other Poems,” with the Four Seas Company of Boston.
1924: Faulkner prepares a different volume of poems to submit to Four Seas. Stone agrees to pay publishing expenses of $400, and The Marble Faun is published in December, just as Faulkner contrives to end his thirty-six-month association with the U.S. Postal Service.
1925: Faulkner travels to New Orleans. His goal is to book a freighter to Europe, hoping the expatriate experience will boost his career as it has those of writers such as Ernest Hemingway and Robert Frost. The New Orleans French Quarter is so congenial that he remains there six months, becoming friends with the writer Sherwood Anderson and launching his own career in fiction. Faulkner’s first novel, Soldiers’ Pay, receives Anderson’s blessing and is accepted by Anderson’s New York publisher, Boni and Liveright. Faulkner and his New Orleans roommate, the artist William Spratling, sail for Genoa in July, and Faulkner makes his way to Paris, his base for three months. He writes portions of two novels and several sketches, but he runs out of money and returns to Oxford, Mississippi, by Christmas.
1926: Early in the new year Faulkner returns to New Orleans to await the publication of his first novel.Soldiers’ Pay is published in February and receives good national reviews but is not a runaway success. Estelle Oldham Franklin, his childhood sweetheart, returns to Oxford from China with her two children and files for divorce from Cornell Franklin. Though now courting another girl, Faulkner dedicates to Estelle a gift typescript of New Orleans sketches called “Royal Street.” He and Spratling publish Sherwood Anderson and Other Famous Creoles, a satire of Anderson and other members of the New Orleans art scene, including themselves. In early September, Faulkner finishes his second novel, Mosquitoes, a roman a clef about his French Quarter friends, and Boni and Liveright agrees to publish it. He starts “Father Abraham,” a fictional work about the rise of a sharecropper named Flem Snopes. At the same time he begins a novel concerning a family closely resembling his own with the working title “Flags in the Dust.”
1927: On 30 April Mosquitoes is published. Faulkner’s New Orleans friends, including Anderson, are angered by the way they are portrayed in the book. Faulkner returns to his parents’ house on the Ole Miss campus to complete “Flags in the Dust.” His publisher, Horace Liveright, judges the novel unfocused and turns it down. Faulkner proposes other projects—the Snopes chronicle he has started in “Father Abraham” and a book of short stories about his townspeople—but his association with Boni and Liveright is over, and the projected book of stories never appears.
1928: Faulkner puts aside the Snopes book and fails to place the rejected “Flags in the Dust” with other publishers. In March he embarks on a novel-length project about three boys named Compson and their sister, Caddie, believing no one will ever publish the book. In September an Ole Miss friend, Ben Wasson, now a literary agent, places “Flags in the Dust” with Harcourt, Brace. The acceptance requires Faulkner to cut one-third of the text, but he assigns the pruning to Wasson and continues to work on the Compson novel, now called “The Sound and the Fury.” “Flags in the Dust” is retitled “Sartoris,” the name of the central fictional family in the story.
1929: In January, Harcourt, Brace publishes Sartoris in an edition of fewer than two thousand copies. Though Sherwood Anderson has withdrawn his friendship, the book is admiringly dedicated to him. As Faulkner expects, Harcourt, Brace turns down “The Sound and the Fury.” He signs with a new firm that Harrison Smith, a young editor leaving Harcourt, has set up with the British publisher Jonathan Cape. As “The Sound and the Fury” is being readied for publication, Faulkner composes a lurid story of rural bootleggers, Memphis gangsters, abduction, rape, and murder, hoping to make some money from his writing. The title is “Sanctuary.”
In late April, Estelle Oldham’s divorce from Cornell Franklin is final. She lives in Oxford with her parents and two children, and Faulkner sees her frequently. In June, he writes Harrison Smith asking for $500 so that he can marry Estelle, and on 20 June he and his childhood sweetheart drive to a small community southwest of Oxford, where the ceremony is performed. They take an apartment near the Ole Miss campus. Faulkner begins a job, arranged by his father, as night foreman in the university power plant. The Sound and the Fury appears on 7 October. Though printing less than two thousand copies, Cape and Smith also publish a promotional pamphlet in which popular author Evelyn Scott praises the novel.
Writing at night in a small office inside the power plant, Faulkner works on a new novel, “As I Lay Dying,” between 25 October—the day following the Black Tuesday crash of the American stock market—and 11 December.
1930: When Faulkner completes “As I Lay Dying,” he immediately turns to systematic marketing of his short stories. In April “A Rose for Emily” is published in Forum, earning Faulkner $50 for his first story in a nationally distributed magazine. In May another national journal, Scribner’s Magazine, agrees to publish “Dry September,” the somber story of a lynching, for $200. In June, Faulkner moves his new family into a run-down pre-Civil War dwelling on wooded land near the outskirts of Oxford. It lacks electricity and indoor plumbing. He names it “Rowan Oak,” after a Scottish legend about a tree with magical powers against evil spirits. Estelle is pregnant with their first child.
That summer and fall, The Saturday Evening Post takes two of Faulkner’s stories, H. L. Mencken’s American Mercury publishes one, and Cape and Smith publish As I Lay Dying. After a long delay Faulkner receives galley proofs of his sensational gangster novel Sanctuary and revises the proofs heavily, paying to have type reset.
1931: On 11 January a daughter, named for Faulkner’s great-aunt Alabama, is born prematurely and lives only a few days. The revised Sanctuary is published by Cape and Smith in February and is more widely reviewed than any of Faulkner’s previous books. In mid August he begins a novel, initially titled “Dark House,” about Joe Christmas, a man who does not know whether he is white or black. In September, Faulkner’s first short-story collection, These 13, originally to be called “A Rose for Emily and Other Stories,” is published by Cape and Smith.
1932: The inexpensive Modern Library edition of Sanctuary is published, with an introduction by Faulkner in which he portrays him-self as a member of the “hard-bellied” tough-guy school of writers. He claims to have revised Sanctuary so it would not “shame” The Sound and the Fury and As I Lay Dying. When Cape and Smith enters bankruptcy, Faulkner’s $4,000 share of royalties is frozen.
Between May and June, under a contract signed earlier, Faulkner undertakes his first work as a screenwriter in Hollywood, working six weeks at $500 per week for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. In June, Para-mount Pictures takes an option on Sanctuary for a motion picture; a month later M-G-M buys movie rights to Faulkner’s Saturday Evening Post war story, “Turn About.” He meets movie director Howard Hawks, who will remain a supporter for more than two decades.
Faulkner’s father dies in Oxford at age sixty-one. Harrison Smith, who has emerged from the bankruptcy of his partnership with Jonathan Cape, joins with editor Robert Haas to establish Smith and Haas. The new firm publishes the novel originally to be called “Dark House” as Light in August. Paramount Pictures purchases movie rights to Sanctuary. From late November, Faulkner is again under contract as a screenwriter for M-G-M, this time at $600 a week. Because Estelle is expecting another child, he contrives to work at home in Oxford, traveling to locations if necessary.
1933: Faulkner’s absentee screenwriting job continues though May. A Green Bough, a volume of imitative early poems that prove, in the words of one reviewer, only that Faulkner “reads a lot,” is published by Smith and Haas. On publication day Faulkner solos in an airplane on his way to earning his first pilot’s license. With money from movie purchases, he buys from his Memphis flight instructor a four-passenger single-engine Waco aircraft.
Estelle and Faulkner’s daughter, Jill, is born on 24 June. That winter he receives his pilot’s license and begins work on a novel titled “Requiem for a Nun.”
1934: Faulkner puts both “Requiem for a Nun” and a novel about the Snopeses aside in favor of one titled “DARK HOUSE or something of that nature”—the title he had first considered for Light in August. His summary of the story identifies it as the germ of Absalom, Absalom! (1936).
With his flight instructor, Vernon Omlie of Memphis, Faulkner flies to New Orleans to observe an air show held to mark the opening of the city’s new airport. By late fall he writes his agent that he is com-posing a novel about events at the air show, and that spring, Doctor Martino and Other Stones, Faulkner’s second story collection, is published under the Smith and Haas imprint.
In September The Saturday Evening Post begins publishing Faulkner’s Civil War stories that eventually constitute The Unvanquished (1938).
1935: Early in the year Faulkner receives a $2,000 advance for Absalom, Absalom! from Smith and Haas and completes his novel about the New Orleans air show, which is published in March as Pylon. That fall his youngest brother, Dean, marries, and Faulkner gives him the Waco airplane as a wedding present. Within three months, Dean crashes the plane and is killed. Faulkner takes responsibility for Dean’s widow, who is pregnant, and spends evenings caring for her and his mother. Under these conditions he continues to write the second half of Absalom, Absalom! From Hollywood. Howard Hawks responds to Faulkner’s financial crisis by arranging another contract at 20th Century-Fox for $1,000 a week.
1936: In January, apparently for the first time, Faulkner enters a special medical facility at Byhalia, Mississippi, to recover from a period of heavy drinking. Alcohol abuse runs in his family, and he has had a reputation for heavy drinking since he was a young man. Soon in Hollywood again, Faulkner works on a World War I novel, Roland Dorgelès’s Les Croix de bois (1921; translated as Wooden Crosses, 1921), which becomes the 1936 movie The Road to Glory and influences his own novel A Fable (1954). He meets Hawks’s script supervisor, a beautiful Southerner named Meta Carpenter, with whom he falls in love and has an intense affair. After going home to Oxford, Faulkner returns to Hollywood with Estelle and Jill, despite his continuing affair with Carpenter.
Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind is published in June. Faulkner tries to sell movie rights for Absalom, Absalom! to a studio for $50,000, the price David O. Selznick paid for the rights to Gone With the Wind. No one buys it.
Random House purchases Smith and Haas, bringing Harrison Smith and Robert Haas on board as editors and Faulkner along with them as an author. Random House gives Absalom, Absalom! a strong sendoff, printing a six-thousand-copy first edition and a limited, signed edition. The initial printing features a foldout map of Yoknapatawpha County and Jefferson, the fictional northern Mississippi county and county seat that form the setting for most of Faulkner’s fiction.
Throughout the winter Faulkner works on forgettable movie properties and is given no screen credit, but his salary rises to $1,000 a week, more than the median annual salary of rural Southern whites. In April, unwilling to wait any longer for Faulkner to divorce Estelle, Meta Carpenter marries a young concert pianist named Wolfgang Rebner and departs for Germany. Faulkner sends Estelle and Jill back home to Mississippi. In June, Princeton University professor Maurice Coindreau spends a week with Faulkner discussing the translation of The Sound and the Fury into French, one of several projects that will enhance the novelist’s European reputation.
1938: The Unvanquished, a Civil War fiction fashioned from stories Faulkner published in The Saturday Evening Post, appears at the height of the national success of Gone With the Wind. M-G-M, a loser in the bidding war for Mitchell’s novel, buys the rights to The Unvanquished for $25,000. In November, Harold Ober, who also represents F. Scott Fitzgerald, becomes Faulkner’s literary agent. The following month Faulkner lays out plans for a trilogy of novels on the Snopes family: “The Peasants” (from Honoré de Balzac’s novel Les Paysans, 1845), “Rus in Urbe” (The Rustic in the City), and “Ilium Falling” (from Christopher Marlowe’s play Dr. Faustus, 1604).
1939: Faulkner is elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters, along with John Steinbeck, whose novel The Grapes of Wrath is published in April, and Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, whose The Yearling won the Pulitzer Prize in 1938. Random House retitles Faulkner’s latest novel, which he originally called “If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem.” It becomes The Wild Palms, and when it is published, Faulkner is featured on the cover of Time magazine. Despite the sales of movie rights and short stories, as well as two consecutive successful books, Faulkner’s financial obligations keep his bank account low, and he seeks employment in Hollywood again.
1940: In January, Caroline Barr, the servant who helped supervise Faulkner’s upbringing, dies at Rowan Oak, near the age of one hundred. Fulfilling the wishes of his old nurse, Faulkner has her funeral service held in the parlor of his house and delivers the eulogy him-self. The Hamlet, the first of the three novels about Flem Snopes and his kin, is published on 1 April. A review in the Brooklyn Citizen notes positively that Faulkner “has gone back to the old writing ground, Yoknapatawpha County, to come to grips with the common man…. Here a southerner has ceased to blame the negro for the ills of the South (either blame or fear).”
1941: Faulkner explores another screenwriting job in Hollywood and sends Ober a short story titled “The Bear,” a simplified hunting tale intended for The Saturday Evening Post. Shortly after he mails the final chapters of Go Down, Moses to his publisher, Japanese aircraft bomb Pearl Harbor and America enters World War II, which has been in progress since September 1939.
1942: Concerned about the war, Faulkner seeks a role training air recruits. By the end of the summer he has accepted a mediocre screenwriting contract with Warner Bros., and he goes to Hollywood again.
1943: The war and negative feelings about Hollywood dominate Faulkner’s thoughts. To his stepson Malcolm he writes a letter condemning racial prejudice in America.
1944: Faulkner starts a novel that he calls a “fable.” He explains to a Random House editor the “argument” of the fable: In the middle of World War I, “Christ (some movement in mankind which wished to stop war forever) reappeared and was crucified again. We are … in the midst of war again. Suppose Christ gives us one more chance, and we crucify him again, perhaps for the last time.” Faulkner admits that the summary is “crudely put” and that he does not intend to preach. In the spring he is again in Hollywood, where Hawks asks him to serve as a “script doctor” for the movie adaptation of Hemingway’s 1937 novel To Have and to Have Not.
1945: Faulkner responds with increasing enthusiasm to literary historian Malcolm Cowley’s proposal for a “Portable Faulkner” volume from Viking Press that would showcase the writer’s stories and novels about Yoknapatawpha County.
1946: Random House negotiates with Warner Bros, to let Faulkner finish his fable and to agree not to claim rights to the story. His publisher provides a monthly allowance so he can stay home and write, and in the spring The Portable Faulkner is published, Faulkner’s first book in four years. It falls into the hands of veterans returning from the war and a new generation of college students.
1947: With support from Random House, Faulkner works on “A Fable.”
1948: At the beginning of the year, Faulkner puts aside the fable and begins a murder mystery. The plot is one he summarized a decade before, the drama of an independent African American man who is falsely accused of murdering a white man but solves the crime and exonerates himself. Prior to publication of the mystery, Intruder in the Dust, Random House arranges the sale of movie rights for $50,000, the price Selznick paid for Gone With the Wind. Despite the windfall from sale of the movie rights, Faulkner has another bout of drinking that lands him in a medical facility. He is elected to the inner circle of the National Institute of Arts and Letters, the American Academy of Arts and Letters, on 23 November.
1949: Clarence Brown, who had directed the movie version of Rawlings’s The Yearling, films Intruder in the Dust in Oxford, Mississippi, giving the town a new appreciation of Faulkner that is compounded when the world premiere is held there. A collection of short mystery stories, Knight’s Gambit, is published in November.
1950: Faulkner writes letters to the Memphis Commercial Appeal condemning racial injustice in Mississippi. In June the American Academy of Arts and Letters votes him their highest award for fiction, the Howells Medal. Collected Stories of William Faulkner is published in August. On 10 November the Swedish Academy announces that Faulkner has received the unanimous vote for the Nobel Prize in literature. He graciously accepts the honor but declines the trip to Stockholm to receive the award. Random House and his family persuade him to go, and he takes his daughter, Jill, with him.
1951: Faulkner begins to finish projects left pending during the financially tense days when he had to seek every means to earn money. Requiem for a Nun is published and, as Faulkner’s first post-Nobel Prize novel, is reviewed widely.
1952: In November, Faulkner assists with a program about his life for the television show Omnibus.
1953: With Jill at college, Faulkner spends more time away from home. Though his financial worries are over, his drinking and his domestic problems increase together. A romantic interest in a young writer named Joan Williams ends this year when she marries.
1954: Faulkner meets another young woman, Jean Stein, whom he sees frequently. He spends time in Europe, where he makes final corrections on “A Fable.” Jill writes her father that she wishes to marry and wants him to come home, but he does not do so immediately. In Paris he once again requires medical attention because of his drinking. The Faulkner Reader, a new anthology, becomes a selection of the Book of the Month Club, and A Fable is published.
1955: A Fable receives the National Book Award for fiction. Faulkner travels to Japan for a series of seminars sponsored by the U.S. Department of State. Big Woods, an illustrated collection of hunting stories, is published.
1956: Faulkner’s effort to complete the second and third volumes of the Snopes trilogy runs, in his own words, hot and cold. The African American writer and editor W. E. B. Du Bois offers to debate him on the topic of integration. Faulkner declines, wiring in reply that there is not a debatable point between them, since both agree already that Du Bois’s position regarding equal rights is morally and legally the right one. In September the French writer Albert Camus’s stage adaptation of Requiem for a Nun premieres in Paris, increasing Faulkner’s French and European reputation.
1957: At the beginning of the year Faulkner and his wife settle into a house in Charlottesville, Virginia, where Jill and her family now live. He accepts a position as writer in residence at the University of Virginia. The Town, the second volume of the Snopes trilogy, is published.
1958: Faulkner writes a friend that he is tired, nearing the end of his creative powers, and primarily involved in training horses. In July, Saxe Commins, Faulkner’s editor at Random House for more than twenty years, dies at age sixty-six of a heart attack.
1959: The Mansion, the final volume in the Snopes trilogy, is published. Faulkner negotiates with Random House for money to buy a show-place horse farm in Charlottesville. In mid March he falls with his horse while riding, breaking his collarbone and sustaining otherminor injuries. The break heals slowly, and Faulkner drinks to relieve the pain, worsening his condition. Another fall in May, this time while riding a horse on a paved road, puts him temporarily on crutches. In mid summer his longtime literary agent, Harold Ober, dies.
1960: Faulkner writes obituary remarks for Camus, who has been killed in an automobile accident. His mother, Maud Butler Falkner, dies in Oxford at age eighty-eight.
1961: Faulkner brags about rapid progress on a new novel portraying a youth’s adventures with a horse.
1962: Early in the year Faulkner again falls from a horse and is injured, and again he drinks to relieve the pain. His new novel, The Reivers, is published and is a Book of the Month Club selection. In the summer Faulkner makes his usual visit to Oxford, Mississippi. On 6 July, following a seizure similar to those brought on earlier in his life by heavy drinking, he dies of cardiac arrest at a sanatorium in Byhalia, not far from Oxford.
Last Updated on June 12, 2017, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 14387
Born: 25 September 1897, in New Albany, Mississippi
Died: 6 July 1962, in Byhalia, Mississippi
Married: Lida Estelle Oldham Franklin, 20 June 1929
Education: Attended the University of Mississippi
When William Faulkner was born in his parents’ modest frame home, his birth name, William Cuthbert, was chosen by his paternal grandfather, bestowing upon the child the first name and middle initial of his regionally famous great-grandfather, Colonel William Clark Falkner. (The family name was actually Falkner, without the u, which the writer added to his name later.) The colonel had fought in the Civil War, built a railroad, and published several books, including a popular novel, The White Rose of Memphis (1881). The young family lived only a year in New Albany, a small county seat in the north central hills region of Mississippi, and then moved north to Ripley, a town rich in associations with the Falkner family’s history in the state. Though Faulkner’s father, Murry Cuthbert Falkner, and his paternal grandfather had both been born in Ripley, the family sojourn here was short, too, just four years. Faulkner grew up in Oxford, southwest of Ripley in Lafayette County, the county seat and home of the University of Mississippi (“Ole Miss”). The family moved there in 1902, when Faulkner was almost five.
Faulkner was the first of his parents’ four children, all boys. Both his mother, Maud Butler Falkner, and his father had grown up in Oxford. His father worked as a freight agent for the Gulf and Chicago Railroad in New Albany when Faulkner was born. Murry Falkner’s position was not so humble as it might sound, however, since the Falkner family owned the railroad and he was working his way up
through the ranks from fireman to conductor and on to an executive position. On the other hand, despite the railroad’s ambitious name, the Gulf and Chicago was a narrow-gauge line that ran for just sixty-two miles, from Middleton, Tennessee, through Ripley, New Albany, and on to Pontotoc, Mississippi. It was founded in 1872 as the Ripley Railroad by Colonel Falkner, the man on whom Faulkner would in some ways model himself and against whom he would measure his own achievement in order to restore his family’s lost fame.
In 1898, promoted to a yet higher rank with the railroad and living in Ripley, where the family name meant a great deal, Murry Falkner must have been happy and optimistic, and two more sons, Murry Charles (called Jack) and John Wesley Thompson III, were born there in quick succession. In 1902, apparently to Murry’s surprise and regret, his father, John Wesley Thompson Falkner, the president of the Gulf and Chicago, announced that he was selling the railroad.
The story Faulkner and his brothers told later was that their grandfather did not give their father the chance he requested to attempt to raise capital and purchase the Gulf and Chicago himself. The Falkners returned to Oxford to live at first in Murry’s father’s large house, called “The Big Place.” There were no more children until a final son, Dean Swift, was born in 1907. He was named for Maud Falkner’s recently deceased mother, Leila Dean Swift Butler, whom the children called “Damuddy.” Murry and Maud Falkner lived out their lives in Oxford, as did three of their four sons, including the writer.1
In 1905, at the age of eight, Faulkner entered the Oxford Graded School. His mother had read a great deal to him and his brothers, including some of the wild tales of the American frontier humorists, and taught them all to read at an early age. His first-grade teacher, Annie Chandler, presented him with a copy of Thomas Dixon’s exciting novel about the post-Civil War period, The Clansman (1905), later famous as the source of D. W. Griffith’s controversial movie epic The Birth of a Nation (1915). Faulkner was so well prepared for school that he skipped the second grade the following year and entered the third.
The Civil War became a major fascination for Faulkner early in life. His great-grandfather William C. Falkner had used his own money to raise and outfit a regiment in Ripley and had taken the men to Virginia, where they participated in the first Battle of Manassas, also known as the First Battle of Bull Run (21 July 1861). Colonel Falkner was recognized for bravery. At the end of the war’s first year the troops, as was allowed in those days, voted Falkner out as their commander. He returned to Ripley and raised another regiment, the First Mississippi Partisan Rangers. This unit’s exploits are more obscure, but they played a busy role in the war theater of northern Mississippi and central Tennessee, where Nathan Bedford Forrest’s cavalry harassed and thwarted the Union army. Faulkner’s paternal grandfather and two great aunts frequently told him stories of his great-grandfather’s exploits. During his childhood Faulkner’s paternal grandparents were active in the Sons of Confederate Veterans and Daughters of the Confederacy. Faulkner and his brothers had many chances to hear the survivors’ versions of the strife and heroism of the Civil War and to celebrate when new memorials were raised to commemorate the Lost Cause.
Soon school, which Faulkner had’ started with such promise, became a problem. Though he remained enrolled in public school and officially completed the required eleventh grade of high school, he stopped paying much attention to his teachers after the seventh grade. Small in stature, like his mother and his great-grandfather the colonel, Faulkner nonetheless played football avidly, but he also played hooky and generally resisted formal instruction. Anecdotal evidence from schoolmates supports the figurative, if not literal, truth of the adult Faulkner’s statement that he was “an old 8th grade man” who had refused “to accept formal schooling.”2 His frequent assertion to interviewers and correspondents that he was without education is neither figuratively nor literally true, for he did accept instruction from several important literary mentors as he matured. He read widely and intelligently all his life, starting with his mother’s instruction and continuing with collections of books gathered by family and friends, as well as those found at the University of Mississippi.
By 1914, the year World War I began, Faulkner had abandoned formal education and begun to adopt behavior aimed at making him seem different in his small town, where he felt outclassed by children whose fathers were more visibly successful than his and by the frequently affluent university students who courted the girls of the town, including the girl that Faulkner himself cared about the most. Growing up in the town where his parents had grown up, his childhood was both idyllic and crisis-ridden, like most childhoods, and it became the source of warm memories and painful recollections, many of which would find a way into his fiction. The pride he felt in the accomplishments of his great-grandfather were complicated by family memories of Colonel Falkner, who had possibly fathered children by a former slave and led a violent life. Before the Civil War he committed two murders on the streets of Ripley but was acquitted in both cases on grounds of self-defense. In 1889 the Colonel was killed on the streets of Ripley by a former business partner.
As Faulkner’s childhood ended, he felt particularly outclassed by other young men in the courtship of young women. He liked girls, but he was shy around many of those in whom he was interested. All his life he expressed complicated feelings of gallantry, sentimentality, and protectiveness for women, along with strong desire and deep mis-trust. The young girl in whom he found a congenial friend and a romantic interest was Estelle Oldham, the woman he eventually married, but not through anything resembling an expected path. Estelle recalled to one of Faulkner’s biographers that in the year of Halley’s comet, 1910, she and Faulkner made a vow that when they grew up, they would marry and live on a farm where they would raise chickens.
Estelle’s popularity with college boys must have fed Faulkner’s uncertainty about himself as much as the simple anguish of adolescence. Both his family’s declining social and business positions and his own unprepossessing appearance as a young man had something to do with his uncertainty, though it was also clearly fed by the puritanical sexual mores of the era and the cult of pure masculinity created by such strong figures as Theodore Roosevelt.
As a boy Faulkner appears to have been happy, busy, well cared for, and advantaged in many ways. As a typical adolescent, he became troubled and uncertain, seeking to compensate for the things that were missing from his self-perception. Faulkner’s paternal grandfather and father were both big men, especially for their time, six feet tall and sol-idly built. Faulkner was not: as an adult he weighed no more than 150 pounds and stood only five feet and five inches tall. As a teenager, he compensated for his small size by combing his hair high in the front and playing the rough school football of the time. Such conflicts do not always produce great writers, but in great writers they often lead to the development of great characters and great stories. Such was the case with Faulkner.
In 1914 the seventeen-year-old Faulkner was introduced to Phil Stone of Oxford, Mississippi, four years his senior. The two began a complex friendship that set Faulkner directly on the path to becoming a published author. Stone’s family was well-to-do, with a large, important law firm that operated offices in Oxford and in the Delta town of Charleston, Mississippi. But Stone had never been part of the rough-and-tumble small-town life that characterized the childhood of Faulkner and his brothers. Stone was the best classicist in the local Latin school as a boy, but he also suffered from childhood illnesses that frequently kept him in bed at the family’s columned mansion not far from the center of Oxford. During these periods of convalescence he read widely.3 By 1914 Stone had earned a B.A. degree at the University of Mississippi and was just returning home from earning a second B.A. at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut.
The bookish, aristocratic Stone had a modern outlook. He had spent his year at Yale studying English, French, and the classics to supplement his B.A. from Ole Miss. Sharing with Faulkner The Oxford Book of English Verse (1900), compiled by Arthur Quiller-Couch, Stone opened the young man’s eyes to the range of English poetry. He began suggesting other books for Faulkner to read, encouraged his experiments in poetry, and introduced the still provincial boy to exciting—and decidedly unliterary—aspects of Memphis and Delta culture, including gambling houses and brothels. Stone’s tutelage, from 1914 until about 1922, exposed Faulkner to many writers new to him and probably also helped him to reassimilate, from a more literary perspective, the considerable reading he had done previously in the libraries of his Falkner grandfather and parents. Together Stone and Faulkner reviewed classical texts, read Balzac out loud together, and explored the new poetry, from the French Symbolists to such transitional figures as Edwin Arlington Robinson and A. E. Housman. Vicariously, at least, they participated in the shift in American literary and artistic culture from a transitional realism and naturalism into modernism.
But in 1914 Faulkner had many other interests, too. World War I had begun and he was fascinated by the exploits of the aviator war heroes, the British, French, and German “aces” of combat in the air. “I had seen an aeroplane and my mind was filled with names: Ball, and Immelman and Boelcke, and Guynemer and Bishop, and I was waiting … until I would be old enough or free enough or anyway could get to France and become glorious and beribboned too.”4 He was also an adolescent and in love. He discovered the sensual poetry of Algernon Charles Swinburne, the lushness of which made him “its slave,” and then the antidote to Swinburne, the Edwardian Housman. Faulkner carried a tiny copy of Housman’s dry and mournful poetry collection A Shrop-shire Lad (1896) in his pocket as he took long walks in the rolling hills of north Mississippi.5 Still, as a writer he made no obvious breakthroughs before 1918, though clearly his career as a poet had started.
In April 1918 Estelle Oldham, the girl Faulkner hoped to marry, instead married a lawyer named Cornell Franklin. As the wed-ding date approached, Phil Stone, apparently with some instigation from both Faulkner’s and Estelle’s families, invited Faulkner to visit him at Yale, to which Stone had returned to take a second degree in law, supplementing the law course he had recently completed at the University of Mississippi.
In New Haven, some two weeks before Estelle’s marriage was to take place in Oxford, Faulkner found a job with the Winchester Repeating Arms Company as a clerk, using bookkeeping experience gained in his grandfather’s bank in Oxford. Stone kept him busy otherwise with an elaborate plot to enter training for the air war. After Faulkner was turned down by the American armed forces because of his small, five-foot-five-inch stature, they decided he would have a better chance with England’s Royal Air Force, especially if Faulkner were to present him-self as a British citizen. So Faulkner added the u to his last name for the first time, developed a clipped British accent on top of his light-voiced Southern drawl, and armed himself with a letter of recommendation from Stone praising his good character. The letter stated shamelessly that Faulkner had a British mother and an American father, and was signed as if by an Anglican clergyman named Twymberly-Thorndyke.
Whether by virtue of these devious and witty stratagems or because the British were in dire need of more pilots, Faulkner was accepted as a training cadet in the Canadian program of the Royal Air Force. He returned briefly to Oxford in late June 1918 and in mid July took the train to Toronto, where he began his studies in a tough ground school. Before he graduated from ground school and managed to make a single training flight, the war ended in November and he was released from service, still a lowly cadet with the white band of the wingless on his cap. Nevertheless, like the noncombatant Ernest Hemingway (who was, however, wounded while serving as a Red Cross ambulance driver in Italy), Faulkner returned home wearing an officer’s uniform and telling tales of war. His officer’s uniform included a crushed overseas ser-vice cap, a bright set of aviator’s wings, and a cane that he used to support himself because of his “injuries.” Faulkner was not entitled to any of these trappings, not even the cane, though he did receive in the mail early in January 1919 a postwar honorary lieutenancy.
Although his contribution to the war effort amounted only to a few months of training in Canada, Faulkner made it a transforming experience, as did many other contemporary American writers who did not serve in combat, such as John Dos Passos, E. E. Cummings, and Hemingway. Like his false record of military service abroad, Faulkner’s university education was also essentially a fiction, but in fact he gained much from association with universities. As he wrote his mother from New Haven, the British recruiting officer with whom he worked was going to allow him to enlist “as a second year Yale man” so he could be eligible for a commission as an officer right away,6 and other cadets in his unit recalled that he said he was from Yale. Of course Faulkner did not actually attend Yale, but in New Haven, rooming with the law stu-dent Stone, his evenings and weekends were literary and taken among university men. Stone introduced him to other poets and took him regularly to a good bookstore that served the Yale community. When Faulkner returned to Oxford, Mississippi, following Armistice Day, his parents were living on the University of Mississippi campus, where his father now worked in the university’s business office. Thus, Faulkner had entree to university facilities and campus life, although he was not a student.
Faulkner’s life after the war seemed even more casual than it had been before he went away. Older and wiser and more confident, he hung around the University of Mississippi campus more than he had before. His parents lived in a former fraternity house, in which he had a tower room. Faulkner honored his father’s wishes and entered the university as a first-year student. He later told the critic and literary historian Malcolm Cowley that he planned to study European languages, but he apparently only took a couple of classes in French and a course in Spanish. He dropped out of Ole Miss within a year and adopted the role, familiar in university towns, of the unregistered hanger-on, socializing with students and publishing drawings and poems in student publications. Faulkner’s first publication in a nationally distributed journal was the poem “L’Apres-Midi d’un Faune,” which appeared in the 6 August 1919 issue of The New Republic. The title, borrowed from a poem of the same name by Stéphane Mallarmé, revealed his knowledge of the French Symbolist poets. Faulkner showed in his university drawings and writing a familiarity with the work of decadent artists and writers from both sides of the Atlantic, such as the English illustrator Aubrey Beardsley and the American novelist James Branch Cabell.7
After Faulkner dropped out of the university but continued to live at home and eat at the family table, his father not unreasonably wanted his twenty-four-year-old son to secure a remunerative job. Faulkner’s first effort to evade work was a trip suggested by Stone and Stark Young, a Mississippi native who had graduated from Ole Miss, taught there briefly, and was now a successful writer living in New York. On a visit to Oxford, Young invited Faulkner to come to New York and stay with him, and Stone encouraged Faulkner to accept the invitation. When Faulkner ventured to the city in the fall of 1921, how-ever, Young was away most of the time and Faulkner had trouble finding a place to stay. He got nothing more from the New York trip than a part-time position as a clerk in a bookstore. The manager was a bright, well-read young woman named Elizabeth Prall, who later married one of America’s most important modernist writers of fiction, Sherwood Anderson.
The news from home was that the Falkners and some family friends—including Stone—were exerting political influence so Faulkner could win an appointment as postmaster of the fourth-class post office on the University of Mississippi campus. He returned to Oxford and began work at the post office in 1922. The job was, in effect, the kind of government sinecure that nineteenth-century American writers such as Washington Irving and Nathaniel Hawthorne received. Faulkner developed a reputation as a reluctant postmaster. He was said to sit behind the closed service windows and read customers’ magazines before putting them in their boxes, to pitch fourth-class mail into garbage cans behind the building, and to ignore pleas for stamps or mail even when people banged on the shuttered service windows.
Faulkner’s job paid well, and if it kept him from wandering, it also gave him leisure to read. It put him in touch with current magazines and enlarged his acquaintance with well-trained professors and intellectually curious students of liberal arts and law. Stone was away some of the time working in his family’s Delta law office, but he ordered dozens of current books for him and Faulkner to read and discuss together. The French scholar Michel Gresset has shown that several of the books Stone ordered in 1922 were reviewed by Faulkner in student publications that year.8 Stone’s purchases included James Joyce’s Por-trait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916) and Ulysses (1922), many volumes by contemporary poets, and works of classical literature.
Like the books in Faulkner’s library at the time of his death, the books purchased by Stone in 1922 represent only a part of what the postmaster read. In an unfinished introduction to The Sound and the Fury (1929) written in 1933, Faulkner refers to the books that he had read “ten years before”—the post office years’and cites “the Flauberts and Dostoievskys and Conrads.“9 “Faulkner’s Masters,” an essay by Michael Millgate, suggests placing Faulkner’s reading in two categories: works from which he blatantly borrowed and works that touched him so profoundly that he returned to them repeatedly for inspiration and models of achievement. According to Millgate’s research, Faulkner’s masters were Herman Melville, Joseph Conrad, Honore de Balzac, Gustave Flaubert, Charles Dickens, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, and Miguel de Cervantes, authors whose works Faulkner named repeatedly, along with the Bible, as those he turned to for pleasure and inspiration.10 In “The Apprenticeship of William Faulkner,” Richard P. Adams uses such tangible evidence to argue that Faulkner was “a highly sophisticated young man” who, living outside the academy in Oxford, Mississippi, “could not take his culture for granted but had to sweat for it.”11 When he became a famous writer and submitted to questions from students about how they should pre-pare to write fiction, his standard advice was “Read everything, read all the time.”
The year Faulkner began his tenure at the post office, 1922, was an annus mirabilis of modernist literature in English, the year of T. S. Eliot’s poem The Waste Land and James Joyce’s novel Ulysses, as well as the one-volume abridgment of James G. Frazer’s influential anthropo-logical study of the origins of magic and religion, The Golden Bough (1890; enlarged, 1911-1915). The two following years were hardly less important, even if Faulkner had read only such magazines as The Dial, The Little Review, Vanity Fair, and a periodical anthology such as Living Age. The book list of works by “the moderns” during Faulkner’s thirty-six months in the post office is daunting evidence of the international renaissance going on in English and American letters.
The three years in the University of Mississippi post office also shaped Faulkner’s career by providing opportunities to publish essays, more than a dozen poems, a book column, and sophisticated drawings in. campus publications. These local publications helped him begin his career as a writer in several ways. Faulkner learned to analyze poetry, drama, and fiction for his book column. He experimented with several genres. He was much advantaged by living on a university campus where there were literary and dramatic societies, visiting speakers and performers, and more current publications in the library than he would ever see on the newsstand in the local drugstore. When his apprentice poems appeared in University of Mississippi publications, they were frequently derided by other students, just as Faulkner himself was, for pretension and obscurity. But this derision, his responses to which were good-natured, helped prove he was avante garde and may have steeled him for the subsequent rejection that is almost every new writer’s lot.
Most of Faulkner’s first publications were regional, with the exception of “L’Apres-Midi d’un Faune” and his first book, a volume of poems titled The Marble Faun (1924). Stone helped him place the book with Four Seas of Boston. The firm required financial support from their authors, but they had published early work by important modernists such as Gertrude Stein and William Carlos Williams. Four Seas took an interest in the first submission Faulkner made to them, a volume called “Orpheus and Other Poems,” but at the time he did not have the money to back its publication. After Faulkner had shaped his poems into a better arrangement, creating a framing element that gave the collection a coherent structure, Stone was willing to risk his own money. He paid the $400 it took to launch the volume, and he under-took to write a preface and supply pictures and a mailing list for a publicity campaign.
Faulkner, or Stone, seemed to think that it would take a trip to Europe to season him and give the same impetus to his writing career that the expatriate life had apparently given other American writers of his generation. It was, however, not in Europe but in New Orleans that Faulkner made the first great strides in getting himself established. He had placed a poem in the New Orleans literary magazine The Double Dealer in 1922 and traveled to the city that year to call on the editors of the magazine. He returned in 1924 and met Sherwood Anderson through his wife, Elizabeth Prall Anderson. Meanwhile, Stone conspired with the regional postal inspector from nearby Corinth, Mississippi, and some of Faulkner’s friends to insure that the writer’s campus post-office employment came to an end.12 Faulkner eagerly accepted the U.S. Post Office Department’s judgment about his unprofessional work and resigned before the end of 1924.
At the beginning of 1925 Faulkner returned with Stone to New Orleans, ostensibly as a way station while he made preparations for pas-sage to Europe on a cheap freighter. Anderson was away on a lecture tour discussing “The Modern Writer,” so his wife, Elizabeth, invited Faulkner to share their apartment until he found a place to live. When Anderson returned, he and Elizabeth introduced their young friend to the artist William Spratling. Faulkner moved in with Spratling on a narrow street beside St. Louis Cathedral. He found New Orleans so congenial, receptive of his talents, and inspiring that he stayed six months before finally shipping out. Like many in the French Quarter, the Andersons found Faulkner interesting and talented. Arguably, he made more new friends during this period in New Orleans than at any other time of his life.
Faulkner turned increasingly to prose fiction, writing imaginative vignettes about street scenes in the French Quarter and short-short stories based on some of the same scenes or their themes. His ambition was in such high gear that he had begun placing work in regional publications before Anderson’s return from his lecture tour. Faulkner’s newspaper sketches, bearing what became a series title, “Mirrors of Chartres Street,” began to appear in the Times-Picayune on 8 February 1925. A set of similar but shorter narrative vignettes about characters in the French Quarter streets was published almost simultaneously in the January-February issue of The Double Dealer, along with an essay and a poem. These pieces show Faulkner’s developing eye and ear for character and characterizing action. But the young Mississippian, for all his recent reading in prose fiction, still needed a mentor for the novel. When Anderson returned from his lecture tour, Faulkner, as his letters home show, proudly struck up a close friendship with the garrulous author of Winesburg, Ohio (1919).
Anderson’s friendship and tutelage was, by every account, the most important association Faulkner established in New Orleans. Taking over the role formerly played by Stone, Anderson was even more important than Stone in several ways. He was a noted writer who had recently won the prestigious prize for fiction awarded by The Dial. He was the author of volumes of stories and novels, as well as essays and highly fictionalized memoirs. Elizabeth Anderson must also be considered an influence on Faulkner, for she was not only knowledgeable about books but representative of the “new” women who were taking up writing, aviation, and other vocations formerly reserved for males alone.
The friendship with Anderson was in many respects based upon mutual feelings. As Faulkner told a Japanese audience in 1955, “he was one of the finest, sweetest people I ever knew. He was much better than anything he ever wrote.”13 The two writers shared small-town backgrounds, had similar fathers, and were both interested in horses. Anderson was a great talker, and Faulkner was a good listener who often remained silent. Anderson began to fill the gaps in Faulkner’s artistic education.
Listening to Anderson, who was then writing another loosely autobiographical novel, Faulkner learned several important lessons about composing fiction. The first was that writing is daily and unremitting work, not simply inspired facility when the mood strikes. Another lesson was that serious fiction demands penetrating investigation of character and event: a writer has to know human nature and the new psychology to get it right. The most crucial lesson, however, revealed in Faulkner’s letters to his mother from this period, was Anderson’s granting Faulkner a license to steal and to lie. That is, as Anderson explained to Faulkner, in order to create fiction, one must take elements from other people’s experiences as well as one’s own, and heighten and shape them until they make a satisfactory and compelling story. Working on this principle, Faulkner and Anderson played games of invention, and Anderson proved his point almost immediately by publishing in The Dial— the excellent literary magazine that had recently honored him for his writing—a story loosely based on Faulkner, titled “A Meeting South.”14 Thus, Anderson demonstrated to his new protege how to reinvent someone else’s life for fictional pur-poses. Faulkner got the message, as he explained to his mother. She had inquired about a story in the April 1925 issue of The Dial that she had heard portrayed her son. He replied proudly:
Yes, the story of Mr Anderson’s was started by me. It is not documentary—that is, a true incident. I just kind of cranked him up. What really happens, you know, never makes a good yarn. You have got to get an impulse from somewhere and then embroider it. And that is what Sherwood did in this case. He has done another about me as I really am, not as a fictitious character. He is now writing a book about childhood, his own childhood; and 1 have told him several things about my own which he is putting in as having happened to him.
1 am now giving away the secrets of our profession, so be sure not to divulge them. It would be kind of like a Elk or a Mason or a Beaver or some-thing giving away the pass word.15
Faulkner’s response to this secret information was immediate. He launched several projects in long prose fiction, possibly several at once, all based loosely on his own life or experience. In a very short time Faulkner finished what became his first novel, which he had tentatively titled “Mayday,” punning upon the international distress call that expressed both the ancient rites of spring and a postwar despair akin to the opening line of Eliot’s The Waste Land, “April is the cruellest month….” Anderson recommended the novel to his publisher, Horace Liveright of Boni and Liveright, who had published Hemingway’s first book at Anderson’s recommendation. Liveright accepted the novel, and Faulkner was on his way to a thirty-six-year career, during which he produced eighteen additional novels and more than one hundred short stories. He was not, however, exactly established.
The novel was renamed Soldiers’ Pay and published by Boni and Liveright on 25 February 1926. The story concerns three World War I veterans returning home after the war and is set in Charlestown, Georgia, a fictionalized version of Oxford, Mississippi. The book met with reasonable critical success but did not establish Faulkner’s fame, fortune, or special genius. Still, the promise of some income from the book and more from sketches like those he had done for the Times-Picayune encouraged him to take the long delayed trip abroad. Faulkner settled in for the fall in Paris. Mostly solitary and without extra money when his hopes for income from America fell through, he visited museums and private galleries showing modernist artwork. When he was not musing in the Luxembourg Gardens, he made progress on two new projects, one a satiric roman a clef about his friends in New Orleans and the other a comedic parody of Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, which did not come off. Unfortunately, the satire on Faulkner’s friends did, but he did not complete it until he returned to New Orleans. The book was titled Mosquitoes, inviting the reader to equate the irritating insects with the New Orleans bohemians Faulkner portrayed. When Mosquitoes was published in 1927, the bohemians were not amused, least of all Anderson, of whom the novel’s Dawson Fairchild is a whimsical and affectionate portrait.
Since the girl to whom Faulkner dedicated the novel dropped him, announcing her engagement just as the novel was published, the writer headed back to Oxford, Mississippi, to live at his parents’ house. His next project of embroidering the truth was about his own family, and, like Soldiers’ Pay, it too underwent a change of title. Conceived as “Flags in the Dust,” it was also a story of life after the war like his first novel, or like Hemingway’s short stories “Soldier’s Home” and “Big Two-Hearted River.” The new novel concerned the homecoming of various young men, black and white, to a rural Southern town. The central figure, Bayard Sartoris, has lost his twin brother, the favored of the two, who has died glamorously in aerial combat. Like the Falkners, the Sartoris family has a tradition of violence and vainglory, centered especially on a great-grandfather who, like Colonel William C. Falkner, cut a large figure as Civil War hero and north Mississippi railroad builder. The generation of Faulkner’s parents is conveniently lost offstage in an epidemic, so Faulkner is free to fictionalize the legend of his great grandfather, the “Old Colonel”; the futile life of his grandfather, John Wesley Thompson Falkner (called the “Young Colonel”); and the restless estrangement of members of his own generation, white and black.
To Faulkner’s great shock, the publisher of his first two novels, Boni and Liveright, turned down the book that he claimed to be the “damdest best book you’ll look at this year, and any other publisher.”16 Finally, Harcourt, Brace accepted the book on the condition that he cut it by as much as a third. Faulkner, however, was relatively oblivious to this opportunity, since in his unhappiness and ambition he had sat down to write for himself a book that he at first planned to call “Twilight.” The story opens with four siblings, the Compson children, playing in a vast backyard on the day of their grandmother’s death. They are unaware that they have been sent out of the house because their grandmother, called “Damuddy” (like Faulkner’s own maternal grandmother), is being prepared for her funeral.
Faulkner assigned Ben Wasson, an Ole Miss friend now working as a literary agent, the task of performing most of the required surgery to cut down on the length of “Flags in the Dust.” The revised novel was published as Sartoris on 31 January 1929. Faulkner then offered Harcourt, Brace The Sound and the Fury, as he had renamed “Twilight.” They declined, but immediately a young and progressive editor with the firm, Harrison Smith, said he would publish the strange four-part novel under his own new imprint, Cape and Smith.
With the acceptance of The Sound and the Fury, Faulkner was fully established. He had found his voice, his emotions, his vocation, and even a select audience. It would be a long time before he would be assured of a regular income from writing fiction, but The Sound and the Fury became his standard, the work through which he learned what art could achieve and a book that he did not want to shame by writing anything cheap, easy, or less aesthetically daring. He was confirmed in the life not simply of the writer but of the artist.
Faulkner’s career did not immediately take off with the remarkable achievement of The Sound and the Fury. It was potentially so obscure for American audiences of his day that Cape and Smith took the precaution of publishing the novel with an explanatory pamphlet by Evelyn Scott, the author of a popular recent novel about the Civil War, The Wave (1928). The Sound and the Fury was published on 7 October 1929, just before the crash of the American stock market. Perhaps even more important for his artistic life, Faulkner, who had lived with other people all his life, except for the few months in cheap Pari-sian lodgings in 1925, married and assumed responsibility for a highly distraught wife and her two children by a previous marriage. The woman was Estelle Oldham Franklin, his childhood sweetheart, but the marriage was not a romantic reunion.
Following her marriage in 1918, Estelle had lived in Shanghai with her lawyer husband, but he traveled frequently, leaving her alone in an alien culture, and apparently he was not a faithful husband. In 1927 she returned to her parents’ home and filed for divorce, a process that took two years. Faulkner had sustained a relationship with Estelle even while she was married, presenting her with passionate poems, but during some of this period he had also courted others, especially Helen Baird in New Orleans, the girl to whom Mosquitoes was dedicated and who, like Estelle, dropped him to marry someone else. From childhood Estelle had been treated like a princess by her well-to-do Oxford family, and her first marriage had storybook qualities: a dashing Ole Miss-trained lawyer taking her off to an opulent, if neglected, life in the Orient. Now, though bright and attractive, she was about to become a young divorcee with two small children.
Faulkner stepped in. As he wrote his publisher, Smith, “Hal, I want $500.00 I am going to be married. Both want to and have to. THIS PART IS CONFIDENTIAL, UTTERLY. For my honor and the sanity—I believe life—of a woman. This is not bunk; neither am I being sucked in. We grew up together and I dont think she could fool me in this way; that is, make me believe that her mental condition, her nerves, are this far gone.”17 The two were wed on 20 June 1929. After a honeymoon in Pascagoula, Mississippi, during which he read the proof sheets of The Sound and the Fury, Faulkner and his new family moved into an apartment in an elegant old house in Oxford not far from the Ole Miss campus. His father secured him a job as night supervisor in the university’s power plant. With great confidence, as well as the kind of drive that financial responsibility can engender, Faulkner undertook a remarkable run of creative work. He composed his fifth novel, As I Lay Dying (1930), in little more than six weeks while sitting in the small office of the power plant at night and placed his first short story in a national magazine—“A Rose for Emily,” for which Forum paid him $50. Faulkner launched a successful campaign to place short fiction with more than a dozen other magazines and worked at revising his scandalous novel of bootleggers, brothels, and rape, Sanctuary (1931), in hopes of attracting a wide popular audience.
Faulkner bought a neglected and run-down antebellum house on the outskirts of Oxford and began to restore it himself in the after-noons when he had finished his daily stints of writing. He named it “Rowan Oak,” after a Scottish legend about a tree that protected against witches and ill fortune. Estelle conceived their first child, but the girl, whom they named for Faulkner’s great-aunt Alabama, was born prematurely and survived only a few days. Sanctuary, published on 9 February 1931, achieved Faulkner’s intended goal and made his name in the media in ways less sensational fiction could not have done. He was lionized in New York and received offers for dramatic work and Holly-wood writing.
These events set several patterns for Faulkner’s life until well after he won the Nobel Prize in 1950. A particularly strong element was family life at Rowan Oak. In 1933 Estelle gave birth to a healthy daughter, Jill, who joined her half brother, Malcolm, and half sister, Victoria, in the household. Faulkner’s nephews, the sons of his brother John, and his niece, Dean, the daughter of his brother Dean, were often at the house. Faulkner’s father died in 1932, making him the paterfamilias of the clan. He visited his mother almost every day he was in town as he walked to the post office to mail manuscripts and check for letters of acceptance. Though he would feel obliged to make many trips to Holly-wood to earn the large salaries paid by the motion-picture industry, Rowan Oak increasingly symbolized for him the rootedness of his writing in north Mississippi. It was there that he wrote Light in August (1932), Pylon (1935), Absalom, Absalom! (1936), The Unvanquished (1938), The Wild Palms (1939; corrected text published with Faulkner’s original title, If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem, 1995), The Hamlet (1940), and Go Down, Moses (1942), and dozens of short stories published in America’s most popular magazines, such as The Saturday Evening Post, Harper’s, Scribner’s Magazine, and The American Mercury.
Another strong element in Faulkner’s life, as the list of novels up to 1942 indicates, was headlong composition. His list of achievements as a writer after he moved into Rowan Oak is perhaps without parallel in serious
American writing; the list of novels does not include other work he produced in this period, such as screenplays, a second book of poems (A Green Bough, 1933), and two short-story collections (These 13, 1931, and Doctor Martino and Other Stories, 1934). Faulkner’s strenuous writing schedule led to days or weeks of sheer collapse during which he sought escape from his troubles in binge drinking.
Faulkner’s financial responsibilities grew, though never quite beyond his ability to assume them. He supported his mother, cared for his wife’s parents when their fortunes took a turn for the worse, and took on full responsibility for the widow and child of his youngest brother, Dean, when the young man was killed while flying the airplane Faulkner had given him. He also made some financial investment in the life of his brother John, for whom the Depression created problems, and made a loan he could not afford to his old friend and mentor Phil Stone when Stone’s law practice put him into financial jeopardy. Faulkner provided housing and daily necessities for the African American fami-lies who lived on his property, and not merely because they worked there. His old nurse, Caroline “Callie” Barr, was in her eighties when he moved into Rowan Oak, and in an age when social services were virtu-ally absent in American society, he took care of her every need. When she died in 1940, he wrote his editor in New York that he was sending back the proof sheets of The Hamlet unread because after the death of the matriarch of his family—Mammy Callie—he simply did not feel like reading them. His next novel, Go Down, Moses, not only featured a dignified and moving portrait of a woman much like her, it was dedicated to her memory.
Increasingly, the settings and characters of Faulkner’s fiction mingled inextricably with the people and places of his existence. In 1936, when his new publisher, Random House, was as uncertain about the ability of Absalom, Absalom! to engage an American audience as Smith had been about The Sound and the Fury in 1929, the firm invited Faulkner to include a chronology and a map of Yoknapatawpha County, the fictional setting of much of his work. The map, which is still published at the end of modern editions of the novel, has less to do with the setting of Absalom, Absalom! than with the settings of Faulkner’s previous novels. The Yoknapatawpha county seat, Jefferson, was based closely on Oxford.
Faulkner’s marriage endured until his death, though it was not the center of his life. Shortly after he married, he wrote a story titled “Second Hand Wife,” and that motif of the secondhand appears to have been an element of strain in his marriage. Estelle had wed another man and had two children, only then returning and agreeing to marry Faulkner. He seems to have undertaken the marriage out of a sense of duty; as his letters indicate, he had a mature understanding that marriage and romance are not the same thing at all. In late 1935, while working in Hollywood, he began a tender and happy love affair with Meta Carpenter, a beautiful young woman who worked as script super-visor for the director Howard Hawks. The affair continued even after Faulkner brought his wife and daughter out to Hollywood to live with him in 1936. The end of the romance with Carpenter the following year was a terrible blow for him, but he could not commit to divorce, fearing the loss of Rowan Oak and limited access to Jill, who meant everything to him. Faulkner used the end of the affair as material for The Wild Palms. Later, after Nobel Prize fame and financial freedom, he became involved with two attractive and intelligent women young enough to be his daughters and had a fling with a Swedish woman he met when in Stockholm to accept the Nobel Prize.
The period from 1942, following the publication of Go Down, Moses, to 1948, when Faulkner’s career revived with the powerful and still much-praised novel Intruder in the Dust (1948), was the lowest point of his personal as well as his writing life. The period was characterized by long stays in Hollywood, heavy drinking, strife at home, and increasing personal doubt about whether he had lost his powers as a novelist. Some critics—the historians Joel Williamson and Daniel Singal, for example—see Absalom, Absalom! as the last strong breath in his career. Others, including such Faulkner authorities as Millgate and Cleanth Brooks, regard The Hamlet and Go Down, Moses as highly as the great early work and conceive of the books from 1948 on as uneven but still showing evidence of the old brilliance.
Faulkner’s “revival,” if that is what one can call it, was not altogether the result of his own restored will power. Malcolm Cowley sought out Faulkner for a project that changed his writing life for the good. In 1945 Cowley, who admired Faulkner’s writing, proposed an anthology of excerpts from his books as a volume in the Viking Portable series. Revisiting his previous work and writing an explanatory piece about the Compson family of The Sound and the Fury convinced Faulkner that the talent and even the fire were still there. The Portable Faulkner not only showcased much of Faulkner’s most brilliant and affecting work, it appeared in 1946, just as thousands of young men who had fought in the war, and young women who had waited it out, were coming to college campuses in unprecedented waves. A new, more savvy readership in the United States was prepared to read Faulkner’s books in ways that few Americans could have when they were first published. The Europeans, who had already been sophisticated readers for some time, helped Faulkner win the Nobel Prize, and his renewed confidence helped him finish many projects he had pro-posed as far back as the 1930s and early 1940s.
Faulkner again wrote novels—Intruder in the Dust, Requiem for a Nun (1951), A Fable (1954), The Town (1957), The Mansion (1959)—and collected his short stories (Knight’s Gambit, 1949; Collected Stories of William Faulkner, 1950; Big Woods, 1955). All the while he traveled extensively for the U.S. Department of State as an intellectual ambassador to countries that sided with the West in the Cold War. He gave speeches and wrote public letters on topics such as American individualism and Southern racism. In 1954 his daughter, Jill, married a West Point graduate whose study of law took him to the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. When Faulkner and his wife visited there the writer found an environment he liked very much, especially the elegant horse farms of Albemarle County and the fox-hunting culture. His visits to Charlottesville grew longer, and when the University of Virginia offered him a position as writer-in-residence, he eagerly accepted and added yet another routine to his life. Still traveling, still having affairs, and still drinking so heavily on occasion that he required medical attention, Faulkner lived and wrote in Charlottesville for much of each year, visiting Oxford, Mississippi, to care for Rowan Oak and to train horses (since he had no farm in Charlottesville).
The return trips to Oxford still meant a great deal to Faulkner, and as if to honor those visits he wrote a novel about his childhood, horses, and the coming of the automobile age. The work explored the difficult question of how a boy can carry the idealism of his youth through the crucible of adolescence into adulthood without becoming disillusioned or cynical. He chose a Scots-dialect word, reaver, for the title, “The Reavers”—meaning “stealers,” as in horse stealers, but also referring to those aspects of growing up that steal one’s dreams and innocence. Random House suggested a different spelling, and the novel became The Reivers (1962). It was dedicated to his grandchildren, not merely to Jill’s sons but also to the children of his stepdaughter Victoria and stepson Malcolm.
The Reivers was a great success. Faulkner’s income was also increasing from movie sales of previous literary properties, increased sales of his books that were being taught in colleges, and even booming sales of commercially marketed paperback editions, which featured lurid covers emphasizing sexuality and female undress. He began making plans to purchase a substantial farm estate in the Charlottesville area as his permanent address.
In April 1962, Faulkner and his wife, daughter, and son-in-law traveled to West Point, where Faulkner was invited to address the cadet corps and read from his new novel. All these events were very gratifying to him, clear evidence that he had restored the luster the “Old Colonel,” his great-grandfather William C. Falkner, had brought to the family name. He had become world famous as the author of some of the most advanced fiction of the modern period. He was a political man now, too, making addresses and widely read pronouncements on the American dream and America’s responsibility to live up to its dream of democracy. Being invited to West Point was a capstone—not the sub-mission to the Federal army his great-grandfather’s generation had had to make but an honor bestowed on very few, none of them writers, by the military academy. If West Point had made him an honorary general—the rank Colonel Falkner coveted and never received—the visit would have been perfect, but it was good enough without that honor. Some of the most genial photographs ever taken of Faulkner resulted from this trip.
Later that spring Faulkner won the Gold Medal of the National Institute of Arts and Letters, its highest honor. In July, while back in Oxford to see about things at Rowan Oak, he was thrown hard from his horse, Temptress (“Tempy”). The injury to his back required medical attention, and he drank heavily to numb the pain that prevented him from sleeping. Faulkner was eventually taken by ambulance to the sanatorium in the small town of Byhalia, Mississippi, where he had often gone for treatment when he had overindulged. He died there on 6 July 1962 of a heart attack, at the age of sixty-four.
Faulkner’s most significant experience, if judged by novels such as Sartoris and The Sound and the Fury, was family life—especially the drama of young people struggling to grow up in communi-ties where social values or even family history and ambition make retaining the idealism of youth very difficult. His habit of writing about declining or tragedy-haunted families in the county-seat towns of Mississippi is not solely the result of a romantic imagination, judicious reading of family-chronicle novels, or explorations of modern psychology. It is, in effect, Faulkner’s own family story. His literary aspirations were not an aberration at the end of the family line, how-ever; they actually originated with Colonel Falkner, who was not only a railroad builder and a murderer, but also the author of two book length poems, two novels, a play (now lost), and a lively account of his travels in Europe. When asked what he wanted to be when he grew up, the young Faulkner told his Oxford Graded School teachers that he wanted to be a writer like his great-grandfather.
Like Sartoris, The Sound and the Fury is the story of a family in decline. One of the Compson children, Benjy, is regarded as an idiot; the daughter, Caddy, is thought to be promiscuous. The family has mortgaged everything in order to send another son, Quentin, to Harvard so that he can recoup their fortunes, but he ends up committing suicide while studying there. The only “sane” Compson offspring in The Sound and the Fury is Jason, a dishonest, blustering racist and sexist who curses his family, mocks its history, and fails at everything he touches. The Sutpens of Absalom, Absalom! and the McCaslins of Go Down, Moses are similarly beset with family problems. Throughout Faulkner’s canon, from a first appearance in Sartoris through the trilogy of novels devoted to them (The Hamlet, The Town, and The Mansion), the Snopes family multiplies with a flawed figure at its helm, the joyless, impotent materialist Flem Snopes. The Snopes story “Barn Burning” (1939) is richly suggestive of the problems of family loyalty, the remoteness of family authority figures, and the ambivalent idealism of youth.
Though family is not at the center of Sanctuary and The Wild Palms, the lives of the central female figures in both novels, Temple Drake and Charlotte Rittenmeyer, respectively, are affected by virtue of their having grown up with four brothers. Light in August recalls family and loss of family. In The Reivers Faulkner finally created a protagonist who can succeed in growing up and taking mature responsibility for the inevitable onset of “non-virtue,” receiving proper acknowledgment and moral guidance from a powerful grandfather. The name of the family, which has blood ties to the McCaslins of Go Down, Moses, is Priest.
Faulkner wrote with great sensitivity about young people growing up. His nephews still speak warmly of his interest in young people and his solicitude for them. People who were children in Oxford during his years in residence there have recalled that he always would stop on the street and ask them how they were getting along. He was, as reported by members of his old scout troop, the best scoutmaster anyone had ever seen, inventive and instructive (though removed from duty by the sponsoring church because of rumors about his drinking).
Adult folly—self-importance, greed, arrogance, mean-spiritedness, self-indulgence, alcoholism, and shame—repeatedly gets in the way of the lives of young people who seek sound values, consistency, wisdom, and even love from the people under whose dubious care they must live. As in many Southern novels, almost the only place such values and care can be found is in the cabins and kitchens and backyards that are ruled morally but affectionately by much-oppressed African American women and men.
The deep South in which Faulkner lived had a unique unpleasantness for African Americans. As Williamson has demonstrated, white racism became much more virulent in the years of Faulkner’s youth than it had previously been: “During the turn-of-the-century decades, the very years in which Faulkner was born and came of age, the racial picture in the South changed radically, “creating a” confusion of race, sex, and violence” that resulted in scores of lynchings and perpetual threats of violence to members of the black community.18 As a child Faulkner witnessed a lynching, and he later wrote stories about such horrors. He came to understand the nature of the antipathy of poor white families toward equally poor African Americans. Rural white people did not have the same experiences with African Americans that town dwellers did. As Faulkner wrote in an essay on Mississippi in 1954, the rural whites’ heritage was one of “bitter hatred and fear and economic rivalry of the Negroes who farmed little farms no larger than and adjacent to their own,”19 and often did it better with fewer resources.
The rural world was a colorful, when not cruel, source of eccentricity, hilarity, and even poignance. As a child and a young man Faulkner visited country outposts where he observed events and characters that served him well in such books as As I Lay Dying and the Snopes novels. He developed a broad sympathy for people on both sides of the racial equation in rural Mississippi and learned much more than to hate the violence or pity the poverty of his country neighbors. As a reviewer in as unlikely a place as Brooklyn, New York, testified in 1940 upon reading The Hamlet, “William Faulkner has gone back to the old writing ground, Yoknapatawpha County, to come to grips with the common man. The glamorous in-love-with-death Sartorises, the beautiful and damned Sutpens of pre-war vintage, are gone from the earth, leaving the rock-bottom humanity of a sharecropper community. Even the negro-characters in The Hamlet are incidental. Here a southerner has ceased to blame the Negro for the ills of the South (either blame or fear), just as in The Wild Palms, a man ceased from ’blaming the woman.’ The hamlet is a group of common people who are in for it all right, but who cooperate raucously at their own undoing.”20 Reviewing Collected Stories of William Faulkner a decade later, the poet Horace Gregory observed, “His great accomplishment is of one who is never blind to the conflicting forces of evil, of honor, of loyalty, of spiritual death and earthly love, and if, like some of the Elizabethan dramatists, he is regional and of the American South in the same sense that they were island Englishmen: if, like them, he leaves his dead sprawled across the footlights of the stage, like them he has succeeded in giving the public of his time a vision of the quickness, the romantic mutability of life which survives the subtle passion of decay.”21
Southern writer Roark Bradford once observed that Oxford was different from the rest of Mississippi because it had the advantage of the University of Mississippi,
an institution that has built a fine tradition of culture. The State of Mississippi has allocated to its other colleges the duties of teaching the technical trades that have swamped most centers of learning, and has kept “Ole Miss” remarkably free from the trade-school brand of education. In turn, the University has created a kind of erudite dignity which rises above the blatant, scheming, angle-figuring self-aggrandizement by which aggressive people are seeking life’s fulfillment. This influence has been felt in the town and surrounding country, and the effect of it on the unlettered poor whites often produces strange phenomena.22
Certainly some of this influence was felt by the young Faulkner, granting him a kind of sophistication not found in real country boys and even most small-town boys. His late entry to and early departure from public education were more than compensated for by the influence of his bookish family. Faulkner grew up in a time when women such as those in his family possessed the leisure to read serious poetry and worthy novels, attend Browning Society meetings, organize “modern” book clubs, host reunions of Civil War veterans, and read frequently to their children and grandchildren. Even middle-class businessmen owned the collected works of well-known American, British, and French authors. Faulkner’s father, who was not university educated, read the mildly erotic novels of nineteenth-century French authors, as well as late-nineteenth-and early-twentieth-century westerns and humor.
As a university town Oxford was accessible by road and rail, so family members from other towns gathered there often to tell and retell stories of their forebears’ exploits. Faulkner told one of his Random House editors, “The South’s the place for a novelist to grow up because the folks there talk so much about the past. Why, when I was a little boy, there’d be sometimes twenty or thirty people in the house, mostly relatives, aunts, uncles, cousins and second cousins, some maybe coming for overnight and staying on for months, swapping stories about the family and about the past, while I sat in a corner and listened. That’s where I got my books.”23 The town’s opera house, which Faulkner’s paternal grandfather owned, staged professional theatrical and musical performances and presented lectures by notable speakers of the day, as did the university campus. The Falkner family attended and discussed these events. On the wide porches where one could obtain some relief from the summer heat in the evening, children overheard discussions of these performances and lectures in addition to family stories.
The Falkner family women, though they did not operate on the same stages as their husbands and fathers and committed no violent acts, were even more important than the men to Faulkner’s childhood and his early literary development through the experience of good books. As first child and first grand-child, he spent much time in his formative years in the company of family women, hearing their stories, observing their lives, and benefiting from their encouragement and care. They were, even more than the men, the keepers of culture, members of Oxford’s literary clubs who attended the local lectures, concerts, and dramatic performances.
Faulkner’s two grandmothers both died within six months of one another, when he was around ten years old. “Damuddy” died near Easter and Sallie Murry Falkner near Christmas. The conjunction of losses and Christian holidays left its mark on Faulkner’s memory. It set up the seminal event that opens The Sound and the Fury, in which the children are sent away from the house because of the death of their grandmother. The first two scenes of The Sound and the Fury leap from Easter to Christmas in the mind of the youngest child, the idiot Benjy, whose year of birth is the same as Faulkner’s.
Women outside the family were important teachers and influences, too. The copy of The Clansman that Faulkner’s first-grade teacher, Annie Chandler, gave him was still in his library when he died. Some years after he received this gift the dramatic version of Dixon’s inflammatory book about Reconstruction and the Ku Klux Klan played in his grandfather’s opera house, with real horses on stage, and the movie version, The Birth of a Nation, created a national furor that Faulkner could not have missed. When he became disaffected with school at the onset of adolescence, he also began to escape the influence of his mother and his Aunt Holland Falkner Wilkins, his father’s widowed sister who came to live with the Falkner family in 1904. When Dean came along in 1907, Faulkner also left the care of Callie Barr, his black nurse, and became the road companion of his grandfather and the Falkner chauffeur, Chester “Chess” Carothers, on their trips to outlying communities.
Faulkner complemented this second phase of his education, which took place mainly under the tutelage of men, with work at one of his father’s business ventures, a livery stable that Murry Falkner operated in Oxford just as the motor car appeared. As Faulkner told Malcolm Cowley, “I more or less grew up in my father’s livery stable. Being the eldest of four boys, I escaped my mother’s influence pretty easy, since my father thought it was fine for me to apprentice to the business. I imagine I would have been in the livery stable yet if it hadn’t been for motor car [sic].”24 The livery stable, hunting and fishing trips with Carothers, and automobile rides to country hamlets with his grandfather or his Uncle John (John Wesley Thompson Falkner Jr.), brought him closer to the life of the county and town than he could ever have come by reading nineteenth-century books. A fictional version of his livery stable experience, a sketch titled “And Now What’s to Do” that Faulkner wrote in the mid 1920s, may embellish his memories even more than his remarks to Cowley:
His father loved horses better than books or learning; he owned a livery stable, and here the boy grew up, impregnated with the violent ammoniac odor of horses. At ten he could stand on a box and harness a horse … almost as quickly as a grown man … by the time he was twelve he had acquired from the negro hostlers an uncanny skill with a pair of dice…. Each Christmas eve his father carried a hamper full of whisky in pint bottles to the stable…. The boy, become adolescent, helped to drink this; old ladies smelled his breath at times and tried to save his soul.25
Faulkner’s fictional portrait of his family in “And Now What’s to Do” may or may not be true, for by the time he wrote it he had learned from Anderson that personal fiction was made from the lives of everyone the writer knew and then embellished to make it more interesting. But the sketch is probably an accurate representation of Faulkner’s feelings when he was an adolescent, as he became more remote from his mother and self-conscious, even critical, about his father and grandfather. “And Now What’s to Do” records that the boy’s grandfather was “a deaf, upright man in white linen, who wasted his inherited substance in politics.”26 About the father, the piece observes not only that he “loved horses better than books” but, more poignantly, that at sixteen the boy “began to acquire an inferiority complex regarding his father’s business,” because the girls and boys in school with him were the children of “lawyers and doctors and merchants—all genteel professions, with starched collars.”27 The story also records that the boy learns to drink whiskey with the hostlers and grooms in his father’s livery stable. In one of Faulkner’s later statements about growing up he claimed that when, before World War I, he worked as a clerk in his grandfather’s bank, he drank surreptitiously from his grandfather’s whiskey. Whether these stories are literally true or precisely date Faulkner’s use (and abuse) of alcohol is not clear. They reflect other people’s stories about him indicating that he adopted the family weakness, particularly marked in his father, for making himself ill by overindulgence.
The writing in “And Now What’s to Do” is reminiscent of the work of Anderson, who came from a slightly lower social class than did Faulkner, but the depiction of adolescence is telling and rings true. And it was true that, like the grandfather in the sketch, Faulkner’s paternal grandfather was deaf and dabbled profitlessly in politics. In the Young Colonel it was increasingly obvious that the derring-do of Colonel William ’C. Falkner burned as eccentricity. Faulkner’s grandfather’s political connections made him an important man in both the area around Oxford and the rest of the state: early on he served as a state senator and later in life as a member of the University of Mississippi’s board of trustees. The Young Colonel let the family fortunes decline, though, instead of making them grow.
However difficult he may have been, Faulkner’s grandfather owned a library filled with books of high adventures from other times and other cultures. “The Big Place,” where Faulkner lived when his family moved to Oxford in 1902 and which he visited on a regular basis throughout his youth, remained a crucial memory for him in many ways. The library included the collected works of such well-known writers as Honorè de Balzac, Alexandre Dumas perè, and Sir Walter Scott, as well as an assortment of other authors. In the preface to The Faulkner Reader (1954) the author writes, “I realize now that I got most of my early education” in that “diffuse and catholic” family library.28 Some of these works he reread when he matured, and he drew on them in his novels. The books of Balzac, Scott, and Dumas were in effect finer prose versions, from older European cultures, of the family and war stories Faulkner regularly heard.
Other books that were available to Faulkner also provide interesting analogues to the family stories he would have heard and even to the kind of boy’s life he lived in a small town. For instance, the adult Faulkner retained in his own library his grandfather’s copies of Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi (1883), William Makepeace Thackeray’s Vanity Fair (1847-1848), Anthony Trollope’s Barchester Towers (1857), and some of the works by Dumas and Scott that were his grandfather’s favorites. Faulkner also acquired books signed by his grandmother, Sallie Murry Falkner—notably, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Blithedale Romance (1852), Owen Wister’s The Virginian (1902), and works by Edward Bulwer-Lytton; George Gordon, Lord Byron; and Victor Hugo. Faulkner recalled that when he stayed in his great-grandfather Murry’s house in Ripley on visits, he and his brothers were required to recite a substantial Bible verse in order to be served breakfast. This practice gave him a deep familiarity with the Old and New Testaments that became a rich vein of allusion and structure in his major novels.29
Faulkner’s father, Murry, the oldest of the Young Colonel’s three children, fared less well in life than his father and earned no real or honorific titles. He is remembered in his son’s writing for his repeated failures in business and for his attempts to push his oldest son into remunerative work. But he is also acknowledged by Faulkner for his “unfailing kindness which supplied me with bread at need despite the outrage to his principles at having been of a bum progenitive.”30 That is, Murry Falkner, though a stern father typical of his time who did not coddle his four sons, showed them love, took an interest in their lives, and supported them financially in various ways, no matter what they were doing. Faulkner lived most of his life at home with his parents until he married Estelle Oldham Franklin in 1929.
Faulkner’s father was a reader, too, and he shared books with his sons. His taste in books was somewhat different from that of Faulkner’s grandfather, though Murry Falkner also liked the adventurous and romantic. His youthful longing for cowboy life in the wild West expressed itself in a fondness for Wister’s The Virginian and Lin McLean (1898), his copies of which Faulkner retained throughout his life. Zane Grey became his favorite author. But Wister and Grey were not the only writers whose work he owned and signed. In Faulkner’s library as catalogued at the end of his life were his father’s copies of books by James Branch Cabell, James Feni-more Cooper, frontier humorist George Washington Harris, Balzac, Alphonse Daudet, Emile Zola, and Henrik Ibsen. These books, it seems clear, were acquired by Murry Falkner as a young man and were thus in the household well before the time the children began to read.
Other influential members of the Falkner family households who deserve mention in an account of family influence on Faulkner are the African Americans who worked for his parents and grandparents. Under almost any circumstances some of these people would have been conduits to stories about the days of slavery and the Civil War. To a child such as Faulkner they also provided a perspective on local culture quite different from that of his parents. He recorded in his 1912 letter to his parents how important were the intelligence, skills, and care of Chess Carothers, his grandfather’s driver. More fully and thoughtfully acknowledged in Faulkner’s later correspondence and writing was Callie Barr. At the age of about sixty, her own family raised and grown, Callie came to the Falkner household to help Maud Falkner raise her four children. She remained with the family off and on for most of the rest of her days, spending her last decade in a small house provided by Faulkner on the grounds of Rowan Oak. She died in 1940, almost one hundred years old. Following Callie’s wishes, when she succumbed to a stroke, Faulkner conducted a funeral service for her in the parlor of his house, with her family and his all present. He delivered a moving eulogy that he thought worth saving:
Caroline has known me all my life. It was my privilege to see her out of hers. After my father’s death [in 1932], to Mammy 1 came to represent the head of that family to which she had given a half century of fidelity and devotion. But the relationship between us never became that of master and servant. She still remained one of my earliest recollections, not only as a person, but as a fount of authority over my conduct and of security for my physical welfare…. She was an active and constant precept for decent behavior. From her I learned to tell the truth, to refrain from waste, to be considerate of the weak and respectful to age.
He closed the eulogy with a paraphrase of the epitaph he had once suggested for himself: “She was born and lived and served, and died and now is mourned; if there is a heaven, she has gone there.”31
Some ironies abound in Faulkner’s observation that from Callie he “learned to tell the truth,” but what he says about decent behavior and being considerate rings true. Faulkner’s presentations in his fiction of the courtesy of African American characters is based on what he learned at home. It does not require too much imagination to surmise that Callie was the inspiration for Dilsey, the Compson family maid in The Sound and the Fury, but the writer’s most profound tribute to Callie comes in Go Down, Moses, which is dedicated to her memory and in which the characterizations of both Molly Beauchamp and Sophonsiba “Fonsiba” Beauchamp owe something to her life. Some of Faulkner’s remarks in the 1940 eulogy document his acknowledgment of what, in such a charged racial climate, this small African American woman contributed to his evolving perceptions as a moral human being.
At the pinnacle of his success, on the platform in Sweden to receive the Nobel Prize in literature in 1950, Faulkner spoke with a concern for humankind that many readers had not had the perception to see laced throughout his fiction. His work, which he called, “a life’s work in the agony and sweat of the human spirit, not for glory and least of all for profit, but to create out of the materials of the human spirit something which did not exist before,” had been undertaken so that he might be “listened to by the young men and women already dedicated to the same anguish and travail.” In the dawn of the atomic age, with the fear of unpredictable mass annihilation, “the basest of all things is to be afraid,” and he “labors under a curse” who does not understand the importance of “the old verities and truths of the human heart, the old universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral and doomed—love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice.”32 These are the qualities Faulkner attributed to the idealism of the young. He perceived that the unsolved problems of youth are often visited upon adults who fail or refuse to grow up—the three Compson brothers in The Sound and the Fury, for example. Faulkner perceived, as well, that one of the most poignant subjects for fiction is the difficulty young people encounter when they try to carry their ideals, the values they have been taught, intact through the crucible of adolescence into an adult world where those values and ideals are too seldom honored.
AWARDS AND RECOGNITIONS
1939 Elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters
1948 Elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters
1950 Howells Medal for Fiction, American Academy of Arts and Letters
Nobel Prize in literature (1949 prize, awarded in 1950)
1951 National Book Award, for Collected Stories of William Faulkner (1950)
Medal of the French Legion d’Honneur
1955 Pulitzer Prize in literature, for A Fable (1954)
National Book Award, for A Fable
1957 Silver medal of the Greek Academy
1962 Gold Medal for Fiction, National Institute of Arts and Letters
1. The second Falkner son, Murry Charles “Jack” Falkner, served as a Marine in World War I. He joined the FBI after the war and later served as a counterintelligence agent in World War II. He was stationed in Algiers, where he met and married a French ballet dancer. After the war Jack Falkner had a long career as special agent for the FBI that took him many places before he retired to Mobile, Alabama. His own deft memoir of the Falkner boys’ lives together is The Falkners of Mississippi (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1967). The third son, John Wesley Thompson Falkner III, who also added the u to the spelling of his last name when he became an author, wrote several novels and a memoir of his own, My Brother Bill: An Affectionate Memoir (New York: Trident, 1963; reprinted, with a new foreword by John’s son Jimmy Faulkner, Athens, Ga.: Hill Street Press, 1998).
2. William Faulkner to Warren Beck, 6 July 1941, in Selected Letters of William Faulkner, edited by Joseph L. Blotner (New York: Random House, 1977), p. 142.
3. For Stone’s biography, and a portrait of Oxford, Mississippi, see Susan Snell, Phil Stone of Oxford: A Vicarious Life (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1991).
4. Faulkner, foreword to The Faulkner Reader (1954); reprinted in Essays, Speeches & Public Letters, edited by James B. Meriwether (New York: Random House, 1965), p. 180.
5. Faulkner, “Verse Old and Nascent: A Pilgrimage,” in William Faulkner: Early Prose and Poetry, edited by Carvel Collins (London: Cape, 1963), pp. 114, 117.
6. Faulkner to Maud Butler Faulkner, in Thinking of Home: William Faulkner’s Letters to His Mother and Father 1918-1925, edited by James G. Watson (New York: Norton, 1992), p. 63.
7. Lothar Hönnighausen surveys the late-nineteenth-century influences in Faulkner’s work, reproducing many illustrations, in William Faulkner: The Art of Stylization in his Early Graphic and Literary Work (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987).
8. Michel Gresset, A Faulkner Chronology (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1985), p. 16.
9. Faulkner, “An Introduction for The Sound and the Fury,” edited by Meriwether, Southern Review, new series 8 (Autumn 1972): 705-710.
10. Michael Millgate, Faulkner’s Place (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1997), p. 95.
11. Richard P. Adams, “The Apprenticeship of William Faulkner,” Tulane Studies in English, 12 (1962): 113-114.
12. Recent accounts of Faulkner’s post office job make it clear that he and Stone hatched another one of their extravagant plans—like the British biography and recommendations for the RAF—to make sure that he lost his job without committing a felony or owing the federal government too much money. See Joan St. C. Crane, “’Case No. 133733-C: The Inspector’s Letter to Postmaster William Faulkner,” Mississippi Quarterly, 42 (Summer 1989): 229-245.
13. “Colloquies at Nagano Seminar,” in Lion in the Garden: Interviews with William Faulkner 1926—1962, edited by Meriwether and Millgate (New York: Random House, 1968), p. 117.
14. Sherwood Anderson, “A Meeting South,” Dial (April 1925).
15. Faulkner to Maud Butler Falkner, in Thinking of Home, pp. 194-195.
16. Faulkner to Horace Liveright, 16 October 1927, in Selected Letters, p. 38.
17. Blotner, Faulkner: A Biography, one-volume edition (New York: Random House, 1984), p. 240. This episode is not recounted in the two-volume first edition of Blotner’s biography, published in 1974, while Mrs. Faulkner was still alive.
18. Joel Williamson, William Faulkner and Southern History (New York & Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), p. 156.
19. Faulkner, “Mississippi,” in Essays, Speeches & Public Letters, p. 13.
20. Sally Harrison, “New Faulkner Novel,” Brooklyn Citizen, 29 March 1940; reprinted in William Faulkner: The Contemporary Reviews, edited by M. Thomas Inge (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), p. 209.
21. Horace Gregory, “In the Haunted, Heroic Land of Faulkner’s Imagination,” New York Herald Tribune Book Review, 20 August 1950; reprinted in The Contemporary Reviews, p. 304.
22. Roark Bradford, “The Private World of William Faulkner,” in Conversations with William Faulkner, edited by Inge (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1999), p. 85. Bradford was the author of Ol’ Man Adam an’ His Chillun (1928), a collection of Bible stories written in black dialect, and other stories and novels sentimentalizing African American life in the South. Ol’ Man Adam an’ His Chillun was the basis for Marc Connelly’s play The Green Pastures (1929).
23. Robert N. Linscott, “Faulkner without Fanfare,” in Conversations with William Faulkner, p. 101.
24. Faulkner to Malcolm Cowley, 8 December 1945, in Selected Letters, p. 212.
25. Faulkner, “And Now What’s to Do,” Mississippi Quarterly, 26 (Summer 1973): 399-400.
26. Ibid., p. 399.
27. Ibid., p. 400.
28. Faulkner, foreword to The Faulkner Reader (New York: Random House, 1954).
29. “Interview with Jean Stein vanden Heuvel,” in Lion in the Garden, p. 250.
30. Faulkner, Introduction to the Modern Library edition of Sanctuary (1932); reprinted in Essays, Speeches & Public Letters, p. 176.
31. Faulkner, “Funeral Sermon for Mammy Caroline Barr,” in Essays, Speeches& Public Letters, pp. 117, 118.
32. Faulkner, “Address Upon Receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature,” in Essays, Speeches & Public Letters, pp. 119, 120.
Last Updated on June 12, 2017, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 10645
Over the course of his career Faulkner became, as dozens of other writers who have written about him have stated, a master at many technical aspects of writing fiction. The simplest judgment on his career is that of French novelist Claude Simon, who said, “Faulkner is the Picasso of literature.”1 Like Pablo Picasso, Faulkner made use of techniques derived from recent discoveries in many realms of thought: ethnology, psychology, philosophy, music, and of course painting, sculpture, and writing. From the first, he made unusual applications of techniques first explored by the writers of psychological fiction, that is, fiction in which the play of mind becomes as important as, or more important than, the play of action.
Drawing on earlier psychological fiction, Faulkner made innovative use of the interior monologue and stream-of-consciousness techniques, two slightly different modes of portraying the inner thoughts or feelings of a character. (The psychologist William James, brother of the novelist Henry James, coined the term stream of consciousness in 1890 to refer to the flow of unorganized thought at the deepest levels of cognitive activity, “the deep well of unconscious cerebration.”) Interior monologue involves the representation of a character’s thoughts and feelings in monologue form. The stream-of-consciousness technique reproduces in writing the often disjointed or chaotic course of a character’s various impressions. Whereas interior monologue usually presents the character’s thoughts in a somewhat organized and rational fashion, stream of consciousness attempts to show the full range of the mind’s activity, including irrational or incoherent thoughts.
In using language to simulate the flow of feeling, recollection, and self-narration, Faulkner was following many writers who had already explored the technique in various ways. Examples include Edouard Dujardin (Les lauriers sont coupé, 1888), Virginia Woolf (Mrs. Dalloway, 1925; To the Lighthouse, 1927), and James Joyce (Ulysses, 1922).
Faulkner’s contribution to the techniques of psychological fiction was to thrust the reader into minds of an even stranger nature than those explored by Woolf or Joyce: a thirty-three-year-old “idiot,” Benjy Compson, in The Sound and the Fury; a clairvoyant farm boy, Darl Bundren, in As I Lay Dying, whose mother’s death unravels his ego-sense; an ambiguous and haunted man, Joe Christmas, in Light in August, who violently seeks to come to terms with the cruel and false racial codes of the South; and Ike McCaslin in Go Down, Moses, a messianic hunter who wishes to repudiate his family’s heritage of ownership and exploitation of land and people but fails to stop the cycle because he has never known or understood the meaning of love. By virtue of his exploration of this technique of rendering the mind at work, Faulkner carried forward what the Southern poet and critic John Crowe Ransom acknowledged in 1924 as one of the great accomplishments of modern literature. Ransom argued that the stories of Faulkner’s mentor Sherwood Anderson, seen in the light of Sigmund Freud’s theories, had the effect of granting complex minds to simple people. Ransom admitted that there were elements in Freud’s ideas, and in the works of his literary cousins, that were “repulsive to the reading public,”2 and Faulkner found this to be true. Reviewers less discerning than Ransom found some of the characters and episodes in Faulkner’s books gratuitously violent or bizarre.
Publishing practices in his day also prevented Faulkner from carrying his innovation with stream of consciousness as far as he could conceive of taking it. The only device at his disposal to indicate to the reader that a consciousness was making a leap in time was to alternate between roman and italic typefaces. When Ben Wasson, Faulkner’s old college friend who partially edited The Sound and the Fury, failed to understand and changed everything to roman type, Faulkner complained bitterly, made Wasson put the work back the way it was, and lamented that the publishing industry was not grown up enough yet to allow him the luxury of presenting through different colors of ink, for example, the many different levels of mental time he sought to portray.3 Such a departure from standard publishing practice would have given him a texture that portrayed simultaneously the unbroken flow of deep interior mental activity and its apparently chaotic free-associational leaps and returns through the realm of memory.
Faulkner’s other major technical experiments involved the narrative and time structures of his novels. From the very first, he juxtaposed the lives of different characters in scenes that did not proceed linearly or chronologically. In his first novel, Soldiers’ Pay, scenes overlapped so that he could cover the same narrative ground from differing points of view. Such overlays also dramatized simultaneous events in different settings.
The reading public’s lack of understanding of his innovative techniques never deterred Faulkner. No two of his novels are exactly alike in structure or narrative form. Even his trilogy of novels about the rapacious Snopes family—The Hamlet, The Town, and The Mansion— shows considerable variety of formal structure among the three texts. Radical departure from narrative convention is Faulkner’s most characteristic personal signature as a writer. Although most of his fiction is set in the fictional north Mississippi county of Yoknapatawpha, his books, like Picasso’s works of visual art, are constantly reinvented in both formal and emotional terms.
At various levels of expression and construction in his nineteen novels Faulkner also used techniques first exploited by writers whom one may identify by using the following different terms: realist, naturalist, symbolist, impressionist, expressionist, imagist, futurist, cubist, and, more generally, modernist and even postmodernist. He was a realist because he found usually simple ways to depict everyday reality, though he was not a slave to exactitude. Faulkner followed writers such as Honore de Balzac, Gustave Flaubert, and Henry James in paying close attention to surface reality, as aware as these writers of reality’s commonsensical nature as well as the ways the physical world is filtered by the coloration of emotion and symbolic meaning. If naturalism is a pessimistic realism with a deterministic bent, as it has been called, then some of Faulkner’s work is naturalistic—Sanctuary and Light in August, for example, are somber novels of driven characters whose lives end badly. He spoke of many writers who influenced him, including such realists as Balzac and Flaubert, but he singled out the American realist and naturalist writers as his most direct forefathers: Anderson “was the father of my generation of American writers and the tradition of American writing which our successors will carry on…. Dreiser is his older brother and Mark Twain the father of them both.”4
As a symbolist Faulkner’s credentials come from reading the French symbolist poets and admiring such novelists as Marcel Proust, Joseph Conrad, James Joyce, and Virginia Woolf. The title of Faulkner’s first publication in a national magazine, the poem “L’Apres-Midi d’un Faune,” was taken without variation from a poem by the French symbolist Stephane Mallarme. Faulkner’s use of symbolist technique is seen in some of his early poetry but is most effective in the nightmarish, decadent scenes of such novels as Mosquitoes, Pylon, and Absalom, Absalom! and in the comedy of As I Lay Dying.5
The literary impressionists and expressionists had unique forms of writing that do not correspond exactly to the meanings of the same terms when applied to painting. But the analogy to painting is nonetheless useful. Impressionism involves the representation of the fleeting impressions of life in motion. Conrad and his friend Ford Madox Ford are credited with the invention of literary impressionism, a way of rendering a character’s experience that seemed truer to life than the linear, logical narratives of realism. Literary impressionism seeks to render the haphazard way in which human beings experience the world and then, retrospectively, reassemble their recollections into a version of what occurred. Many of Faulkner’s novels follow some version of this technique, compounding the looseness and uncertainty of impressionism by representing the thoughts of aberrant or highly stressed minds.
Expressionism presents the world of experience through the psychological and emotional medium the observer represents. This style expresses a condition of being, one that the character may not comprehend herself or himself. It attempts to express how the world of experience can make us feel or react. The distortions of expressionist work give the reader insight into a character’s feelings or state of mind. Edvard Munch’s well-known painting The Scream (1893) is a vivid example of expressionism in the visual arts. In Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying many scenes are expressionist, none more so than the little boy Vardaman’s perplexed thought equating his mother’s death and the only death he has previously experienced: “My mother is a fish.”6 In Light in August Joe Christmas undertakes an intense recollection of his life while standing beneath a tree as the Jefferson court-house clock strikes the chimes of midnight. In the literature of Faulkner’s time various overwrought scenes in Eugene O’Neill’s play The Hairy Ape (1922) express the inchoate feelings of characters under great stress.
Faulkner was briefly intrigued by the imagist poets, who came to prominence in the 1910s. They wrote verse that presented in direct, concrete terms the poet’s response to some image or scene. Faulkner found in the more traditional work of A. E. Housman a poetry he eventually liked better. Nonetheless, the language in Faulkner’s early poetry owes a debt to such imagists as Amy Lowell and Ezra Pound; T. S. Eliot, a powerful influence on Faulkner, was himself influenced by the imagists. When Benjy Compson in The Sound and the Fury crawls through a fence and feels that “the flowers rasped and rattled against”7 him, he is using language appropriate to imagist poetry. Even a work as late as Pylon, written in 1935, is filled with unusual words slammed together in imagist juxtaposition.
The futurist movement in Italy, with its focus on speed and the new mechanical devices constructed to achieve it—automobiles and airplanes—intrigued Faulkner briefly, as it did many other writers and intellectuals seeking to throw off the dead weight of the past over which, they believed, World War I had been fought. Pylon, Faulkner’s novel about the dangerous world of barnstorming aviation, reveals the influence of futurist ideas. It expresses a fascination with speed and the ways in which the daring pilots become as impersonal and fearless as their machines. Corrupt politics and an air of the Roman circus reduce their endeavor and sacrifice to absurdity.
Faulkner refers to cubism not only in letters from Paris, where he describes having seen modern artwork by Picasso and Henri Matisse in private collections, but also in As I Lay Dying. Darl, the Bundren brother wounded in World War I, sees his mother’s coffin, under construction outside her window, as a “cubistic bug.” The cubist paintings of Picasso and Georges Braque had the effect of reassembling multidimensioned objects on a two-dimensional surface. The context is not just the three dimensions of illusionist three-point perspective, but three dimensions of remembered space, another dimension of time, and a final dimension of psychological reference. John Dos Passos’s U.S.A. trilogy of novels (The 42nd Parallel, 1930; 1919, 1932; and The Big Money, 1936) is a good literary example, but Faulkner was trying something similar at the same time. Constructed as they are, both The Sound and the Fury and As I Lay Dying might, without too much damage to art history, claim influence by, and perhaps even considerable reference to, cubism.
Art in the early twentieth century, including popular art, embraced the results, if not the specific techniques, of various kinds of scientific and philosophical exploration of the world, the cosmos, and human existence: anthropology, biology, physics, and psychology. Anthropology reappraised what once was called primitive or savage culture—its graphic and plastic art, music, religion, communal customs, legends, and tales. Biology reap-praised the development of species and what have been called races. Psychology reappraised what had been called hysteria, perversity, and deviant behavior. The world of humankind and the world of nature—from the microcosmic to the cosmic—were not what they had seemed, and Captain Ahab’s terse rejoinder to his first mate, Starbuck, in Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick (1851) took on new significance: “The little lower layer, Star-buck, the little lower layer,” the captain says when Starbuck tries to convince him that he is in pursuit of nothing more than a dumb ocean beast. When asked in 1927 as a fresh new novelist what book he wished he had written, Faulkner responded, “Moby Dick. The Greek-like simplicity of it: a man of forceful character driven by his sombre nature and his bleak heritage, bent on his own destruction and dragging his immediate world down with him with a despotic and utter disregard of them as individuals; the fine point to which the various natures caught… in the fatality of his blind course are swept… all against the grave and tragic rhythm of the earth in its most timeless phase: the sea.”8
World War I ground down millions of young men in countries that had reached undreamed of levels of prosperity and cultural refinement. The war did not put an end to imperial domination of—and condescension to—“different” cultures in all parts of the less industrially developed world. Yet, after the war many could see these cultures in a totally new light, could see their own cultures mirrored in them, and found ways to incorporate their insights into the art of the time. Picasso and other artists used images from the tribal masks and icons of Africa and the Pacific Islands.
Modernization—the accelerating pace of industrial society and the regimentation of the lives of those who served this society—actually prompted the modernist response. Modernism is, or was, a set of styles, postures, and points of view—what one writer has suggested were searches for a style—that arose in reaction to the modernization of society. Modernism is still the name given to the collection of artistic movements and styles that appeared in the first two or three decades of the twentieth century. Faulkner was an important participant in the modernist project, if not a leader. He came along too late to be considered one of the original modernists; there were already too many candidates for that honor when he hit New Orleans and Paris in 1925, before he had even attempted a novel. Faulkner’s art was the art of that period, however, and it has all the hall-marks that have been identified in writing about modernism.
A passage from an excellent collection of essays, Modernism: 1890–1930 (1976), edited by the novelist Malcolm Bradbury and the critic James McFarlane, should make clear the degree to which Faulkner’s art was in accord with the fiction of his time:
[Modernism] is an art of a rapidly modernizing world, a world of rapid industrial development, advanced technology, urbanization, secularization and mass forms of social life. Clearly, too, it is the art of a world from which many traditional certainties had departed, and a certain sort of Victorian confidence not only in the onward progress of mankind but in the very solidity and visibility of reality itself has evaporated.
Knowledge becomes “pluralistic and ambiguous,” and experience appears to “outrun … the orderly control of the mind.”9
According to Bradbury and McFarlane the modernist novel “has shown, perhaps, four great preoccupations: with the complexities of its own form, with the representation of inward states of consciousness, with a sense of the nihilistic disorder behind the ordered surface of life and reality, and with the freeing of narrative art from the determination of an onerous plot.”10 One desire expressed in the experiments of the modernist novelists is, as Bradbury and John Fletcher have noted, “to free the novel from its earlier limitations—its flat, external realism, its dependence on the material world and the loose contingencies of prose—and to probe more freely and intensely the fact of life and the orders of modern consciousness.”11 In the same volume British novelist David Lodge summarizes the features of the modernist novel more thoroughly:
First, it is experimental or innovatory in form, exhibiting marked deviations from existing modes of discourse, literary and non-literary. Next, it is much concerned with consciousness, and also with the subconscious or unconscious workings of the human mind … [making] room for introspection, analysis, reflection and reverie. Frequently, therefore, a modern novel has no real “beginning,” since it plunges us into a flowing stream of experience with which we gradually familiarize ourselves by a process of inference and association; its ending is usually “open” or ambiguous, leaving the reader in doubt as to the characters’ final destiny. By way of compensation for the weakening of narrative structure and unity, other modes of aesthetic ordering become more prominent—such as allusion to or imitation of literary models, or mythical archetypes; or repetition-with-variation of motifs, images, symbols, a technique often called “rhythm,” “leitmotif,” or “spatial form.” Lastly, modern fiction eschews the straight chronological ordering of its material, and the use of a reliable, omniscient and intrusive narrator. It employs, instead, either a single, limited point of view, or multiple viewpoints, all more or less limited and fallible; and it tends toward a complex or fluid handling of time, involving much cross-reference back and forward across the temporal span of the action.12
The Sound and the Fury matches this description of the modern novel completely, but even Faulkner’s first two novels, Soldiers’ Pay and Mosquitoes, confirm that he had absorbed, and could apply, many of the modernists’ techniques. Lodge’s list of general qualities is an excellent guide to what an attentive reader may expect to find in a Faulkner novel, though his way of
using these techniques changed from book to book. As Faulkner explained to a young English teacher and novelist in 1941, his concern was to make his technique match his subject, “reconciling method and material.”13 He was critical of writers who dropped into self-imitation, telling a Japanese audience in 1955 that “Steinbeck is just a reporter, a newspaperman, not a writer,”14 and telling a University of Mississippi English class in 1947 that Hemingway “has no courage”15—meaning courage for taking risks with the language, structure, and characters of his novels.
The testimony in praise of Faulkner’s experimentation with the technique of structuring novels, writing prose, or depicting characters is strong and from good authority.16 Flannery O’Connor, the Georgia author who pushed the Southern grotesque into realms of the spirit, wrote of Faulkner’s intimidating technical achievements in a witty warning to other writers: “The presence alone of Faulkner in our midst makes a great difference in what the writer can and cannot permit himself to do. Nobody wants his mule and wagon stalled on the same track the Dixie Limited is roaring down.”17
A few of the professional book reviewers who encountered Faulkner’s novels for the first time thought that he was out of control, a careless Mississippi Dostoyevsky driven by whiskey and the gothicism of the South. Faulkner’s manuscripts and typescripts belie this impression. There are forty-five published facsimile volumes of the working drafts Faulkner or others saved. Several additional volumes reproduce or catalogue manuscripts or typescripts of everything from his juvenilia—his first attempts at poetry, drawing, and drama—to his collaborative writing for motion-picture productions. Many other manuscripts and prepublication materials are accessible in collections at colleges and universities. Considerable firsthand evidence of how carefully Faulkner wrote thus exists from every stage of his writing career. The evidence is that he wrote neatly, carefully, and easily, often at a remarkably fast and steady pace. He wrote in longhand, using a fountain pen, on unlined white sheets of paper, in a manner that suggests preparation and control. As early as the period when he was working on his first two novels, Faulkner developed the habit of leaving wide left margins in which he could neatly enter revisions of passages he lined out or make additions. Sometimes he dated the first and last pages of his manuscripts. Occasionally he dated his daily stints of work or marked daily progress by marginal notation every hundred words, one to six hundred and then starting over, as if he were setting himself a minimum daily goal of production.
Faulkner’s handwriting is neat, running as straight across the unlined pages as if he had used a ruler, but it is also miniscule—he could fit more than one hundred characters on a line—and difficult to decipher. He used an idiosyncratic kind of shorthand for common word endings and did not cross the letters t or f, though they can be differentiated by height. Anyone examining Faulkner’s manuscripts today must puzzle over many words, wondering, for example, whether they contain a u or n or end in -ing or -ly. His own testimony is that he had to type over the handwritten draft material every day, because he could not read it himself if it got “cold.” In composing novels and stories he typically wrote drafts, some-times revising them, and then preliminary typescripts, which were them-selves retyped into work suitably clean for submission to a publisher.18 Faulkner often made revisions during each of these stages. The evidence of his typescripts is that his typing was as neat and steady as his handwriting.
Of course Faulkner did not save every piece of paper to which he set his pen, so the full story of the composition of any of his works is hard to document. There is, nonetheless, considerable evidence for his general practice as a craftsman going confidently at a first draft, as well as plenty of examples of how he revised. In building a novel, Faulkner often changed overall narrative structure, polished diction and syntax, rewrote entire scenes to make them more dramatic, and corrected mistakes. In a few instances he used scissors to cut out a paragraph, occasionally even a sentence, which apparently was the only writing on the page with which he was satisfied, and pasted it onto a blank manuscript or typescript sheet where he then wrote up to and after it, saving himself a little effort and time. If he was working on more than one piece at a time, as was the case with “Elmer,” an unfinished novel about an American in Paris, and Mosquitoes, he would try out passages or entire scenes in both works.
From 1926 to the publication in 1936 of Absalom, Absalom!, the ninth of his nineteen novels, Faulkner wrote confidently to editors and friends about his compositional process. His reports in his letters, which can be read in Selected Letters of William Faulkner (1977), indicate that he worked steadily and rapidly, with absolute confidence in what he was doing. Things were not always easy: the working papers for Light in August show substantial and repeated relocation of chapters and scenes. Absalom, Absalom! required a major transformation that included abandoning one set of weak characters in the frame of the novel in favor of using Quentin Compson and his Harvard roommate, Shreve, who had appeared in The Sound and the Fury, in which Quentin committed suicide. But Faulkner always seemed sure that the solution to various compositional problems would come. As his financial, personal, and health problems increased in the late 1930s, however, he expressed increasingly negative feelings about his writing. He was not pleased with the cobbled-together Saturday Evening Post magazine stories that he turned into The Unvanquished. Faulkner wrote his editor, Robert Haas, about the just finished If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem (first published as The Wild Palms in 1939),
I have lived for the last six months in such a peculiar state of family complications and back complications that I still am not able to tell if the novel is all right or absolute drivel. To me, it was written just as if 1 had sat on the one side of a wall and the paper was on the other and my hand with the pen thrust through the wall and writing not only on invisible paper but in pitch darkness too, so that I could not even know if the pen still wrote on paper or not.19
Such uncertainty affected the composition and revision of much of Faulkner’s later work. He was proud of The Hamlet and Go Down, Moses, saying of the first that it showed him to be the “best in America, by God,” and of the second, which he held back from his publisher after he had announced it finished, that he was writing “a section now that 1 am going to be proud of.”20 But he sent both of these novels piecemeal to New York, partly to show he was working but also for feedback, and his financial problems were so severe as he finished Go Down, Moses that he mailed it off to Random House without making a carbon copy, probably because he could not afford carbon paper and second sheets.
During the dozen difficult years from 1942 to 1954 when Faulkner was working on A Fable, which he hoped would be his greatest work, he constantly asked his editors for positive reinforcement and wondered if silence from New York meant that the bits he was sending were not good. Faulkner worked with five different publishing houses in the first decade of his career as a novelist (from 1926 to 1936, when he joined Random House), a circumstance that did not help his career but he never lost confidence. The reasons for changing publishers were both artistic and economic; two of the four publishers before Random House dropped him because they could not make any money on his novels. The other two went out of business during the Great Depression. None of the editors at these publishing houses fully comprehended what Faulkner was trying to accomplish, though Harrison Smith, who published The Sound and the Fury and brought Faulkner to Random House when that firm absorbed his second firm, Smith and Haas, gave the writer free rein. Other editors, such as Ben Wasson, who worked for Smith, tended to damage Faulkner’s work by uninformed interference. Saxe Commins at Random House did not catch the deliberate ambiguities in Absalom, Absalom! and attempted to edit the book toward consistency. Faulkner fought back. His last editor, Albert Erskine at Random House, wanted to make the three volumes of the Snopes trilogy consistent, too, though Faulkner had published the first in 1940 and did not get around to writing the second and third until the mid 1950s. Faulkner argued, finally offering that Random House could publish The Town and The Mansion first as he himself wanted the books—with inconsistencies—as “standard” editions and then do whatever they wished. He wrote a brief foreword to the third volume, even after some editorial damage had been done, disclaiming consistency:
This book is the final chapter of, and the summation of, a work conceived and begun in 1925. Since the author likes to believe, hopes that his entire life’s work is a part of a living literature, and since “living” is motion, and “motion” is change and alternation and therefore the only alternative to motion is un-motion, stasis, death, there will be found discrepancies and contradictions in the thirty-four-year progress of this particular chronicle; the purpose of this note is simply to notify the reader that the author has already found more discrepancies and contradictions than he hopes the reader will—contradictions and discrepancies due to the fact that the author has learned, he believes, more about the human heart and its dilemma than he knew thirty-four years ago; and is sure that, having lived with them that long time, he knows the characters in this chronicle better than he did then.21
The overwhelming documentary evidence, then, is that Faulkner did revise and polish, considerably and with good effect, but that once a work was published, he chose not to look at it again or second-guess his instinct for what constituted a finished work. He resisted as much as possible editorial intervention in his work. Even when he was working helpfully with the Princeton University French professor Maurice E. Coindreau, who came to Hollywood to stay with the author while translating The Sound and the Fury, Faulkner refused to read the novel. Similarly, when in 1945 he created the “Appendix: Compson, 1699–1945” for The Portable Faulkner, edited by Malcolm Cowley, Faulkner felt so restored to his best capacity as an artist that he refused Cowley’s repeated requests to make what he wrote about the Compsons in 1945 jibe with what he had written about them in 1928. His final explanation to Cowley is worth quoting:” I dont want to read TSATF again. Would rather let the appendix stand with the inconsistencies, perhaps make a statement (quotable) at the end … viz: the inconsistencies in the appendix prove that to me the book is still alive after 15 years, and being still alive is growing, changing…,”22 This obstinacy is an interesting revelation of craft: Faulkner did not look back at published work because he knew, as he matured in his skill as a writer and his knowledge of human nature, that he would want to change it. He was more concerned, and excited, about attempting a new work. What he did revise in works in progress, however, were those characters, events, and chronologies that he had used in previous books, never feeling bound by his past conceptions as he worked on something with different demands and requirements. Critics have discovered that they cannot often speak of Faulkner’s recurrent characters as if they were the same figure in each text in which they reappear. An example is the transformation of Ike McCaslin, referred to briefly in The Hamlet as a planter with wife and children in a remote part of the county, into the celibate hunter of Go Down, Moses who repudiates the farm he is supposed to inherit. Such transformations made Faulkner nearly immune to the self-imitation he so much deplored in writers such as Steinbeck and Hemingway.
As with any renowned writer from the past, the critical reception of Faulkner’s fiction takes two forms: the reviews that appeared as his books were first published and the body of academic commentary that began even before he won the 1950 Nobel Prize in literature. Academia continues to produce a steady torrent of Faulkner scholarship and critical analysis.
Faulkner’s books appeared in small editions, and his publishers rarely sold many books until he won the Nobel Prize, with the single exception of Sanctuary (and because of the bankruptcy of his publisher at the time, Cape and Smith, he received almost none of the royalties for the novel). But the books, almost without exception, received several reviews praising his courage, profundity, moral sense, and breathtaking style. Even reviewers who could not imagine that Faulkner’s style was under control and thus commented that he could not write, often mentioned the “impact” of his writing. At a 1972 conference at the University of Mississippi, the critic Cleanth Brooks put this contradiction into context by asking, Where did the critics who doubted Faulkner’s capacity to write but raved about the impact of his novels think the impact was coming from? It came, Brooks stated emphatically, from the style and the technique of the books. Still, because a few influential reviewers in widely circulated magazines pilloried and even parodied Faulkner vividly, the impression may be that Faulkner continually received a bad press. This is not true.
Just as he did not reread his published books, Faulkner claimed not to read reviews.23 It is likely, nevertheless, that he could not escape some of their influence, if only because friends, editors, or family members occasionally called his attention to a review. A selection of significant reviews, both favorable and unfavorable, is available in William Faulkner: The Contemporary Reviews (1995), edited by M. Thomas Inge. Lists of reviews may be found in several Faulkner bibliographies, in some cases with summaries of the reviews. Even the title of a review often reveals something about the reviewer’s opinion. Together with such reference publications as Book Review Digest or The New York Times Index, these resources provide the reader with convenient access to typical contemporary responses to Faulkner’s work.
John McClure, a New Orleans newspaper writer and an editor of The Double Dealer magazine, which published several of Faulkner’s poems and nonfiction pieces beginning in 1922, said of Faulkner’s first book, The Marble Faun, that the poems in the collection represented “an excursion into direct experience” and showed promise of finer things to come. But in Faulkner’s “home” daily newspaper, the Memphis Commercial Appeal, book editor Monte Cooper took him to task for worshiping at the shrines of such discredited poets as Algernon Charles Swinburne and using awkward diction. Faulkner did not turn to fiction because of such negative reviews as Cooper’s, but they may explain why he waited so long to bring out the second book of poems he claimed to be working on when the first was published.
The turn to fiction provided more opportunity for a response from reviewers, if only because the publisher of Faulkner’s first novel, Boni and Liveright, was a well-known firm and already had a distinguished list of authors, including Sherwood Anderson, Eugene O’Neill, Robinson Jeffers, and Ernest Hemingway. Reviewers of Faulkner’s first novel, Soldiers’ Pay, were sympathetic in that fledgling age of modern American fiction. (Sinclair Lewis’s Babbitt had appeared in 1922; F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby and Hemingway’s In Our Time were both published in 1925; and in 1930 Lewis became the first American to win the Nobel Prize in literature.) The reviewer for the New York Sun saw Soldiers’ Pay as a postwar novel centered on a dying aviator, but “whirled around him is a picture of postwar social life. And the burden of this life is sex released from the prewar restraints.”24 Poet and critic Louis Kronenberger, reviewing Soldiers’ Pay for the Literary Digest International Book Review, observed that if Faulkner’s characters were fantastic, in a novel that might have been called “What Price Victory?” (an allusion to the 1924 play “What Price Glory?” by Anderson and Laurence Stallings), it was because they represented a generation coming back from war to “an overturned world of bitter inverted fantasy.” “The war, annihilating conventions, moralities and ideals, not only left them primitives; it left them abnormal primitives.” Giving a useful definition of one aspect of the modernist spirit, Kronenberger concluded by judging the book to be “a rich combination of imagination, observation and experience. In an isolated world of Faulkner’s own making, shadows having the reality of men grope through a maze complex enough to be at once pitiful and comic, passionate, tormenting and strange.”25
Closer to home, the Vanderbilt poet Donald Davidson, who had been in the war himself, saw Soldiers’ Pay as an advance over the postwar fiction of Dos Passos. Because the novel “deals with people in a Southern town,” Davidson felt it paid more attention to human nature, delving into “its secret as well as its obvious life, all the mingling of disillusionment and pagan recklessness that have characterized the postwar period.” Davidson perceived Faulkner to be “a sensitive, observant person with a fine power of objectifying his own and other people’s emotions, and of clarifying characters so that they possess the ’real life’ within themselves which it is one of the functions of art to present. Further-more, he is an artist in language, a sort of poet turned to prose; he does not write prose as Dreiser does, as if he were washing dishes; nor like Sinclair Lewis, who goes at words with a hammer and saw.”26 John McClure, the New Orleans editor and critic, discovered that even when Faulkner’s characters say or do something the reader believes they would not say or do, “one feels that there is nevertheless a symbolic truth in the byplay—that something of this sort is what the character would like to do and, if he do.”27
Critical judgments similar to those of the reviewers of Soldiers’ Pay showed up in reviews of Faulkner’s subsequent works. It is too much to say that Faulkner was always well received, because in fact he was not. But many reviewers, especially those who were writers themselves, found Faulkner to be craftsmanlike, acute in his characterizations, bold in his structures and rhetoric, poetic and symbolic in his choice of language, and a modern moralist in his philosophy.
Mosquitoes, Faulkner’s second novel, was reviewed by such writers as Davidson, Lillian Hellman, Conrad Aiken, and Elinor Wylie. Hellman noted that it “was impossible to capture in a review the humor, the delight of Mr. Faulkner’s writing … the fine kind of swift and lusty writing that comes from a healthy, fresh pen.“28 Davidson appreciated the “slaying” satire of the book, done less with scorn than “with an easy languorousness befitting a Mississippian.” He thought the novel revealed most, however, the author’s “own remorseless mind, most painfully ill at ease in Zion, wrenching his mortal world into a beautifully distorted cast, leaving us full of admiration for the skill of the performance, but conscious of some discomfort before the performer.”29 John McClure was edgy about the book, which pilloried a great many of his and Faulkner’s mutual friends in New Orleans, so he warned “Puritan readers” away from it and concluded with a reference both to a pas-sage from the book and the book itself, “This is Bill’s little joke.”30
A young writer could hardly have wished for a better critical reception, but Faulkner’s books did not sell, perhaps in part because Horace Liveright of Boni and Liveright was such a poor businessman. Faulkner himself was pleased; his own capsule reviews of his first two novels came in a letter to Liveright in which he said that a book he was then starting would never be as “youngly glamorous as ’Soldiers’ Pay’ nor as trashily smart as ’Mosquitoes.’”31 These judgments came in the wake of Live-right’s rejection of the long novel about the Sartoris family Faulkner had just written, originally to be called “Flags in the Dust” but first published in 1929 as Sartoris, which four months before he had proclaimed to his publisher to be “THE book, of which those other things were but foals.”32
Flags in the Dust never made it into print as Faulkner originally wrote it because the original typescript was shortened by Wasson for publication by Harcourt, Brace as Sartoris. A composite typescript, incomplete in several places, that Faulkner had assembled from drafts of a preliminary typescript was silently edited by Douglas Day and published as Flags in the Dust in 1973. Because of Faulkner’s failure to find a publisher in a timely way for the Sartoris novel, The Sound and the Fury was published just eight months later in 1929, but the two books did not help each other in the marketplace.
Henry Nash Smith, an English professor and literary historian at Southern Methodist University in Dallas (and later the author of the prize-winning Virgin Land: The American West as Symbol and Myth, 1950), championed Faulkner as an unexpected phenomenon from the deep South. Smith saw Faulkner mastering the writer’s craft novel by novel and stated that both his eloquence and his philosophical depth, uncharacteristic of the “hard-boiled” writers of his time, suggested that he could give “the definitive utterance of the generation who went to war and came back when it was over.”33 As Eudora Welty Cleanth Brooks, and Robert Penn Warren did later, Smith responded strongly to Faulkner’s poetry of a “keenly sensed” Southern world: “His is a Southern countryside with the smell of boiling cane juice, of salt pork fried over a fireplace … of the banker’s cigar smoke floating over a bed of salvia in the dark.” In Sartoris, Smith concluded, Faulkner had turned from portraying ideas to “the eternal task of the novelist—people themselves.”34 Donald Davidson perceived, like Smith, that Faulkner’s was “a major style” waiting for material worthy of it. There was tragedy in every sentence of Sartoris, Davidson wrote, and possibly an allegory for the age in the central action about a man “whose only mortal satisfaction is in doing himself to death with machines.”35 In Commonweal Mary Ellen Chase found the book memorable and the Sartoris family one “whose troubled, overwhelming personality was so prodigal that even the dead Sartorises could not stay in heaven, must come back to linger on in their pipes, in the odor of the honeysuckle, in the rooms where they had once lived, and above all in the perturbed and desperate desires of their grandchildren. Thus they insure their own immortality and ensure … the torturing mortality of succeeding generations.”36
Without telling his readers much about The Sound and the Fury, Henry Nash Smith praised the melding of provincialism and modernism in the novel, as well as its dramatization of tragedy.37 Like the Texas-based Smith, a Philadelphia reviewer believed that Faulkner used the methodology of Joyce and Woolf without any hint of simple imitation. “No tale here-tofore told by an idiot was nearly so sad or so beautiful,” he writes of the first section.38 Another Philadelphia reviewer, however, objected throughout to the willful difficulties Faulkner flung at the reader, though he relented at the end to write that the portrait of Jason Gompson the younger, “one of the most poisonous men 1 know,” was “bold and true.”39 From Cleveland, Ohio, a reviewer puzzled about the effect of the book, seeing it as a combination of Joyce’s work and Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s The Brothers Karamazov (1879–1880) but speculating that the striking technique “helps to veil much of what would be too painful if directly stated.”40 From Providence, Rhode Island, Winfield Townley Scott (then an under-graduate
at Brown and eventually a distinguished journalist and poet) thought the novel was written in the manner of Joyce, Aiken’s Blue Voyage (1927), and Gertrude Stein and dismissed it, as did Clifton Fadiman (founder of the Book-of-the-Month Club) in The Nation.41 In New Orleans, Faulkner fared better: Julia Baker raved about the difficult book for its force, its economy, and the true “note of tragedy, not marred by a cynical tone of self-pity.” And Caddy, she wrote, is “something uncanny” as a portrayal of a feminine heart: “Ask women how true his rendering is. They know it, men can merely sense it.”42
Since Faulkner published nineteen novels and three collections of short stories in his lifetime, the record of his contemporary critical reception is large. After he won the Nobel Prize in 1950, and without even counting the body of academic criticism that began to expand at that time, the record of reviews alone is vast. The pattern established with the reviews of the first four books, however—The Marble Faun, Soldiers’ Pay, Mosquitoes, and Sartoris— is essentially the general picture over time. Almost no middle ground existed in the reception of Faulkner’s work. Reviewers either expressed astonishment and profound delight or resentment, confusion, and strong disapproval.
Faulkner did not respond to the negative criticism, and he rarely responded to the positive, except in the way he constantly had to reshape his career and modify his intended path to becoming a ground-breaking novelist. That is, he learned how to write commercially when that was not his ambition. Faulkner learned how to create the typical action story of the mass-circulation magazines, although this kind of story went against his whole interest in probing deeply into the lives of his characters. Even in his attempts to cash in on the popular American taste of the times, however, he sometimes created books that European audiences found significant and compelling. Sanctuary, published in 1931, was a scandal in America, but in France the noted philosophical writer Andre Malraux said it represented the infusion of the spirit of Greek tragedy into the detective novel.43
Because he almost always aimed for the best-paying, and thus most mass-audience-oriented, magazines, Faulkner’s collections of short stories include pedestrian as well as a few remarkable examples of the popular magazine story. This may be considered a response to his critics, too, since such magazine stories are clear, direct, psychologically simplified versions of life. But Faulkner’s critics seem not to have noticed that he could write stories for popular magazines at the same time he was writing novels such as The Sound and the Fury or Absalom, Absalom! The seven-episode cycle of stories published as The Unvan quished in 1938, which he contracted as a novel and of which six stories were crafted specifically for The Saturday Evening Post, was his least favorite work. The detective stories of Knight’s Gambit (1949), similarly intended for a popular market, he saw as potboilers, too, but the morally and psychologically richer Intruder in the Dust (1948) transcended the detective genre and received high praise from many reviewers. In 1999, in fact, when a story extracted from the first chapter of the novel was, after fifty years, pulled out of a file and published with some fanfare in The Virginia Quarterly Review, an editorial in The New York Times made the following judgment:
[I]n Faulkner’s words, undiminished by time, is all the texture, the back-country manners, the flavor and scent of a racial structure long collapsed, a way of life forever gone. It is stunning, reading it, how the past rushes back. One can smell the dark, rich nuances and tensions of Mississippi, 1948. It is even more poignant to finish this story and realize how far we still are from achieving its end.
For this is a story of instruction about giving and accepting on terms of mutual respect. It is the 12-year-old white boy, cold and wet from a fall in the creek, who is commanded by [a stubborn black man named Lucas] Beauchamp to follow him to his cabin. There he is wrapped in the black man’s quilt and warmed by his fire. But Beauchamp is no servant. He will not be paid, and the challenge for the boy is to accept the gift, and therefore the authority and humanity of the man who gave it. It is a story about freedom, about black strength and competence, and about white acceptance, and acknowledgment and respect. More than 50 years later, those are still issues in America and the world, as well as in Mississippi, 43
The New York Times, like the South, was different in 1948 when Intruder in the Dust was published, and certainly in 1950 when Faulkner won the Nobel Prize in literature and the Times editorialized against his dramatization of racial injustice and its consequences. “Americans must fervently hope,” the editorialist wrote in 1950, that foreigners do not believe that Faulkner’s “too often vicious, depraved, decadent, corrupt” world truly reflects the United States.45
The editorial pages of The New York Times were, however, not in harmony with the pages of The New York Times Book Review (which was, in fact, an institution to itself). Months before the 1950 editorial critical of Faulkner was published, Harry Sylvester, reviewing Collected Stories of William Faulkner, wrote in the Book Review that “one thing remains to distinguish [Faulkner] above all American writers since James and perhaps since Melville—he simply knows so much more than they.”46 Charles Poore, an editor of the Book Review, offered proof from Random House records that Faulkner had a popular following in his own country: counting Modern Library editions, Faulkner’s books had sold 140,000 in hardcover, including more than 30,000 copies of The Sound and the Fury. In total, nearly two and-a-half million paperbacks of three titles— Sanctuary, Intruder in the Dust, and The Wild Palms— were in print, with another million about to come off the press. Paperback press runs were now in the 300,000 range per title for such recent books as Intruder in the Dust and Knight’s Gambit, and one million for Sanctuary and The Wild Palms.47
Earlier, the poet Horace Gregory had used the publication of Intruder in the Dust to write a long piece for New York Herald Tribune Weekly Book Review in which he recognized Faulkner’s achievement in a long career, his international reputation, and the cumulative effect of his novels and stories. Gregory ranked him with Melville, Conrad, James, Proust, and Joyce, a writer “most ’universal’ when most ’at home.’”48 In August of 1950, Collected Stories of William Faulkner prompted Gregory to assert that the author “had written more passages of unmistakable lucidity than any writer of his generation. He is more distinctly the master of a style than any writer of fiction living in America today.”49
Faulkner’s reputation may have reached a plateau when he won the Nobel Prize in 1950, such is the prestige of that international award, but the record of reviews from 1929 to 1949 is fairly consistent with what came before and what came after, and the norm is variety, even violent disagreement about Faulkner’s work. It has also been said that 1939 marks the turning point in Faulkner criticism, because in that year two long, positive essays on his career were published in influential magazines. Conrad Aiken wrote a positive overview of Faulkner’s work for The Atlantic (later Atlantic Monthly), a popular intellectual magazine. A young Southern writer and teacher, George Marion O’Donnell, argued in the first issue of the less widely read Kenyon Review that Faulkner had created a dramatic Southern myth, Sartoris versus Snopes, in the Yoknapatawpha fiction, and an allegory of the effect of modern amorality in Sanctuary.50 That same year Faulkner made the cover of the 23 January issue of Time magazine, and The Wild Palms received a laudatory review as novel of the week in The Times Literary Supplement (TLS) of 18 March. But in the Saturday Review of Literature editor George Stevens surveyed the radically opposed reviews of The Wild Palms as an example of the inconsistency and vagary of popular criticism.”51
The record as assembled by Inge in William Faulkner: The Contemporary Reviews shows that Faulkner’s work always received some intelligent, positive criticism, not just in the South or New York but all across the country. A positive review in a journal, however, did not mean a consensus among all its editors and contributors. In 1940 an editor of the Southern Review, Donald Stanford, began his review of The Hamlet by calling the novel “Faulkner’s latest explosion in a cess pool….”52 Another Southern Review editor, Robert Penn Warren, had to go to John Crowe Ransom’s Kenyon Review in order to discuss what he saw as the rich humor of the first volume about Snopeses.53
Faulkner was not oblivious to criticism, nor to his growing reputation, as he told various interviewers he was. But he increasingly hid behind the persona of an ill-educated Mississippi farmer to fend off the questions academics and intellectuals asked him. By claiming not to be literary, not to know any writers, and not to have any notion of what his agent did with his work, Faulkner avoided having to intellectualize his writing process or the philosophical content of his writing. The contrary evidence of his earliest years as a writer is that he posed as a small-town bohemian intellectual and then ran happily with the artists and writers of New Orleans. His pose later in life as a farmer played well, nonetheless, in New York.
Regarding his reception, Faulkner actually cared enormously for a glorious posterity—that is, for a reputation akin to that of past literary masters. Faulkner knew firsthand the excitement of discovering the works of Balzac, Flaubert, Dostoyevsky, Eliot, and Joyce, and he was pleased to find out that, for example, among the young French writers of the World War II era he was, as Cowley reported, a “god” himself.54 In writing about his ambition Faulkner generalized, putting artistic success above making money or attaining the status of public figure. The artists ambition, he explained, should be to make something that has not been made before, and to make, in his case, a book or story so expressive that it could move other human beings even in strange cultures and distant times. By touching posterity in this way, the artist would achieve his true goal, which is to say “No” to death, to achieve immortality not for the self but for the work.55
1. Claude Simon, quoted in Thomas L. McHaney, “Watching for the Dixie Limited: Faulkner’s Impact upon the Creative Writer,” in Fifty Years of Yoknapatawpha, edited by Doreen Fowler and Ann J. Abadie (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1980), p. 245.
2. John Crowe Ransom, “Freud and Literature,” Saturday Review of Literature (4 October 1924): 161.
3. William Faulkner to Ben Wasson, in Selected Letters of William Faulkner, edited by Joseph Blotner (New York: Random House, 1977), pp. 44-45.
4. “Interview with Jean Stein vanden Heuvel,” in Lion in the Garden: Interviews with William Faulkner 1926-1962, edited by James B. Meriwether and Michael Millgate (New York: Random House, 1968), pp. 249-250.
5. See Lothar Honnighausen, William Faulkner: The Art of Stylization in his Early Graphic and Literary Work (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987); and Modernism: 1890—1930, edited by Malcolm Bradbury and James McFarlane (London: Penguin, 1978; second edition, 1991).
6. Faulkner, As I Lay Dying: The Corrected Text (New York: Vintage, 1990), p. 84.
7. Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury: The Corrected Text (New York: Vintage, 1990), p. 4.
8. Faulkner, “To the Book Editor of the Chicago Tribune,” in Essays, Speeches & Public Letters, edited by Meriwether (New York: Random House, 1965), pp. 197-198.
9. Bradbury and McFarlane, “The Cultural and Intellectual Climate of Modernism,” in Modemism: 1890-1930, p. 57.
10. Bradbury and McFarlane, “The Modernist Novel,” in Modernism: 1890–1930, p. 393.
11. John Fletcher and Bradbury, “The Introverted Novel,” in Modernism: 1890–1930, p. 408.
12. David Lodge, “The Language of Modernist Fiction: Metaphor and Metonymy,” in Modernism: 1890-1930, p. 481.
13. Faulkner to Warren Beck, 6 July 1941, in Selected Letters, p. 143.
14. “Interview at Press Club,” in Lion in the Garden, p. 91.
15. “Classroom Statements at the University of Mississippi,” in Lion in the Garden, p. 58.
16. See McHaney “Watching for the Dixie Limited: Faulkner’s Impact upon the Creative Writer”; and William Faulkner: The Contemporary Reviews, edited by M. Thomas Inge (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995).
17. Flannery O’Connor, “The Grotesque in Fiction,” in her Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose, edited by Sally and Robert Fitzgerald (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1969), p. 45.
18. For an account of Faulkner’s compositional practice that is also an essay on deciphering his handwriting, see Noel Polk, “Some Notes on Reading Faulkner’s Hand,” in William Faulkner Manuscripts, volume 1: Elmer and “A Portrait of Elmer,” introduced and arranged by McHaney (New York & London: Garland, 1987), pp. xiii-xxiii. A helpful tool for learning to read Faulkner’s manuscripts is Faulkner, Mosquitoes: A Facsimile and Transcription of the University of Virginia Holograph Manuscript, edited by McHaney and David L. Vander Meulen (Charlottesville: Bibliographical Society of the University of Virginia/University of Virginia Library, 1997). This facsimile is digitally reproduced, making it clearer than previous facsimiles, and the matching transcription is printed on pages facing the appropriate manuscript page.
19. Faulkner to Robert K. Haas, 8 July 1938, in Selected Letters, p. 106.
20. Ibid., pp. 113,146.
21. Faulkner, foreword to The Mansion (New York: Random House, 1959).
22. Faulkner to Malcolm Cowley, 18 February 1946, in Selected Letters, p. 222.
23. John Cook Wyllie, “Conversations with William Faulkner,” in Conversations with William Faulkner, edited by Inge (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1999), p. 110.
24. E. Hartley Grattan, “A Book of Hatred,” New York Sun, 3 April 1926; reprinted in The Contemporary Reviews, p. 11.
25. Louis Kronenberger, “Soldiers’Pay,” Literary Digest International Book Review, 4 (July 1926); reprinted in The Contemporary Reviews, p. 15.
26. Donald Davidson, “William Faulkner,” Nashville Tennessean, 11 April 1926; reprinted in The Contemporary Reviews, p. 12.
27. John McClure, “Literature and Less,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, 11 April 1926; reprinted in The Contemporary Reviews, p. 14.
28. Lillian Hellman, “Futile Souls Adrift on a Yacht,” New York Herald Tribune Books, 19 June 1927; reprinted in The Contemporary Reviews, p. 19.
29. Davidson, “The Grotesque,” Nashville Tennessean, 3 July 1927; reprinted in The Contemporary Reviews, p. 20.
30. McClure, “Literature and Less,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, 3 July 1927; reprinted in The Contemporary Reviews, p. 21.
31. Faulkner to Horace Liveright, February 1928, in Selected Letters, p. 40.
32. Faulkner to Liveright, 16 October 1927, in Selected Letters, p. 38.
33. Henry Nash Smith, “In His New Novel William Faulkner Broadens His Art,” Dallas Morning News, 17 February 1929; reprinted in The Contemporary Reviews, p. 25.
34. Ibid., p. 26.
35. Davidson, “Two Mississippi Novels,” Nashville Tennessean, 14 April 1929; reprinted in The Contemporary Reviews, p. 28.
36. Mary Ellen Chase, “Some Intimations of Immortality,” Commonweal, 10 (5 June 1929); reprinted in The Contemporary Reviews, p. 28.
37. Smith, “Three Southern Novels,” Southwest Review, 15 (Autumn 1929); reprinted in The Contemporary Reviews, pp. 33-34.
38. Harold W. Recht, “Southern Family Sinks into Dark Mental Decadence,” Philadelphia Record, 29 September 1929; reprinted in The Contemporary Reviews, p. 34.
39. Walter Yust, “Of Making Many Books,” Philadelphia Public Ledger, 4 October 1929; reprinted in The Contemporary Reviews, p. 36.
40. Ted Robinson, “Full of Sound and Fury, Horror Tale Sinks Spurs into Snorting Nightmares,” Cleveland Plain Dealer, 18 October 1929; reprinted in The Contemporary Reviews, p. 37.
41. Winfield Townley Scott, “The Waning South,” Providence Journal, 20 October 1929; reprinted in The Contemporary Reviews, pp. 37-38; Clifton Fadiman, “Hardly Worth While,” Nation (15 January 1930); reprinted in The Contemporary Reviews, pp. 38-39.
42. Julia K. W Baker, “Literature and Less,” New Orleans Times-Picayune, 29 June 1929; reprinted in The Contemporary Reviews, pp. 39,40.
43. Andre Malraux, “Preface a Sanctuaire de W. Faulkner,” Nouvelle Revue Francaise, 41 (November 1933): 744-747.
44. Dudley Clendennin, “News from Faulkner: An Old Story,” New York Times, 11 July 1999, Week in Review sec., p. 16.
45. “Nobel Bedfellows,” New York Times, 11 November 1950, sec. L, p. 14.
46. Harry Sylvester, “The Dark, Bright World of William Faulkner,” New York Times Book Review, 20 August 1950, p. 1.
47. Blotner, Faulkner: A Life (New York: Random House, 1974), II: 1345; notes, p. 174.
48. Horace Gregory, “Regional Novelist of Universal Meaning,” New York Herald Tribune Weekly Book Review, 26 September 1948; reprinted in The Contemporary Reviews, p. 258.
49. Gregory, “In the Haunted, Heroic Land of Faulkner’s Imagination,” New York Herald Tribune Weekly Book Review, 20 August 1950; reprinted in The Contemporary Reviews, p. 304.
50. Conrad Aiken, “William Faulkner: The Novel as Form,” Atlantic, 164 (November 1939): 650-654; George Marion O’Donnell, “Faulkner’s Mythology,” Kenyon Review, 1 (Summer 1939): 285-299.
51. George Stevens, “Wild Palms and Ripe Olives,” Saturday Review of Literature (11 February 1939): 8.
52. Donald Stanford, “The Beloved Returns and Other Recent Fiction,” Southern Review, 6 (Winter 1941); reprinted in The Contemporary Reviews, p. 224.
53. Robert Penn Warren, “The Snopes World,” Kenyon Review, 3 (Spring 1941): 253-257.
54. Cowley The Faulkner-Cowley File: Letters and Memories, 1944-1962 (New York: Viking, 1966), p. 24.
55. The most straightforward expression of this attitude is found in Faulkner’s foreword to The Faulkner Reader (1954); reprinted in Essays, Speeches & Public Letters, pp. 179–182.
Last Updated on June 12, 2017, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 7637
Though a small town, Oxford, Mississippi, was home to all the changing currents of American and Southern life that produced what appear in retrospect to be distinct eras. Faulkner was affected by the attitudes of the members of his parents’ generation, with their memories of Reconstruction and the subsequent Redemption movement, by which Southerners resumed control over local and state governments. He grew up in the Strenuous Age (so called because of President Theodore Roosevelt’s advocacy of the strenuous life), apprenticed as a writer in the Jazz Age, and wrote his mature work during the Great Depression. His reputation suffered a decline in the World War II years and recovered during the Eisenhower years and the Cold War. He died in the early 1960s. Faulkner is more generally associated with the modern age because he wrote modernist fiction. By virtue of his devotion to his local world as subject and setting, he was a major figure in the renaissance of Southern writing that occurred between the two world wars.
The term modernism refers to a variety of literary or artistic styles that dominated the art centers of Europe and America in the first half of the twentieth century. These styles are seen in the graphic and plastic arts, industrial design, music, theater, poetry, and prose of the day. They derive from, or express, a range of common experiences and concerns that touched two or more generations from 1890 to 1930. While not everyone living in this era experienced every causal event or directly felt every concern, many of the main ideas quickly spread from the key cities of modernism—Vienna, Moscow, Prague, Paris, Munich, London, New York, and Chicago—and reached young people even in provincial American places. Many young Americans also migrated to artistic and intellectual capitals, where they absorbed modernist influences directly and returned home to influence others. Faulkner, like many other small-town Americans, experienced modernism both ways: through reading and contact with people in the university community
of Oxford, Mississippi, and by going to European cities where modernist styles were in play.1
FAULKNER’S TIME IN HISTORY
Faulkner was born in 1897, approximately one hundred years after the South was irrevocably changed by the perfection of Eli Whitney’s cotton gin, which made large-scale cotton farming feasible and gave “new life to the cotton industry.”2 This sealed the South’s fate regarding both the defense of slavery and widespread adherence to a form of undiversified agriculture that was hard on the land and hard on the people. When Faulkner was born, the Civil War was only thirty-two years in the past. The writer was a personal witness to just how hard the effects of the Southern past could be on the present. His home state of Mississippi was particularly disadvantaged by a heavy focus on credit farming and cotton production. In addition, Faulkner experienced the effects of many crises, both national as well as regional: two world wars; a severe economic depression; a deteriorating Mississippi political situation; the Cold War, with its military posturing and atomic scares; and the struggle of African Americans to obtain equal rights. Faulkner died in 1962, the year riots broke out on the campus of the University of Mississippi after Ole Miss yielded to federal law and admitted its first African American student, James Meredith.
Faulkner’s lifetime spanned several identifiable eras that gave rise to various social and artistic movements. The decade he was born in has been called the Gay Nineties, denoting the exuberance of American society in the 1890s, and the era of the robber barons. The term fin de siecle (end of the century) has been used to describe the world-weary state of European culture in the 1890s; highlighting the sense of exhaustion implied in the previous term, the era is also known as the decadent period.3 Artistic and literary movements at the time of Faulkner’s birth were in a turmoil of contention, with challenges on all sides to comfortable bourgeois expressions of prosperous self-satisfaction. Contending against the conventional were hard-edged and frank realists, who opened new subject matter in painting and writing. Impressionists and expressionists broke from mimetic representation of reality and began putting immediate impressions and psychological expressions on the canvas and on the page. If painters and writers were not challenging bourgeois ideas of representation, they were going farther and shocking genteel and decorous codes of behavior. Faulkner was too young to notice all this artistic turmoil at the time it arose, but he absorbed much of the resulting art and writing when he reached his teens and joined the rebellion against convention. He went on to carry out a full-scale assault on the conventions of writing fiction.
Faulkner missed active participation in World War I, although he signed up as a cadet in the British Royal Air Force (RAF). He was prohibited from serving only when the end of the war on 11 November 1918 terminated his unfinished training at an RAF base in Toronto. Faulkner was too old for World War II, though he also sought a commission in that conflict and took on such small duties as organizing air-warden activity in northern Mississippi. But evidence of the American Civil War was all around him. In nearby Corinth and Tupelo, and in Shiloh, Tennessee, were important battle sites memorialized as shrines to the “Lost Cause” of Southern independence. The ghosts of such legendary soldiers as Confederate cavalry officer Nathan Bedford Forrest and the writer’s own great-grandfather, Colonel William C. Falkner, still rode the land in living memory. Faulkner’s paternal grandparents celebrated the late Confederacy and its veterans. They helped purchase both of the tall monuments to Confederate soldiers placed prominently in Oxford, one at the entrance to the University of Mississippi campus and another at the south entrance to the city’s courthouse square. In their spacious house they frequently put up Civil War veterans when reunions of military units and reenactments of battle scenes were staged in Oxford.
A writer E9;, for example, died in 1898, when Faulkner was just one year old, but Faulkner took from him some early poetic style and even the title of his first publication in a national magazine, “L’ Apres-Midi d’un Faune.” Similarly, Faulkner was too young to read about the Spanish-American War in the newspapers as it happened, but he could not have missed its effects on young American men, including his father. First, it popularized Theodore Roosevelt, the weak youth who remade his body with strenuous exercise and manly pursuits in the West and became president of the United States. Second, the relative ease of America’s victory over Spain in that war had much to do with later American eagerness to join the genuinely dangerous action of World War I. Eagerness to serve in World War 1 was also fed by turn-of-the-century memorializing and sentimentalizing of service in the Civil War. The Sons of Confederate Veterans and the Daughters of the Confederacy magnified the heroics of the glorious dead, and the surviving old veterans themselves told stories of comradeship and bravery. The carnage and misery of war was forgotten. The battlefield monuments, the solemn ceremonies of dedication, the lively reenactments of the killing fields, and the slogans of remembrance did not convey the horror and waste of modern warfare. No wonder so much disillusionment followed in the wake of World War I. For Southerners, participation in that disillusionment took a mournful and reminiscent tone that harked back to the Civil War. Allen Tate’s 1928 poem “Ode to the Confederate Dead” expresses the postwar mood of T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land in exactly such Southern terms.
Contrasting forces were also at work in Faulkner’s early years to create other conditions to which modern art responded. The Falkner family was directly involved in what cultural critic Howard Mumford Jones has called the age of energy. The term refers to the post-Civil War boom that initiated the building of America’s industrial and financial empire. It was the age of laissez-faire capitalism, cutthroat monopolism, and the regular purchase by great industrialists and financiers of the political support they required to create baronial fortunes. But, as Jones points out, it was also a period when many of the so-called robber barons memorialized themselves and their family names by donating enormous sums for civic, educational, and cultural institutions that would otherwise not have existed. They built hospitals, research centers, public libraries, and facilities for great universities when state and federal governments were reluctant to raise taxes for such institutions.
Faulkner’s great-grandfather William C. Falkner had the makings of just such an industrial baron, but the Civil War and its economic results for the South, and eventually his murder at age sixty-four by a former business partner, cut short his dream of expanding his rail-road so that it would link Chicago and the Mississippi Gulf Coast. With the dream went the great fortune that might have come from such a success.
Faulkner could not have failed to notice that his father’s life represented the ambiguities of a transitional era. Already married with a child in 1898, Murry Falkner was unable to become one of Roosevelt’s Rough Riders in the Spanish-American War. His passions as a young man, however, had run high. He was eighteen when his famous grandfather was killed, and between that time and his marriage he became involved in a shooting scrape that left him wounded in a manner similar to his grandfather. His chief interests were symbolic of heroic, carefree masculinity: the wild West and the romance of the railroads, a life so virile and free that Faulkner wrote about it himself in those terms more than once, especially in ’Light in August, a novel published in 1932, the year of his father’s death:
The town was a railroad division point. Even in mid-week there were many men about the streets. The whole air of the place was masculine, transient: a population even whose husbands were at home only at intervals and on holiday—a population of men who led esoteric lives whose actual scenes were removed and whose intermittent presence was pandered to like that of patrons in a theatre.4
Murry Falkner worked for the family railroad for several years, but when it was sold, he settled into the rhythm of a commercial town. He failed at a variety of businesses before his father, who had achieved enough political influence to become a trustee of the University of Mississippi, secured a position for him in the school’s business office—the antithesis, in those times, of his dreams.
Like Ernest Hemingway’s parents, Murry Falkner thought his son wrote dirty books. Writing about the roughly contemporaneous family life of Hemingway, who was born in 1899, biographer Michael Reynolds has pointed out how such matters as the lure of the West and the popularity of the strenuous life affected the young writer from Oak Park, Illinois. Hemingway, Reynolds shows, was caught up in the example provided by Theodore Roosevelt and the popularization of “muscular Christianity,” keeping lists to help foster self-development.5
Changing roles and opportunities for women represented a kind of threat to male independence. Though Faulkner’s mother never put aside child-rearing and housekeeping, she was by many standards a new woman; she painted seriously, read voluminously, and ran the house with a motto posted in the kitchen: “Don’t Complain—Don’t Explain.”6 Apparently, there was contention in the household, and Murry Falkner’s response was loud talk and then a retreat into heavy drinking. Maud Falkner was clearly not one to back down; her own father had abandoned her and her mother, possibly in the company of a handsome woman of color, and the experience of growing up with the hint of scandal may have stiffened her resolve. In the Falkner women she had strong support, especially in the forthright Auntee, Murry’s sister Holland Falkner Wilkins, who was Maud’s best friend even before her marriage and became one of Faulkner’s great supporters. Such women, bound by convention yet powerful in their influence, produced a degree of confusion for the young men of the time, and Faulkner, like Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald, may have felt that a strong mother compromised the manhood of his father. At the same time, he was a victim of the sexual pieties and ignorant psychology of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries that confused young people even further about their relationships with the opposite sex and their own bodies. Failure to remain pure was thought to produce adult impotency or even madness. Newspapers were filled with advertisements for medicines and devices to combat male “youthful folly” (masturbation) and female lassitude. A posthumously published early autobiographical sketch by Faulkner expressed fear of entanglement in sexual terms:
The girls … with their ripening thighs and their mouths that keep you awake at night with unnameable things—shame of lost integrity, manhood’s pride, desire like a drug. The body is tarnished, soiled in its pride, now. But what is it for, anyway? … Girls were all right … He had known all about it before, but the reality was like reading a story and then seeing it in the movies, with music and all. Soft things. Secretive, but like traps. Like going after something you wanted, and getting into a nest of spider webs.7
Neither World War I nor the Jazz Age that followed in the 1920s completely settled the concerns of Faulkner and many of his contemporaries about what the body was for. Young women bobbed their hair, raised their hemlines, threw away the restrictive undergarments their mothers and grandmothers had worn, went to college, smoked, drank, stayed out late, and danced with abandon to highly suggestive music. Men drank openly, smoked cigarettes instead of pipes, danced with equal abandon, and continued to try to appear manly even when behaving in a silly way. How to bring the sexes together meaningfully remained a problem.
The Jazz Age lasted a decade. The 1929 Wall Street crash was just a symptom, not a cause, of the Great Depression, but by 1930 the sale of luxury items was sufficiently restricted to end the recording careers of many of America’s great blues and jazz artists when record companies folded. It would be too much to say that the music stopped, but the blues had a less joyful tone, and “Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?” became a popular song. The devastation of an economy that had had little time to grow since the Civil War began early in Mississippi. In 1927 the Mississippi River rose to the hundred-year flood stage, covering the entire Delta crescent. Faulkner witnessed the Mississippi equivalent of the midwest Dust Bowl when the fragile land of the once-forested north central hills of Mississippi was practically ruined, along with its farmers, because of overplanting. Since he was interested, and in a minor way involved, in the agricultural economy of his region, Faulkner paid close attention to the results of deforestation, the epochal flooding and resultant land erosion that virtually ruined many areas of his hill region. A description from the standard Depression-era traveler’s guide to Mississippi is apt. About Faulkner’s specific region, the north central hills, the editors of Mississippi: A Guide to the Magnolia State (1938) wrote:
This broken series of clay hills evidences more clearly than any other region the misfortunes that descended on Mississippi after the War between the States. When the war completely upset the economy upon which ante-bellum prosperity had been based, it not only destroyed surplus capital but also fixed on the State the share-cropping and credit system— the enemy of diversification and the chain that binds the tenant to the merchant-banker and to poverty. The merchant-banker has continuously demanded that cotton, and cotton alone, be grown to repay his financial advances. Yet, repeated sowing of this basic crop on clay hillsides caused sheet erosion. Great red gullies have consumed the fertility of the land, until today an occasional ante-bellum mansion teetering crazily on the edge of a 50-foot precipice offers mute evidence of the decay Faulkner has seen fit to depict in his novels. Lacking the virility of new blood and the impetus of new industry, portions of the Central Hills have degenerated. Cotton here no longer has the kingly power to pull white-columned mansions out of the earth, for the earth has too often felt the plow.8
Mississippi and the rest of the South moved toward the condition identified in 1932 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as “the Nation’s Number One Economic Problem.” Greed and mismanagement of basic resources had done it, and both of these topics became subjects for Faulkner’s fiction.
Faulkner lived during the era of the Works Progress Administration (WPA), Roosevelt’s program to improve the quality of life for rural Southern peoples and jumpstart the economy with public-works projects. Mississippi: A Guide to the Magnolia State was one such project, giving work to hundreds of Mississippians who collected local data and wrote narratives about the history of their state. The impact of the WPA on Mississippi was vast, not merely because of the public-works projects undertaken by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) but also because of the construction of the hydroelectric and flood-control dams of the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) that provided cheap electrical power to Mississippi towns and created lakes for recreational and commercial activity. The impact of the WPA on Oxford was sufficient for Faulkner’s brother John to write a novel about it, ironically titled Men Working (1941) because in John’s view WPA men were paid to stand around and watch other people work. Faulkner himself protested even this well-intended form of federal intervention into local life, on the grounds that it destroyed individual initiative and independence. He also railed against federal price supports for farm commodities and especially the rationalized management of what farmers could plant. In 1940, as his financial problems increased, Faulkner wrote a representative of his publisher that “what I should do (or any artist) is give all my income and property to the bloody govt. and go on WPA forever after.”9
On an equally important Southern issue—racist thinking and its consequences—Faulkner was born into the late days of the Redemption movement, when freed blacks were disenfranchised and Southern state governments reorganized themselves as they wished, restoring the status quo ante bellum of white domination. Peonage in the form of sharecropping replaced slavery and degraded the lives of poor whites as well as blacks. State governments created restrictions and legal codes that negated federal efforts to ensure the political equality of former slaves and also of those African Americans who had lived outside of slavery in the South before the institution was abolished. Two passages from the 1915 edition of the School History of Mississippi—that is, an official textbook for public schools that Faulkner himself might have read—provide the Southern view of the Reconstruction era:
In the latter parts of the war, lands belonging to many Confederate soldiers were seized as abandoned and leased to freedmen who had flocked to the towns, and who were, to a large extent, in a destitute condition. It thus happened that in 1865 nearly sixty thousand acres of land in Mississippi were held by the Freedmen’s Bureau, which had been established by Congress to provide for the freedmen. Several large colonies were established on the Mississippi River…. In every town of importance agents were stationed, a majority of whom belonged to the worst class of adventurers. They became political emissaries among the freedmen and did much to disturb the harmony and good feeling that had hitherto existed between the races. Many of the colored people had accompanied their masters to the war, and others had remained at home, protecting the families of their absent masters, and caring for the old plantation with a zeal that was admirable. After they were made free, they were still attached to their former masters, until they were made to believe by the agents of the Freedmen’s Bureau that the people among whom they had lived so long were not their friends, and that their best interests lay in their attachment to the strangers from other sections.10
The textbook’s author, Franklin L. Riley, then points out how long it took, even under these “conditions,” for the state to grant freedmen the right to appear in court, to hold real estate, to sue, or to act as jurors, but goes on to chronicle the “revolution” that put the state back in white hands. Among these events was the impeachment trial of the Reconstruction-era Mississippi governor Adelbert Ames, who resigned under pressure. Riley notes that Ames’s “early surroundings [in the North], his education, and his connection with the war gave him a strong bias, if not a prejudice, against the Southern white people. He had exaggerated notions of the rights of the colored race and an over-confidence in their ability to govern themselves.”11 After writing that the revolution was complete when the “carpetbaggers” left the state, Riley never mentions the laws affecting African Americans again. But he includes a section titled “Respect for the ’Lost Cause,’” noting that Mississippians, while pleased that “the passions of the bitter conflict are rapidly passing away,” have not lessened “their sentiments of reverence and affection for the sacred dust of the Southern heroes, who sacrificed their lives on its soil. Through the energies of the women of the State most of the Confederate cemeteries within its borders have been preserved and beautified in a way that honors their pure and exalted love of patriotism.”12 Faulkner’s grandmother was such a woman, and so was the first-grade schoolteacher who gave young Faulkner a copy of Thomas Dixon’s violently racist novel about Reconstruction and Redemption, The Clansman.
. What happened to the freedmen is another story, and Faulkner lived through the ensuing Jim Crow era (the name comes from a blackface minstrel act evoking the mythical stereotype of clownish behavior in African Americans) and into the Civil Rights era. During the Jim Crow era, which lasted from the late 1870s to the 1950s, Southern states invoked increasingly restrictive codes of racial separation. Many laws were passed to demean, destabilize, disenfranchise, and terrorize the African American population of the South. In 1915 the Ku Klux Klan reemerged as a night-riding group to terrorize African Americans and discourage them from political or social organization. The Jim Crow era reached a peak with such demeaning affronts as separate waiting rooms for African Americans in doctors’ offices and railway stations, water fountains marked “White Only,” and a variety of political maneuvers denying former freedmen the opportunity to register to vote. Painted white lines relegated black people to the back of city buses, and red arrows pointed them up to isolation in uncomfortably hot movie-theater balconies. These and other acts were all devised to suppress a people who primarily worked taking care of white people’s business: driving their vehicles, tilling and harvesting their fields, cooking their food, and nursing their children.
Despite his “Lost Cause” heritage and his acculturation in the racist climate of Southern communities, Faulkner observed all this with increasing discomfort and critical intelligence. When the citizens of Oxford, Mississippi, proposed a memorial in the courthouse square naming soldiers from the area who gave their lives in World War II but planned to leave out the names of African American soldiers, he protested strongly. The townspeople gave in to his protests only to the extent of listing the African American soldiers on a separate plaque on the reverse of the monument. As Faulkner meditated on Southern culture in his fiction, his views gradually changed. In his early books he depicted the region using a somewhat patronizing local-color approach. He went on to acquire a generic humanism on the racial question that eventually evolved into activism, putting him and his property into jeopardy. In a novel as early as Light in August Faulkner questioned both the concept of race and the insane behavior manifested by virulent racists and a community eager for the Roman carnival of lynching. In Go Down, Moses, published in 1942 and dedicated to the memory of the African American woman, Callie Barr, whose care and admonitions had meant so much to him as a child, he explored more deeply than any other white writer of his time the falsity and tragic consequences of separating people belonging to a common culture on the basis of the myth, or social construction, of race.
When a new brand of racial violence erupted in Mississippi in the 1950s, Faulkner wrote strong letters attacking the cowardice of men who would kill children and pleading for their punishment in the name of justice. During the Civil Rights era following the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision ordering the integration of public schools, he continued to write letters, essays, and speeches on the race issue. To activists working to secure voting rights and academic and economic opportunity for African Americans, many of Faulkner’s pronouncements seemed to represent a milder form of Southern resistance to change, since he deplored violence but cautioned patience. The African American writer, editor, and activist W. E. B. Du Bois offered to debate him on the steps of a county courthouse in Mississippi where justice had miscarried in a case of violence. Faulkner declined—as he declined similar debates with the authors James Baldwin and Norman Mailer—wiring to Du Bois that “I do not believe there is a debatable point between us. We both agree in advance that the position you will take is right morally legally and ethically. If it is not evident to you that the position 1 take in asking for moderation and patience is right practically then we will both waste our breath in debate.”13 Faulkner’s meaning, which he made clearer in several letters and essays, was that he feared that the South he knew best—northern Mississippi, specifically—would violently resist federal imposition of integrated schooling and voting rights and that there would be the equivalent of another devastating Civil War. Faulkner would have found some justification for this belief in the events that took place shortly after his death when the University of Mississippi admitted a lone African American student, James Meredith, in the fall of 1962, after much political posturing by Ross Barnett, the prosegregation Mississippi governor. Riots broke out in which two people were killed, and National Guard troops were called out to keep order during the first year of Meredith’s study at the university.
Residing mostly in Mississippi and then for the last five or six years of his life in Virginia, Faulkner witnessed the massive resistance among white Southerners to laws seeking equal protection and educational opportunity for African Americans. Viewed from inside the white community of the South, this was an era of anger and self-justification, breeding racial violence and polarization. Southern politicians put the Confederate battle flag back into the official emblems of their states or flew it as an act of defiance. For African Americans it was a time of courage and slow progress, when change came not through widening educational or economic opportunity, which occurred at a snail’s pace, but through winning the right to vote. When black citizens secured and began to exercise the right to vote, the politics of the South began to change, and other changes followed of which Faulkner would have been proud. As he told Du Bois, he knew the South was wrong, even misguided. He wrote many formulations of this viewpoint in the 1950s. For example, Faulkner commented in a press dispatch from Rome on the miscarriage of justice in the trial of the white Mississippians who were found not guilty of the August 1955 murder of a fourteen-year-old black youth, Emmett Till. Faulkner explained that America risked rebuke and even defeat in the future as long as it taught the racially diverse remainder of the world “that when we talk of freedom and liberty, we not only mean neither, we don’t even mean security and justice and even the preservation of life for people whose pigmentation is not the same as ours.”14
Much of Faulkner’s fiction and nonfiction shows significant concern about important social, economic, and political issues of his time. The great migration, for example, the name given to the movement northward of African American sharecroppers and laborers who were evicted from Southern farms by mechanization, plays a role in one of his most important novels about racial conditions in the South, Go Down, Moses. As a novelist, however, Faulkner began and ended as a modernist. From his late teens he was fascinated with new styles in art and literature, from the impressionist to the cubist painters, from the symbolist poets of France to the imagist poets in America, from the psychological realism of Gustave Flaubert and Henry James to the literary impressionism of Joseph Conrad and the stream-of-consciousness explorations of Virginia Woolf and James Joyce.
One complaint about critical attention to modernism is that when viewed as nothing but an aesthetic, it stresses styles and principles of construction for their own sake and the elitist indifference of the artist to the everyday world. Modernism was, however, a conservative movement in the best sense of that word. It represented opposition to regimentation and the mechanization of everything from manufacturing to recreation. It is important to remember that many modernists fought the fascists, defied the communists, and celebrated and understood the strange power of stories reflecting the human spirit from every corner of the globe. The introduction into art of the lessons being learned in biology, anthropology, psychology, history, physics, philosophy, and other humanistic enterprises made Faulkner think deeply about his own culture and inspired him to meditate on issues of race, gender, economics, international politics, war, and other human concerns in book after book. He may have played the aesthete for a short time in his youth, but it was one pose he decisively put behind him.
Like many of the young male writers of his time, Faulkner was fascinated by and drawn to World War I and the literature that grew out of it, to which he contributed with books such as Soldiers’ Pay and Sartoris. As with many Americans who did not experience the war in Europe directly, however, for him it was a symbolic event. Nonetheless, a young Southern poet who had participated in the war, Donald Davidson, found Soldiers’ Pay to be a true exploration of how returning soldiers felt upon reaching their rural hometowns and how the towns themselves had been affected, beneath their indifference, by the accompanying changes that had occurred in the early twentieth century. Faulkner was more disturbed by World War II and made several efforts to take some part in it, from serving as a doubtless unnecessary air warden in north Mississippi to volunteering as a pilot ferrying airplanes from factories to flight stations or overseas embarkation points. He paid sufficient attention to the Spanish Civil War of 1936–1939 to donate the manuscript of Absalom, Absalom! to a fundraiser for families of men who were killed. Demythologizing the remote and idealized American Civil War gave Faulkner an understanding of these other wars akin to that of the European writers who endured them and in their turn tried to demythologize the official rhetoric of their countries. His visit to France in 1925 included walking trips through devastated lands and battlefields. Faulkner’s feelings about war fostered in him what became a near obsession to write a philosophical and symbolic antiwar novel that he hoped would be his magnum opus. He began work in 1943 and finished the novel, A Fable, in 1954, after eleven years of off-and-on work.
The Jazz Age grew out of the World War I years, it is generally believed, and reflected a spirit of relief, abandon, and living for the moment that followed the armistice. Faulkner was in the right place at the right time to create his own version of this period. He lived near and knew well the Mississippi Delta, Memphis, and New Orleans, where both folk blues and composed or recorded blues and jazz flourished. His drawings for the University of Mississippi yearbook suggest the style of the Jazz Age, as the illustrations he composed for his handmade books of poetic drama and narrative allegory embody decadent or art-nouveau style. Faulkner’s yearbook drawings portray sheiks, flappers, and bouncy jazz bands. At the center of his first novel, Soldiers’ Pay, is a typical local dance in which a jazz band plays the naughty “Shake it, Break it, Hang it on the Wall” for the fast young crowd who missed the war. The novel proclaims that “This, the spring of 1919, was the day of the Boy, of him who had been too
young for soldiering,”15 and the veterans, wounded or not, watch from the periphery.
Reflecting other aspects of the modern age, Faulkner’s novels reveal that the influence of Sigmund Freud and James Joyce was all over the place, a fact noted by sophisticated early reviewers. His second novel, Mosquitoes, is a heavily Freudian imitation of two popular writers of the time, Aldous Huxley (Crome Yellow, 1921) and Richard Hughes (High Wind in Jamaica, 1929). The story of citified bohemians is modulated by a version of a frontier tall tale, the theme of which is borrowed from Owen Wister’s The Virginian. Faulkner’s third novel, Sartoris, originally to be called “Flags in the Dust” but shortened and published as Sartoris, seems modeled after Buddenbrooks (1900), by the German writer Thomas Mann, whom Faulkner called one of the “great men in my time.”16 But his first ambition, before he allowed the novel to be cut, was to place the Sartoris family’s postwar dissolution within the context of the lives of returning veterans from several classes and both races. In Flags in the Dust, as published in 1973 with the cut sections restored, Faulkner pays attention to several postwar figures: a sharecropper turned town-dwelling traveling salesman, a yeoman farmer who has to deceive his unreconstructed father about joining the “Yankee” army, a son of former slaves who does not want to be anybody’s servant after serving in France, and a vaguely aristocratic young lawyer who avoids active service by volunteering with the YMCA. His YMCA service certifies him as unmanly; in his Hemingway biography Reynolds cites Theodore Roosevelt’s declaration that any “man of fighting age [should] do his utmost to get into the fighting line—Red Cross Work, Y. M. C. A. work, driving ambulances, and the like, excellent though it all is, should be left to men not of military age or unfit for military service, and to women; young men of vigorous bodies and sound hearts should be left free to do their proper work in the fighting line.”17
Like Hemingway and Fitzgerald, Faulkner wrote scenes depicting the postwar drinking culture, the flaming up and out of conventional notions of male virility in the face of women’s greater freedom and moral authority, the shifts in class and racial order, and the demise of social conventions: marriages more frequently ended in divorce; no one seemed to go to church; and the decorous tea dances of the past were replaced with cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, frenetic tennis, and the pursuit of sex.
LIFESTYLE AND CULTURE
Faulkner’s fiction, letters, and interviews indicate strongly that he missed almost nothing of importance that occurred during his lifetime and little that occurred in the generations of his parents, grandparents, and even great-grandparents. If he was, as fellow Mississippian writer Eudora Welty claimed, “poetically, the most accurate man alive,”18 he was also, in the words of Robert Penn Warren, culturally accurate for “all the book-reading Southerners 1 knew. They found dramatized in Faulkner’s work some truth about the South and their own Southernness that had been lying speechless in their experience. Even landscapes and objects took on a new depth of meaning, and the human face, stance, and gesture took on a new dignity.” In Faulkner’s fiction, Warren went on, “There was the thrill of seeing how a life that you yourself observed and were part of might move into the dimension of art. There was, more personally, the thrill of discovering your own relation to time and place, to life as you were destined to live it.”19
Similar sentiments to Warren’s have come from war-weary French existentialists, revolutionary Latin Americans, post-Hiroshima Japanese, and others who have certified that Faulkner’s emotional attention to a deeply meditated human experience in the American South also speaks to them. This response indicates that Faulkner cannot easily be categorized as belonging to a single narrowly defined era. He reflected post-World War I alienation more by imitation than experience, drawing on the writers who had direct knowledge of combat. He was more a critic than a youthful member of the Jazz Age of the 1920s, as Mosquitoes shows. He became increasingly concerned with economic and political matters in the 1930s, but he did not write, proletarian novels, as did many of his contemporaries. What lifestyle and culture, then, did he most represent? A strong hint comes from what writers have said about him—those of his own time and later. Some writers mention the precision and excitement of his language, his novel use of structure and point of view, his skill in resisting the simple fictional closure that the common reader wants, his ability to make fiction open-ended and strange, and his honest depiction of a troubled culture. All of these qualities suggest that the best rubric for Faulkner is the general one of the modern age, for finally the values, ideals, and the standards of artistic expression of the modern era are what engaged him and what his life reflected. Faulkner did not try to be a typical Jazz Age or Depression-era writer; he sought to attain the status of the great literary modernists, whom he identified as Marcel Proust, Thomas Mann, and James Joyce.
The agenda of the modernist writer, in the view of James McFarlane, was the distinctive and difficult attempt to reconcile the many contradictions that modern science, industry, and thought introduced into human experience. Thus, between rationality and intuition modernists often chose both, rather than either, and they did not like to “say ’in simple words’ what it was they were at”20 because, as the German writer Herman Hesse put it, they saw “the great opposites of the world … as both necessary and illusory at the same time.”21
1. A section of the essays in Modernism: 1890—1930, edited by Malcolm Bradbury and James McFarlane (London: Penguin, 1991), is devoted to the European and American cities of modernism. An appealing account of Americans who went abroad and brought the new styles back home with them is found in Malcolm Cowley’s Exiles Return (New York: Viking, 1951).
2. Mississippi: A Guide to the Magnolia State, compiled and written by the Federal Writers’ Project of the Works Progress Administration (Jackson: Mississippi Advertising Commission, 1938), p. 85.
3. See Larzer Ziff, The American 1890s (New York: Viking, 1966); Howard Mumford Jones, The Age of Energy: Varieties of American Experience, 1865-1915 (New York: Viking, 1971); and Theodore Roosevelt, The Strenuous Life (New York: Century, 1904).
4. William Faulkner, Light in August: The Corrected Text, (New York: Vintage, 1990) pp. 173-174.
5. Michael Reynolds, The Young Hemingway (New York: Blackwell, 1986), pp. 22-30.
6. Joseph Blotner;Faulkner: A Biography (New York: Random House, 1974), 1:79.
7. Faulkner, “And Now What’s to Do,” Mississippi Quarterly, 26 (Summer 1973): 400-401.
8. Mississippi: A Guide to the Magnolia State, p. 7.
9. Faulkner to Robert K. Haas, 18 April 1940, in Selected Letters of William Faulkner, edited by Blotner (New York: Random House, 1977), p. 121.
10. Franklin L. Riley, School History of Mississippi (1915; reprint, Spartanburg, S.C.: The Reprint Company, 1976), p. 286.
11. Ibid., p. 323.
12. Ibid., p. 360.
13. Faulkner to W. E. B. Du Bois, 17 April 1956, in Selected Letters, p. 398.
14. Faulkner, “Press Dispatch-Written in Rome, Italy, for the United Press, on the Emmett Till Case,” in Essays, Speeches & Public Letters, edited by James B. Meriwether (New York: Random House, 1965), p. 223.
15. Faulkner, Soldier’s Pay (New York: Boni & Liveright, 1926), p. 184.
16. “Interview with Jean Stein vanden Heuvel,” in Lion in the Garden: Interviews with William Faulkner; 1926-1962, edited by Meriwether and Michael Millgate (New York: Random House, 1968), p. 250.
17. Roosevelt, quoted in Reynolds, The Young Hemingway, p. 23.
18. Eudora Welty, “Place and Time: The Southern Writer’s Inheritance,” Times Literary Supplement, 17 September 1954, p. xlviii
19. Robert Penn Warren, “Introduction: Faulkner: Past and Future,” in Faulkner: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Warren (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1966), p. 1.
20. McFarlane, “The Mind of Modernism,” in Modernism: 1890-1930, p. 88.
21. Hermann Hesse, quoted in McFarlane, “The Mind of Modernism,” in Modernism: 1890-1930, p. 89.
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The Marble Faun. Boston: Four Seas, 1924. Reprinted with Faulkner’s second volume of poetry as The Marble Faun and A Green Bough. New York: Random House, 1965. Faulkner found a framing device to give the nineteen poems of his first collection coherence. Prologue and epilogue are spoken as interior monologue by a marble garden statue, a faun. The faun, a-half-human, half-animal creature from Roman mythology, is paradoxically static since it is a mute statue. Most of the poems are about the weather; personified trees and flowers provide the only drama. The conceits of this poetry collection return in vivid human form in The Sound and the Fury, in which the voiceless stone faun in the garden is transformed into the voiceless idiot Benjy Compson bellowing in his pasture. The walking poplars or the fountain spray that “shakes down its … hair”1 become a tragic girl who smells like trees and rain, Caddy Compson.
Soldiers’ Pay. New York: Boni & Liveright, 1926. With some debt to John Dos Passos’s Three Soldiers (1921) Faulkner starts a trio of veterans on their journey home from World War I: a generic foot soldier; Julian Lowe, an air cadet who, like Faulkner himself, never got off the ground; and the aviator Donald Mahon, blind and dying. Lowe disappears, and the trio is filled out by a “dark” war widow with sexual authority named Margaret Powers. In Mahon’s hometown of Charles-town, Georgia, a variety of characters converge to show how even small places have changed during the foreign war. Sigmund Freud’s essays on sex and the psychopathology of everyday life are paraphrased in some of the action, the more risque parts of which are set into motion by a visiting Latin scholar aptly named Januarius Jones. The Charlestown setting is actually modeled closely on Oxford, Mississippi.
Mosquitoes. New York: Boni & Liveright, 1927. Artists, writers, poets, journalists, and new women in the French Quarter of New Orleans come together on a yacht owned by a fawning female art patron. Temporarily becalmed on Lake Pontchartrain, they enact a comedy about sex
and art, more talk than performance. Mosquitoes mocks the bohemian community in which Faulkner learned to write novels. Though the character of Dawson Fairchild was intended as an affectionate caricature of Sherwood Anderson, he and other friends Faulkner satirized in the book were not amused. Aldous Huxley’s 1921 novel Crome Yellow served as a model for the book, and Faulkner appears as a character under his own name in one scene.
Sartoris. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1929. Written with the working title “Flags in the Dust,” the original version was one-third longer than the novel as first published and contrasted the fate of Bayard Sartoris, greatgrandson of a legendary Civil War colonel, with that of other veterans returning to Jefferson, Mississippi, after service in World War I. Shortened by Faulkner’s friend Ben Wasson at the demand of the publisher, the novel became more explicitly a family chronicle. Bayard, an RAF flier whose twin brother, John, is killed in aerial combat, comes home determined to continue the tragic legacy of the typically brave but foolhardy Sartorises, who have gotten themselves killed in almost every generation. Faulkner carefully avoided portraying the generation of his parents and concentrated on portraits of his grandfather and great-aunt as conduits to the Civil War generation before them. As Sartoris men have done in the past, Bayard leaves a complex heritage for the strong family women, who will raise yet another male Sartoris, but he does so without contributing to the family bank account or regional fame, finding death in an experimental aircraft in a faraway city.
The Sound and the Fury. New York: Cape & Smith, 1929. Corrected text, edited by Noel Polk. New York: Random House, 1984. Faulkner’s second important fictional family, the Compsons, like the Sartorises, come to ruin in the fourth generation from the founder of the family fortune. Told in interior monologue and stream-of-consciousness narrative, each of the first three sections of the novel represents the perspective of one of three Compson brothers. The youngest, Benjy, is an inarticulate, mentally impaired child, an “idiot” by the standards of his day—hence the title of the novel, adapted from act 5, scene 5, of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth, in which Macbeth describes life as “a tale / Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, / Signifying nothing.” Despite his terrible impairment and his inability to control or understand his memory, the thirty-three-year-old Benjy presents a monologue that is poetically evocative of his sense of deep loss and as visual as if recorded by a randomly switched-on movie camera.
The second section of The Sound and the Fury takes place in the mind of the oldest Compson brother, Quentin, during the day he plans to commit suicide to close out his freshman year at Harvard. Quentin is obsessed with the lost innocence of his sister, Caddy, and mourns her enforced marriage to a young banker from the midwest, Sydney Herbert Head, who has been expelled from Harvard for cheating at cards. The third section of the novel presents the point of view of the crassly materialistic Compson brother, Jason, who sees Caddy, and everyone else, as a commodity for his benefit. Caddy’s marriage to the banker led him to hope for a banking job, but when Head finds that she is already pregnant and sends her away, Jason’s hopes are dashed. He spends the rest of his life stealing the money his sister sends to take care of her abandoned daughter, also named Quentin, a miserable and rebellious teenager.
The household in which the remembered stories of the Compson children take place is dominated by the complaining hypochondriac mother, Caroline Compson, and shadowed by the alcoholic father, Jason Compson III, whose life is a pale echo of the accomplishments of his forebears. The Compsons are cared for by the family cook, Dilsey Gibson. Dilsey’s family mirrors the Compsons: a disillusioned husband, a daughter returned as a single mother, two sons, and a grandson—except the African American Dilsey is a practicing Christian who finds solace in her church. The “days” of the novel follow in a topsy-turvy manner the rhythm of the biblical story of Easter, as Faulkner makes literal the Passion Week of the Heart his Sherwood Anderson character Dawson Fairchild had explained in Mosquitoes.
The final section of the novel is an omniscient narrative, objectively following the survivors on Easter Sunday as various kinds of escape and return to order are explored, without much promise. In an African American church there is momentary spiritual triumph for the William visiting preacher and congregation, but the white people do not attend this service. The novel ends with sound and fury as Jason, embarrassed by his thirty-three-year-old brother’s bellowing on the town square, corrects the idiot’s sense of disorder and sends him to complete his only regular outing, a trip to the cemetery where the bodies of the failed Compsons are buried. The absent Caddy never has a voice of her own, except as reported by others. Time and problems with time haunt all the characters, whose lives are underscored by Faulkner’s use of the “mythical method” T. S. Eliot had pointed out in James Joyce’s 1922 novel Ulysses. In Faulkner’s case the mythical method involves shaping parallels between his male characters and the biblical Jesus, and between the women characters and the roles of Demeter, Persephone, and Hecate in the classical story of Persephone’s abduction to the underworld.
As I Lay Dying. New York: Cape & Smith, 1930. Corrected text, edited by Polk. New York: Random House, 1987. Extending the technique of The Sound and the Fury in a bizarre and tragicomic mode, As I Lay Dying uses thirteen characters in fifty-nine episodes of interior monologue to portray another unhappy family, the Bundrens. The mother, Addie Bundren, is dying as the novel opens, and she has extracted from her family the promise that they bury her in the distant county-seat town of Jefferson, where she came from. One son, Cash, is building her coffin outside the window where she can see it, and the rest of the family members are absorbed in private desires that lie behind their resolve to carry out Addie’s wishes. Father and children come together, each for his or her own motives, to accompany the odorous corpse through flood, fire, and community shock so that Addie can be effaced from their experience and rest beside the nihilist father who told her that “the reason for living was to get ready to stay dead for a long time” (169). The other siblings are taunted and challenged by the oldest brother, Darl, who is apparently clairvoyant as a result of a wound received in France during World War I and knows the secrets in his family members’ hearts. In the end of this dark comedy, the Bundrens bury the mother who did not much want them; commit Darl, whose mind has come apart, to the state asylum; watch their father quickly acquire a new Mrs. Bundren; and purchase a phonograph and a sack of bananas. They are momentarily content with an absurd tableau of order restored as they mount their wagon to return through the countryside over which they have just struggled. Many elements in the novel are repeated from The Sound and the Fury—time, myth, religion, and complex sibling rivalry—but As I Lay Dying is a looser text.
Sanctuary. New York: Cape & Smith, 1931. Corrected text, edited by Polk. New York: Vintage, 1987. Faulkner conceived this novel, he said, to tap the popular market for gangster, bootlegger, and murder stories, at a time when such things were a staple of his morning newspaper from Memphis during the Prohibition era (1920–1933). A University of Mississippi coed named Temple Drake slips off a train carrying students to a baseball game for an unauthorized lark with her heavy-drinking University of Virginia date, a cowardly would-be Galahad named Gowan Stevens. After a series of mishaps he abandons her in a rural bootleggers’ den, where she becomes the sexual prey of an impotent Memphis gangster named Popeye, who rapes her with a corncob, kills the local half-wit who is trying to keep her for himself, and transports her to a Memphis brothel. There he provides her with a surrogate lover, but then kills this rival. A weak and sexually dominated small-town lawyer becomes involved in defending a bootlegger who is falsely accused of Popeye’s crime and fails to save his client from a lynch mob because of Temple’s perjury.
Temple is seen at the end of Sanctuary powdering her nose in the Luxembourg Gardens in Paris, where her father, an important judge, has taken her to recover. She seems as oblivious to the history and art around her as she has been to her ordeal with Popeye. Though the novel seems to blame the victim, it actually portrays what is now called the hostage phenomenon, in which a hostage embraces her captors and “joins” them, much as Patty Hearst did during her kidnapping ordeal in 1974. Though the novel immediately gained a reputation for being horrific, the graphic horror is kept offstage and macabre comedy leavens the mix. For sophisticated novelists and critics in France Sanctuary was an early revelation of Faulkner’s genius, a novel that treated the banality of modern industrial society and its evils or, as Andre Malraux put it, a detective novel infused with the spirit of Greek tragedy. Because of its sensational reputation in America Sanctuary was a publishing success and brought Faulkner a first lucrative offer to write for motion pictures.
These 13. New York: Cape & Smith, 1931. Contracted first as “A Rose for Emily and Other Stories,” this short-story collection comprises, in three numbered sections, Part I: “Victory,” “Ad Astra,” “All the Dead Pilots,” and “Crevasse”; Part II: “Red Leaves,” “A Rose for Emily,” “A Justice,” “Hair,” “That Evening Sun,” and “Dry September”; Part III: “Mistral,” “Divorce in Naples,” and “Carcassonne.” The stories in Part II are among the most effective and widely admired that Faulkner wrote.
Idyll in the Desert. New York: Random House, 1931. A limited edition of a long story published to capitalize on the popularity of Sanctuary.
Miss Zilphia Gant. Dallas: Book Club of Texas, 1932. A limited edition of a story published for the same reason as Idyll in the Desert.
Light in August. New York: Smith & Haas, 1932. Corrected text, edited by Polk. New York: Vintage, 1987. With a heavy emphasis on the consequences of racist thinking, Faulkner tells the story of Joe Christmas, an abandoned illegitimate child whose crazy grandfather sets in motion torments like those that beset the characters in Greek tragedy, leading Joe to live a confused biracial existence on both sides of the Southern color line. Unable to “decide” his race in a society in which race matters absolutely, Christmas finally comes to Jefferson, Mississippi, the county seat of Faulkner’s fictional Yoknapatawpha County, and conducts a violent and contradictory affair with an older white woman, Joanna Burden, whom the town has ostracized because of her liberal background. Because Joe appears to be white and the woman is so thoroughly exiled that no one knows about their sexual relationship, nothing comes of the liaison until Joanna is murdered and her house set afire. The prime suspect, caught in the burning house, has operated a small bootlegging business with Joe. He asks the police why they are holding him when there is a black man involved, and Joe’s fate is sealed. Ultimately he is the victim of a lynch mob led by a brown-shirted nobody who may be the first fascist portrayed in American fiction.
Parallel to the main storyline are the quests of several other characters: Lena Grove, a country girl nine months pregnant walking all the way from Alabama to find the father of her unborn child; a naive country man who has never known love and becomes immediately infatuated with the young pregnant woman, a disgraced and defrocked minister also living in ostracism in Jefferson while he keeps imaginary company nightly with the Civil War exploits of a flamboyant ancestor. The frame story about Lena, with which the novel begins and ends, is comic and ameliorating, though its presence renders the long interior tragedy of Joe Christmas more ironic. Stream-of-consciousness technique reveals the bizarre and painful past that drives Joe to the culminating act in the book, the murder, perhaps in self-defense, of Joanna. One of Faulkner’s longest novels, Light in August weighs in morally against the myth of race and the idealization of small-town southern life.
A Green Bough. New York: Smith & Haas, 1933. A collection of poems reprinted with Faulkner’s first volume of poetry as The Marble Faun and A Green Bough (New York: Random House, 1965). Forty-four largely imitative poems from an earlier period of the writer’s life; as one reviewer said, the poems show mainly that he read a lot.
Doctor Martino and Other Stories. New York: Smith & Haas, 1934. Comprises “Doctor Martino,” “Fox Hunt,” “The Hound,” “Death Drag,” “There Was a Queen,” “Smoke,” “Turn About,” “Beyond,” “Wash,” “Elly,” “Black Music,” “Leg,” “Mountain Victory,” and “Honor.”
Pylon. New York: Smith & Haas, 1935. Corrected text, edited by Polk. New York: Vintage, 1987. Faulkner wrote this novel rapidly after attending a disastrous New Orleans air show in which a pilot was killed. Pylon follows a cadaverous city newspaper reporter into the lives of rootless barnstorming air racers. It is Mardi Gras in New Orleans and, in a sense, carnival at the airport, too. Faulkner’s portraits of the flyers and daredevils are as evocative as Pablo Picasso’s “blue period” paintings of circus people. The nameless reporter longs for Laverne Schumann, a daredevil wing-walker who has lived with two fliers and is now married to one of them because they decided the paternity of her child by flipping a coin. To help the couple win some money, the reporter promotes an opportunity for the husband, Roger Schumann, to use an experimental airplane in a speed race on the pylon course. Schumann is killed, but Laverne and her child go off with the other pilot. Before the dejected reporter storms off to get drunk, he writes two versions of his news story about the aviator’s death, one well crafted in tough-guy journalese, which he throws away, and one written in a mood of mockery, with an opening sentence in which Faulkner parodies his own writing style.
Absalom, Absalom! New York: Random House, 1936. Corrected text, edited by Polk. New York: Random House, 1986. Faulkner put aside the weak first version of this novel, called “Evangeline,” to write Pylon, and in the interim his youngest brother, Dean, crashed to his death in the airplane Faulkner had given him as a wedding present. He is said to have resumed the novel while sitting up with his brother’s body. Faulkner resurrected Quentin Compson of The Sound and the Fury as a main narrative figure and once again used several different narrators with different perspectives on a single story. An elderly Jefferson spinster, Rosa Coldfield, summons Quentin just before he leaves for Harvard to tell him an obsessive family tale about Thomas Sutpen, who was married to her sister, Ellen. Quentin’s storytelling father and his Canadian college roommate, Shreve, help to reconstruct the strange events surrounding the Sutpen family before, during, and after the Civil War. To Rosa, Sutpen was a demon: after Ellen died, he proposed a trial marriage to Rosa that they would legalize if she bore him a son. To Quentin’s father he was one of the underbred new men in Mississippi who entered the state without a background or family resources. To the townspeople who contributed to his legend, Sutpen was a kind of robber bridegroom who rapidly built his plantation house with stolen money and demonic slaves, filling the house with stolen goods. To Shreve, Sutpen is an enigma among enigmas in a bizarre tropical culture. To Quentin he is the key to what went wrong with the South. The deployment of these intensely held views and counterviews and the questions they generate make the tale one of Faulkner’s most complex novels and the one many critics—as well as historians—regard as his finest achievement. Quentin’s voice and the obsessions he earlier displayed in The Sound and the Fury add a dimension to the novel that shows Faulkner borrowing from and even parodying himself. In addition to Quentin’s story, the biblical story of King David’s son Absalom and the myth of the Greek god Apollo figure in the novel, too.
The Unvanquished. New York: Random House, 1938. Corrected text, edited by Polk. New York: Vintage, 1991. Starting out as six potboilers for the The Saturday Evening Post in the mid 1930s, this seven-part narrative was enhanced by Faulkner to make a novel of which he would not be ashamed. He wrote the seventh and final chapter to give the six magazine pieces closure and a higher seriousness of purpose. The action returns to the background story of Sartoris, the exploits of Colonel John Sartoris and his teenage son, Bayard, during and just after the Civil War. The novel focuses on Bayard’s coming of age adventures with his young African American companion, Ringo (who, like most underclass side-kicks in picaresque fiction, is smarter than the hero, Bayard). In the final episode Bayard, now a law student at the University of Mississippi, must deal with his father’s murder, his desire for his widowed young step-mother, and the overheated Southern code of honor she continues to promote. The novel also dramatizes, without heavy sentimentalization, how it was that Southerners without slaves, even without farms, regarded their home soil as something worth defending.
The Wild Palms. New York: Random House, 1939. Corrected text, edited by Polk, published as If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem. New York: Vintage, 1995. Faulkner wrote this novel, he told a woman friend, to cure what he thought was a broken heart. It reprises the writer’s romantic disappointments and his servitude as a Hollywood screenwriter. The original title, If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem, comes from Psalm 137, which is about the Jews’ captivity in Babylon and the danger of losing one’s own culture in a strange land; the novel includes several specific references to Hollywood, which was Faulkner’s Babylon at the time. Though Harry is not a captive screenwriter, as was Faulkner, the corrupt and false nature of popular entertainment—confessional fiction and pulp crime novels—is portrayed in both the story of the doomed lovers and the adventures of the tall convict. After a decade of fiction set almost completely in Yoknapatawpha County, Faulkner returned to the New Orleans setting of Mosquitoes, to which this novel is thematically related. The main narrative is about two ill-fated lovers, Harry Wilbourne and Charlotte Rittenmeyer, who seek in romantic flight an ideal affair. The crass, materialistic world reduces their attempt at escape to the level of the mundane and leads finally to disaster. The love story was always called “Wild Palms.” To keep the narrative from becoming too shrill, Faulkner alternated it contrapuntally, as he put it, with another story set ten years earlier. “Old Man” recounts the adventures of a nameless white hill-farmer convict in Parchman, the Delta prison farm that still functions as the Mississippi State Penitentiary. The prisoner is taken out to perform rescue work during the 1927 flood of the Mississippi River. The tall convict, as he is called, finds a pregnant woman in a tree, not the gorgeous romantic figure for whom his youthful passion for pulp adventure fiction had made him yearn. In his skiff, the unlikely pair endure the strange comedy of the flood, and he delivers her baby on an Indian mound crowded with marooned animals and snakes. By comparison, the sophisticated urban lovers of the main narrative take themselves across 1937 Depression-era America into increasingly tragic circumstances.
Random House decided to use the title The Wild Palms, despite Faulkner’s protests, and censored the novel’s language. A generation of readers was confused both by the novel’s original structure, which expresses exactly how Faulkner wrote the book, and by later publishers presenting only half of the novel, usually “Old Man” but also “Wild Palms,” as a separate story and even as a separate paperback “novel.” The only way to read the book meaningfully is as Faulkner originally intended it to be published. The Vintage paperback edition and Novels, 1936–1940 (1990), a volume in the Library of America series of Faulkner’s writings, restore the titles and text as Faulkner wrote them.
The Hamlet. New York: Random House, 1940. Corrected text, edited by Polk. New York: Vintage, 1991. This is the first volume of a trilogy of novels Faulkner planned about the rise of a sharecropper family named Snopes, whose chief representative is the remorseless materialist Flem Snopes. Faulkner first conceived of the Snopes family during the mid 1920s, but the project stalled for many years. The comic first names given to the members of the clan—I. O., Montgomery Ward, Wallstreet Panic, Mink, Eck, and so on—came from bouts of invention Faulkner shared with his mentor Phil Stone, who had a more patrician, disdainful attitude toward emerging poor whites than did Faulkner. The writer, who developed some understanding for the relatively poor white people of the
Mississippi hills, came to have sympathy for his Snopes characters other than Flem, and he came to understand Flem better.
Though comic, The Hamlet dramatizes drastic changes in the rural Southern economy. The novel places the background of the Snopeses more offstage than Faulkner had originally planned to do, so that they arrive in Yoknapatawpha County for a fresh start accompanied by rumor and a reputation for barn burning that a local man, Jody Varner, tries to exploit, only to find himself outmatched and even supplanted in his successful father’s eyes by the inexorable Flem. Flem’s remorseless separation from his own horde and his rise to financial power at the expense of the small farmers in the crossroads hamlet of Frenchman’s Bend are actually abetted by Will Varner, Jody’s father, a cheerful usurer who trains the young Flem in the art of lending at high interest. Where paternalism and love of barter once seemed to rule, Flem institutes a joyless materialism, a victory symbolized most deeply in his marriage of convenience to the legendary Eula Varner, Will’s daughter, who is pregnant out of wedlock. Flem’s payment, however, is not the love of this girl with “eyes like cloudy hothouse grapes”2 and a voluptuous figure, but ownership of the Old Frenchman’s Place itself, whose golden legend of buried treasure he exploits by chicanery to gain a foothold in the county seat, Jefferson. Upon that note the novel ends. Among the temporarily defeated is V. K. Ratliff, one of Faulkner’s favorite creations, a relaxed and garrulous former sharecropper who is a commercial traveler, selling sewing machines on time to county families and carrying news and gossip. The epic battle between Flem and Ratliff is not quite a draw, but it is continued in the succeeding volumes of the Snopes trilogy, which Faulkner did not find time to write until the mid 1950s.
Go Down, Moses and Other Stories. New York: Random House, 1942. Corrected text, edited by Polk. New York: Vintage, 1991. Like The Unvanquished, Go Down, Moses originated as magazine stories, but the germinal pieces were more random and without a chronological narrative line to hold them together. In these stories Faulkner began writing about African American life in the South, somewhat in the manner of his contemporary Zora Neale Hurston. These stories feature the Beauchamp family (pronounced Beechum), and especially its patriarch, Lucas, a proud and competent black sharecropper. Faulkner then began to re-center previously written hunting stories around a character named Isaac “Ike” McCaslin, who prefers the wilderness to his family plantation. Finally, Faulkner found a key to making his book a novel within the crossed genealogies of Beauchamps and McCaslins, who descend from the same white patriarch. Lucius Quintus Carothers McCaslin lived an arrogant life, and the consequences of his arrogance are worked out in the succeeding three generations of his family. Ike McCaslin’s noble thoughts about the wilderness, Native Americans, and the hunting tradition are compromised by his shame over his family’s past and his own failure to accept his duty as a husband, son, steward of the land, and kinsman to those in his family whom Southern society has set apart because of their race.
Like If 1 Forget Thee, Jerusalem, Go Down, Moses has been misunderstood because of the way in which it was published—with the unauthorized and Other Stories added to the title—and because its parts were frequently anthologized separately, especially the long key story, “The Bear.” In discovering a way to link several of the South’s moral problems and pressing agricultural and environmental concerns, Faulkner meditated on questions of patriarchal arrogance; human greed and exploitation of others; racism and its paradoxical corollary, sexual exploitation of slave women by white planters; and the fullest meaning of the word stewardship as it applies to human affairs. Paying attention to the whole book and contrasting the life lived by Lucas Beauchamp with that lived by Ike McCaslin, readers find it hard to see Ike as anything but a flawed and tragic hero.
The Portable Faulkner, edited by Malcolm Cowley. New York: Viking, 1946. Revised and enlarged, 1967. Prepared jointly by Faulkner and Cowley, who first had the idea for the book, this collection of stories and excerpts from novels presented Faulkner in terms of his “saga of the South” and his genius as an inspired writer of short fiction. Faulkner liked the plan of the anthology and learned much about his own work from corresponding with Cowley over the selections. They undertook the project while World War II was nearing an end, a time when Faulkner’s reputation was at its lowest point, with most of his books out of print. He wrote what was supposed to be a preface, but it turned into a strange “Appendix” to The Sound and the Fury. This account of the Compson family from 1699 to 1945 restored Faulkner’s confidence in his writing, and The Portable Faulkner put his work into the hands of new readers in the period after World War II. A 1967 revision expanded the volume and included Cowley’s admission that he had “failed to make sufficiently clear” Faulkner’s universality.3
The Sound and the Fury and As I Lay Dying. Includes Faulkner’s “Appendix: Compson, 1699—1945,” from The Portable Faulkner, as an introduction. New York: Modern Library, 1946. This was an important, inexpensive volume that came to the attention of the same new generation of readers and students who discovered the writer through The Portable Faulkner.
Intruder in the Dust. New York: Random House, 1948. In this novel a town boy becomes involved with a proudly independent African American named Lucas Beauchamp—essentially the same figure who plays an important role in Co Down, Moses, now a widower. Lucas requires that the boy, Chick Mallison, help him solve a murder for which he faces the jeopardy of a Southern lynch mob. Chick works on solving the crime with the help of his African American playmate, Aleck Sander, in a relationship similar to that of Bayard and Ringo in The Unvanquished. Chick follows Lucas’s instructions and the crime is solved to Lucas’s benefit. He goes free, able to resume his recalcitrant refusal to be condescended to on account of his race, and the people of Jefferson skulk away in their new automobiles to avoid having to say they are sorry for what they almost allowed to happen.
Knight’s Gambit. New York: Random House, 1949. This volume is a collection of six magazine stories more fully in the American detective genre than Sanctuary. They feature a recurrent Faulkner character, the lawyer Gavin Stevens, who sometimes works with his nephew Chick Mallison. The stories are reminiscent of Irvin S. Cobb’s popular tales featuring Judge Priest, a crime-solving Kentucky circuit judge. (Cobb’s first Priest story was published in 1911; collections of the stories were still being published in the 1930s.)
Collected Stories of William Faulkner. New York: Random House, 1950. Cowley inadvertently helped Faulkner come up with the organization of this volume, a selection from the writer’s short-story canon. The stories are placed under six divisions that give expression to Faulkner’s fictional “cosmos,” as he came to call it. Section I, “The Country,” comprises “Barn Burning,” “Shingles for the Lord,” “The Tall Men,” “A Bear Hunt,” “Two Soldiers,” and “Shall Not Perish.” Section II, “The Village,” comprises “A Rose for Emily,” “Hair,” “Centaur in Brass,” “Dry September,” “Death Drag,” “Elly,” “Uncle Willy,” “Mule in the Yard,” “That Will be Fine,” and “That Evening Sun.” Section III, “The Wilderness,” comprises “Red Leaves,” “A Justice,” and “Lo!” Section IV, “The Wasteland,” comprises “Ad Astra,” “Victory,” “Crevasse,” “Turnabout,” and “All the Dead Pilots.” Section V, “The Middle Ground,” comprises “Wash,” “Honor,” “Doctor Martino,” “Fox Hunt,” “Pennsylvania Station,” “Artist at Home,” “The Brooch,” “My Grandmother Millard,” “Golden Land,” “There Was a Queen,” and “Mountain Victory.” Section VI, “Beyond,” comprises “Beyond,” “Black Music,” “The Leg,” “Mistral,” “Divorce in Naples,” and “Carcassonne.”
Notes on a Horsethief. Greenville, Miss.: Levee Press, 1950. In imitation of James Joyce’s “Work in Progress” extracts from Finnegan’s Wake (1939), this excerpt from what Faulkner hoped would be his magnum opus, A Fable, was subtitled “A Dangling Participle from a Work in Progress.” It concerns a racehorse, a magical African American folk preacher, and a foul-mouthed British horse groom. Following a train wreck that injures the horse, the men conduct an evasive odyssey to save the spirited stallion from being relegated to a stud farm.
Requiem for a Nun. New York: Random House, 1951. Faulkner’s earliest plans for this novel indicated that it would be “esoteric” and concern an African American woman on trial. The book is indeed esoteric. It features narratives detailing the history of Mississippi alternated with dramatic chapters that tell the main story, much of it exposition. Nancy Mannigoe has been hired as a maid by the now-married protagonist of Sanctuary. Temple Drake Stevens employs Nancy, who has also had a life in the demimonde, because she is the only person who can understand Temple’s past. When Temple responds romantically to a blackmailer and prepares to run off with him, leaving behind a young son and an infant, Nancy smothers the infant to keep Temple at home for the sake of the boy. Nancy reasons that the boy is, unlike the infant, aware of his own existence and would therefore suffer from a sense of abandonment and shame if his mother were to leave the family. Temple must confess the details of her own life story as she pleads for clemency for Nancy, who is condemned to the electric chair. The text was adapted for the stage more than once.
A Fable. New York: Random House, 1954. The premise of this novel is that during a “false Armistice” in World War I, soldiers from both sides put down their weapons, share tobacco, and talk together in no man’s land. The French corporal who instigates the truce is actually Christ, returned to bring peace into the world again. The novel develops several subplots providing background on the corporal, the twelve men in his squad, and his father, the supreme general of the French forces. Military commanders on both sides of the war conspire to continue hostilities and shell the innocent men. The corporal’s body, through a series of accidental circumstances, becomes the corpse in the tomb of the unknown soldier in Paris. Faulkner thought this would be his greatest work, but labor on the project coincided with his worst times in Holly-wood; moreover, working from a preconceived idea was not the way he created his best works. He never repudiated the novel, which remains interesting and has brilliant passages, but he apparently stopped thinking of it as a masterpiece as soon as it was finished.
Big Woods. New York: Random House, 1955. An illustrated edition of four hunting stories, minus the psychological and cultural contexts Faulkner provided for two of them in Go Down, Moses. The stories are framed by passages from Faulkner’s other writing about the wilderness. The four stories are “The Bear,” “The Old People,” “A Bear Hunt,” and “Race at Morning.” The version of “The Bear” included here, omitting the original fourth section, is the one Faulkner preferred when the story was printed separately from Go Down, Moses.
The Town. New York: Random House, 1957. The second novel of the Snopes trilogy concerns Flem Snopes’s rise in Jefferson, where he now owns V K. Ratliff’s half-interest in a side-street restaurant, becomes superintendent of the city water plant, and uses his wife, Eula’s, sexual allure indirectly to leverage political and economic power. The sewing machine salesman Ratliff, one of the observers and storytellers of The Hamlet, shares the stage with lawyer Gavin Stevens, also a Snopes watcher, who is platonically smitten with Eula. The second volume of the Snopes trilogy, like the first, ends without a conclusive victory for Flem or defeat for Ratliff, though Snopes sacrifices several pawns, including, inadvertently, the beautiful and desirable Eula.
New Orleans Sketches, edited by Carvel Collins. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1958; revised, New York: Random House, 1968. Sketches, stories, essays, and poems from Faulkner’s 1925 and 1926 sojourns in New Orleans.
The Mansion. New York: Random House, 1959. In the third volume of the Snopes trilogy V. K. Ratliff and Gavin Stevens help Linda, the illegitimate child of Eula raised as Flem’s daughter, as she avenges her mother’s suicide by setting a vengeful Mink Snopes free from prison so that he can murder his kinsman Flem for an earlier betrayal. Stevens also tries to launch Linda into the world, but she becomes a beautiful grotesque, her young husband killed in the Spanish Civil War and she herself deafened so that her voice is inhuman. In the end Flem is defeated, but, as is the case of all commerce with evil in Faulkner’s works, the perpetrators of his downfall are compromised morally.
The Reivers. New York: Random House, 1962. “Reivers” means “stealers,” and the novel concerns a twelve-year-old named Lucius Priest who cooperates when Boon Hogganbeck (one of the hunters of Go Down, Moses) wants to take Lucius’s grandfather’s car on an unauthorized excursion to Memphis. In a kind of Pilgrim’s Progress through “non-virtue,” they struggle through mud holes on the road to the city, discover that the wise old family retainer, Ned McCaslin, has stowed away with them, meet Boon’s girlfriend in the Memphis underworld, where she works as a member of the staff at Miss Reba’s brothel (from Sanctuary), and endure a set of trials in order to return with dignity to Jefferson. In a demimonde realm that borders on the occult, Ned trades the car for a racehorse only he can make run. On one level, Ned is a sorcerer, Boon a bumbling fairy-tale giant, and Lucius a knight-errant who saves Boon’s girlfriend, Corrie, from the Memphis underworld and restores her real name, Everbe. She marries Boon and gives Lucius immortality by naming their first child after him, Lucius Priest Hogganbeck. The book is genial, funny, and morally serious about matters of race and maturity, a courtesy book dedicated by Faulkner to his grandchildren.
Early Prose and Poetry, edited by Carvel Collins. Boston: Little, Brown, 1962. Poems, drawings, stories, and essays from the 1920s, most published at the University of Mississippi. The collection also includes three poems and two essays that were published in the New Orleans literary magazine The Double Dealer in 1922 and 1925.
Essays, Speeches & Public Letters, edited by James B. Meriwether. New York: Random House, 1965. Selected prose from 1926 to 1962.
The Marble Faun and A Green Bough. New York: Random, 1965. Reprinting in a single volume of Faulkner’s 1924 and 1933 volumes of poetry.
The Wishing Tree. New York: Random House, 1967. A children’s story, written originally in the late 1920s for the afflicted child of a favorite professor at the University of Mississippi. Faulkner subsequently recopied the book as a gift for Estelle Oldham Franklin’s daughter, Victoria, in 1927 and for other children of friends later. This strange allegory prefigures The Sound and the Fury in that a group of children, black and white, walk through a gray mist that symbolizes their childish encounter with death.
“The Big Sleep,” in Film Scripts One, edited by George Garrett, O. B. Hardison Jr., and Jane R. Gelfman. New York: Appleton-Century-Crofts, 1971. Movie script based on Raymond Chandler’s 1939 novel, drafted by Faulkner and Leigh Brackett and revised later by Jules Furthman for Howard Hawks’s 1946 movie.
Flags in the Dust, edited by Douglas Day. New York: Random House, 1973. An edited transcription of the incomplete 1928 composite typescript for the novel that was shortened and published as Sartoris in 1929.
The Marionettes. Oxford, Miss.: Yoknapatawpha Press, 1975. Limited-edition facsimile of one surviving manuscript of Faulkner’s hand-illustrated, lettered, and bound dream play about Pierrot and Columbine, created in 1920 for friends in an Ole Miss theatrical club, “The Marionettes.” A copy of the book at the University of Virginia has also been published as a limited-edition facsimile. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1975. Trade edition, edited by Polk. Charlottesville: Bibliographical Society of the University of Virginia, 1977.
Mayday. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1977. Limited-edition facsimile of the unique copy of a hand-illustrated, lettered, and bound allegorical narrative Faulkner made in 1926 for Helen Baird, whom he unsuccessfully courted in New Orleans and Pascagoula, Mississippi, in 1926. Also published in a typeset edition, with representative illustrations, edited by Collins. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1980.
Mississippi Poems. Oxford, Miss.: Yoknapatawpha Press, 1979. Facsimile edition of an unpublished typescript sheaf of twelve poems Faulkner presented in 1924 to Myrtle Ramey, a school friend, along with a facsimile of the 1924 typescript of his essay on poetry, “Verse Old and Nascent: A Pilgrimage,” which was published in the April 1925 Double Dealer.
Uncollected Stories of William Faulkner, edited by Joseph Blotner. New York: Random House, 1979. A selection of unpublished or previously uncollected short stories from throughout Faulkner’s writing career. Part I, “Stories Revised for Later Books,” comprises “Ambuscade,” “Retreat,” “Raid,” “Skirmish at Sartoris,” and “Vendee,” revised for The Unvanquished; “Fool About a Horse,” “Lizards in Jamshyd’s Courtyard,” “The Hound,” and “Spotted Horses,” revised for The Hamlet; “Lion,” “The Old People,” “A Point of Law,” “Gold is Not Always,” “Pantaloon in Black,” “Go Down, Moses,” “Delta Autumn,” and “The Bear,” revised for Go Down, Moses; “Race at Morning,” revised for Big Woods; and “Hog Pawn, revised for The Mansion. Part II, “Uncollected Stories,” comprises “Nympholepsy” “Frankie and Johnny,” “The Priest,” “Once Aboard the Lugger (I),” “Once Aboard the Lugger (II),” “Miss Zilphia Gant,” “Thrift,” “Idyll in the Desert,” “Two Dollar Wife,” “Afternoon of a Cow,” “Mr. Acarius,” and “Sepulture South: Gaslight.” Part III, “Unpublished Stories,” comprises “Adolescence,” “Al Jackson,” “Don Giovanni,” “Peter,” “Moonlight,” “The Big Shot,” “Dull Tale,” “A Return,” “A Dangerous Man,” “Evangeline,” “A Portrait of Elmer,” “With Caution and Dispatch,” and “Snow.”
To Have and Have Not, by Furthman and Faulkner. Edited by Bruce Kawin. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1980. Movie script for Hawks, based on Ernest Hemingway’s 1937 novel, collaborated on by Faulkner, Furthman, and Hawks in 1944.
Helen: A Courtship. New Orleans: Tulane University / Oxford, Miss.: Yoknapatawpha Press, 1981. Facsimile of a typescript gift-book of sixteen poems Faulkner composed and presented to Helen Baird in June 1926, during a one-sided courtship. Reprinted in Helen: A Courtship and Mississippi Poems, introductory essays by Collins and Blotner. New Orleans: Tulane University / Oxford: Yoknapatawpha Press, 1981.
The Road to Glory: A Screenplay, by Joel Sayre and Faulkner. Edited by Matthew J. Bruccoli, with an afterword by George Garrett. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1981. 20th Century-Fox film script on which Faulkner collaborated in 1935.
Sanctuary: The Original Text, edited by Polk. New York: Random House, 1981. The text of this edition of the novel is based on the unrevised galley proofs prepared before Faulkner altered and revised them for publication in 1931.
Faulkner’s MGM Screenplays, edited by Kawin. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1982. Nine movie scripts in which Faulkner had a hand, with a selected bibliography of his screenwriting career. Comprises “Manservant,” an unproduced screenplay based on Faulkner’s story “Love”; “The College Widow,” an original, unproduced screenplay, possibly begun as vehicle for Tallulah Bankhead; “Absolution,” an original, unproduced screenplay; “Flying the Mail,” an unproduced screen-play based on writer Bogart Rogers’s heroic account of early mail pilots; “Turn About,” based on Faulkner’s story of the same title and produced in 1933 as Today We Live; “War Birds,” an unproduced screenplay based on the war diary of a young pilot from Arkansas who was killed in World War I (retitled “A Ghost Story”); “Honor,” an unproduced screenplay based on Faulkner’s story of the same title; “Mythical Latin-American Kingdom Story,” an original, unproduced screenplay; and “Louisiana Lou,” based on Lea Freedman’s play Ruby and released on film as Lazy River. This script, partly lost and the existing pages inaccessible, is introduced by Kawin but not reproduced.
The DeGaulle Story, edited by L. D. Brodsky and Robert W. Hamblin. Volume 3 of Faulkner: A Comprehensive Guide to the Brodsky Collection. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1984. Treatments, scripts, and other materials from Faulkner’s 1942–1943 work on an unproduced movie for Warner Bros.
Elmer, edited by Dianne Cox. Northport, Ala.: Seajay Press, 1984. Novel fragment about a provincial would-be artist’s trip abroad, written during Faulkner’s 1925 European travels.
Father Abraham, edited by Meriwether. New York: Random House, 1984. Novel fragment; Faulkner’s early attempt, probably in late 1926 and early 1927, to fashion a novel from the Snopes material.
Vision in Spring, introduction by Judith L. Sensibar. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1984. Typeset edition of a typed book of poems Faulkner prepared for Estelle Oldham Franklin in 1921.
Battle Cry, edited by Brodsky and Hamblin. Volume 4 of Faulkner: A Comprehensive Guide to the Brodsky Collection. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1985. Two versions of an unproduced movie script Faulkner worked on for Warner Bros, and Hawks in 1943.
Country Lawyer and Other Stories for the Screen, edited by Brodsky and Hamblin. Supplement to Faulkner: A Comprehensive Guide to the Brodsky Collection. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1987. Unproduced Faulkner movie scripts.
Stallion Road: A Screenplay, edited by Brodsky and Hamblin. Supplement to Faulkner: A Comprehensive Guide to the Brodsky Collection. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1989. Faulkner’s treatment and movie scripts based on a 1945 novel by Stephen Longstreet, who received final screen credit for the movie produced in 1947.
LIBRARY OF AMERICA REPRINTS OF CORRECTED TEXTS
Faulkner: Novels 1930–1935. New York: Library of America, 1985. Corrected texts, prepared by Noel Polk, of As I Lay Dying, Sanctuary, Light in August, and Pylon, with a Faulkner chronology, a brief note on the texts, and explanatory notes prepared by Polk and Joseph Blotner.
Faulkner: Novels 1936–1940. New York: Library of America, 1990. Corrected texts, prepared by Polk, of Absalom, Absalom!; The Unvanquished; If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem (The Wild Palms); and The Hamlet; with a Faulkner chronology, a brief note on the texts, and explanatory notes prepared by Polk and Blotner.
Faulkner: Novels 1942–1954. New York: Library of America, 1994. Corrected texts, prepared by Polk, of Go Down, Moses, Intruder in the Dust, Requiem for a Nun, and A Fable, with a Faulkner chronology, a brief note on the texts, and explanatory notes prepared by Polk and Blotner.
Faulkner: Novels 1957–1962: The Town, The Mansion, The Reivers, edited by Blotner and Polk. New York: Library of America, 1999.
William Faulkner: The Contemporary Reviews (1995), edited by M. Thomas Inge, reprints a sufficient number of positive and negative newspaper and magazine reviews from different regions of the United States to constitute a summary of Faulkner’s popular reputation. From the first, Faulkner’s books received serious reviews in the daily, weekly, and monthly press. His first two novels, Soldiers’ Pay and Mosquitoes, were regarded as good in their own right but showing promise of better
work to come. In the rich publishing environment of the 1920s new writers were welcomed, but their work had to stand up against the fiction of Edith Wharton, Sinclair Lewis, Sherwood Anderson, Ellen Glasgow, Gertrude Atherton, Willa Cather, John Dos Passes, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Djuna Barnes, and popular Europeans such as Thomas Mann. Faulkner’s novels were widely enough noted that the book editor of the Chicago Tribune chose him as one of the new writers singled out to write a brief essay on what famous book each would have liked to have written (Faulkner chose Moby-Dick and summarized the novel brilliantly).4 As Faulkner became more obviously experimental in his fourth and fifth novels, The Sound and the Fury and As I Lay Dying, the response to his work became more divided, but Lewis, the first American writer to win the Nobel Prize in literature, used the occasion of his acceptance address in 1930 to single out Faulkner, along with Dos Passos, Hemingway, Thomas Wolfe, and Thornton Wilder as American writers of whom Europe and the world should take note.5
Lewis also explained in his Nobel Prize address that narrow-minded American moralists and antiquarian university professors were no more ready for the truth of human existence in fiction than football-crazed college students were interested in it. Thus, with its lurid story of rape and murder, Sanctuary, Faulkner’s sixth novel in as many years, shocked some reviewers and many defenders of American morals. Because it was a gangster novel in the heyday of urban bootlegging monopolies and flamboyant bank robberies, it prompted journalistic reviewers to situate Faulkner in the “cult of cruelty,” a category for tough-guy writers who sensationalized violence. Light in August, which displayed the tendencies of such naturalist novels as Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy (1925) and portrayed rape, murder, lynching, and virulent racism, did nothing to remove Faulkner from the “cult of cruelty” category.
Thus, recommendation by the 1930 Nobel laureate did little to help Faulkner’s career. Because of the Depression, book publishing suffered too, and he received little of the money the sensational Sanctuary made for his publishing house, Cape and Smith, which entered bankruptcy. Only the new and relatively inexpensive medium of motion pictures flourished. Failing to find sufficient audience for his published works to support himself as a writer of fiction, Faulkner had to look elsewhere. A three-year hiatus in his novel-writing career followed the publication of Sanctuary in 1931 because of his efforts to earn money from screenwriting. Even Sanctuary became profitable for him only because it was made into a motion picture. If Faulkner’s career as a novelist was to some degree in the control of moralists who condemned the frank portrayal of human folly, in Hollywood he was under the control of a venal and aesthetically corrupt division of the entertainment industry.
Faulkner emerged from his uncharacteristic silence with Pylon in 1935. This novel combined some of the experimental language of modernism—strange words made stranger by fastening them together—with some of the shocking subject matter of naturalism: the carnival-like atmosphere of aircraft racers and daredevils who seemed as bloodless as their fragile flying machines. Around this time Faulkner became interesting to journalists, who were less aware of his value as a daring young writer than they were of his reputation as an out-of-control demonic genius, the Dostoyevsky of the Deep South.
Absalom, Absalom! is now considered by most writers and critics to be Faulkner’s finest novel. But when it was published in 1936, reviews bore such titles as “Disgusting” and “Cult of Infantilism.” Book-of-the-Month Club founder Clifton Fadiman parodied the novel in his review, “Faulkner, Extra-Special, Double-Distilled,” a reference to the powerful liquor Faulkner was assumed to drink deeply in order to write the strange things he published. Always among the reviews were notes of praise such as had appeared from the first, but they were drowned out, for the most part, or appeared in out-of-the-way newspapers and small-circulation magazines that were not read by those who made writers wealthy.
In 1939 Faulkner was the subject of a flattering essay by the poet Conrad Aiken in Atlantic Monthly, a summary essay on the novelist’s allegory of the South in the prestigious (though not mass-circulation) Kenyon Review by young writer George Marion O’Donnell, and a Time magazine cover story that used the only picture ever made showing the writer wearing suspenders. However, the cover story reflected Faulkner’s notoriety more than his literary achievement, and reviews of his 1939 novel The Wild Palms bore titles not unlike those for Absalom, Absalom!: “In Which a Writer with a Talent Outrages the Intelligence of His Readers,” “Faulkner Tale Shocks,” “Mississippi Frankenstein,” and “The South of Faulkner’s Mouth Leaves a Bad Taste.” Despite the acclaim of reviewers such as Aiken and O’Donnell, 1939 was not a banner year for Faulkner and his economic condition worsened.
With his next novel, The Hamlet, the critical reception was equally mixed. One of the editors of the Southern Review, Don Stanford, proclaimed in the quarterly’s pages that the novel represented “Faulkner’s latest explosion in the cesspool,”6 while a fellow editor, Robert Penn Warren, took to the rival Kenyon Review to praise the humor and pathos of “The Snopes World.” In the Columbus (Ohio) Citizen Harlan Hatcher called the novel an “exercise in horror,” “another close and disturbing study of the degeneracy of certain southern types.”7
Many additional examples can be offered to dramatize the contradictory nature of Faulkner’s popular—that is, journalistic—reception until he won the Nobel Prize in 1950. After young European intellectuals began to explain how seriously they regarded his writing and the Swedish Academy awarded him the world’s most prestigious literary prize, much of the negative or mocking criticism ceased. Hints of his European reputation and intimations of his candidacy for a Nobel Prize began to reach America during World War II. Among the first sympathetic literary journalists to become aware of this was Malcolm Cowley whose Exile’s Return (1934) had chronicled the expatriate writers of World War I, of whom he was one. When Cowley first took an interest in Faulkner it was with the hope of producing a large (and profitable) photo and essay piece for the slick weekly magazine Life, a popular biographical story for wide consumption. To merit this dubious honor, as was the case with the Time cover story in 1939, Faulkner clearly had become newsworthy. He was famous, however, not because millions of people were reading his work but because of his reputation as a strange Southern author, just as Hemingway was most widely known for his manly adventures, not for his craft and precision as a writer. But Cowley came to like Faulkner and understood his fiction well enough to want to edit a collection of the writer’s works in a format conceived for wide distribution. The book was to be a volume in Viking Press’s Portable series, a variation on the British “pocket” book.
Thinking about Faulkner’s work, Cowley decided that the Mississippian was no great novelist but a writer best observed in excerpts that displayed inspired creativity. The best way to demonstrate Faulkner’s great achievement, according to Cowley, would be to assemble these pieces into a grand scheme of fiction about Yoknapatawpha County. However wrong this plan was, even by Cowley’s own later admission, the idea proved good on several grounds. Faulkner liked the concept and agreed to cooperate. In correspondence with Cowley the writer began to see what he had created and to feel good about it.8 Faulkner felt even better when, at the lowest point in his career as a writer, he was able to write the inspired meditation on The Sound and the Fury that became what is called “The Compson Appendix”—officially, “Appendix: Compson, 1699–1945.”
The Portable Faulkner, published in 1946, was followed the same year by the republication of two novels in one volume, The Sound and the Fury and As I Lay Dying, in the inexpensive Modern Library format from Random House. Both books included “The Compson Appendix.” They put some of Faulkner’s most exciting writing into the hands of the postwar generation of readers and G.I. Bill students. Not long after a receptive audience had discovered these two texts, Faulkner’s career began to revive with the publication of Intruder in the Dust (1948), the relatively popular collection of magazine detective stories titled Knight’s Gambit (1949), and the rich but uneven Collected Stories (1950). All three books were more accessible to a wider audience, and more positively reviewed, than Faulkner’s previous novels. Then came the Nobel Prize at the close of 1950. The award brought financial security and led to almost universally positive academic interest in and study of Faulkner’s writing.
Starting in 1951, critical books exploring Faulkner’s career began to be published. Soon there were also biographical essays and books that attempted to separate legend from important facts about his development as an artist and his approach to the art of writing. Harry Modean Campbell and Ruel Foster’s William Faulkner: A Critical Appraisal (1951) was the first book-length study, essentially a New Criticism reading that stressed the formal and moral unity achieved in Faulkner’s novels by repetition and resolution of images and themes. In book-length studies written in the 1950s, Irving Howe, William Van O’Connor, Irving Malin, Hyatt H. Waggoner, Ward L. Miner, and Robert Coughlan lacked access to reliable biographical information and adopted morally simple or textually innocent perspectives on the novels but nonetheless advanced interest in the academic study of the author.
Surveys of the critical commentary on Faulkner can be found in several sources, most notably in the Faulkner chapter of Sixteen Modern American Authors: A Survey of Research and Criticism, edited by Jackson R. Bryer (revised edition, 1974). Lawrence H. Schwartz, in Creating Faulkner’s Reputation: The Politics of Modern Literary Criticism (1988), has argued that Faulkner’s rise from a low critical (and financial) position to such greatness during the period from 1939 to 1950 and beyond is very nearly a cultural conspiracy, though one set in motion not by any single person or group so much as by the Zeitgeist, the spirit of the times, after World War II. Schwartz’s view is that America’s need for a great moral writer during the Cold War prompted critics and well-placed college teachers to integrate Faulkner into the cultural iconography of the era. Others have argued just as strongly that Faulkner was, all along and too often unacknowledged, one of the defining artistic minds of his era whose work critics and teachers began to study only as latecomers, often mis-mapping the terrain in the process.9
Schwartz believes that the New Critics defined a palatable Faulkner for many readers who came to his work after World War II. The New Critics were almost without exception genteel, well-educated close readers who were ideologically disposed to seek and find in poetry and even in long fiction what they called “unity”—coherent patterns of language, image, theme, structure, culture, and even implied theology. Some unity was better than other unity, especially in the important lectures, essays, and books on Faulkner by Cleanth Brooks, who had a long career teaching at Yale. Brooks had earlier taught at Vanderbilt University in Nashville and worked with Robert Penn Warren at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, where they founded the Southern Review and worked together to develop a practical criticism of poetry, fiction, and drama. These methods they popularized in textbooks, two of which were remarkably influential, Understanding Poetry (1939) and Understanding Fiction (1941), in which Faulkner’s “A Rose for Emily” was first included in the American literary canon.
Brooks’s Faulkner lectures and essays, tried out in the 1950s on students at Yale and on various platforms at colleges and meetings all around the United States, became his books on Faulkner. The most influential was William Faulkner. The Yoknapatawpha Country (1963), which maps Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha fiction (omitting reference to such non-Yoknapatawpha novels as Soldiers’ Pay, Mosquitoes, Pylon, The Wild Palms, and A Fable). Brooks presents Faulkner as an expression of peculiarly Southern ideas about community, religion, nature, gender, race, and the past. Brooks’s essays are rhetorically convincing and wide-ranging, especially as they discuss provincial culture, the complex presentation of humankind’s relationship to the natural world, and the themes and structure of Faulkner’s novels. For a generation of readers Brooks was the best guide to a Southern reading of the novels. He does an interesting job of relating Faulkner’s work to what he sees as key Southern concerns. Although Brooks’s readings were later adjusted and challenged by newer styles of criticism, his map of Faulkner, like Cowley’s, is a good tool for new readers. That Brooks himself could expand his conception is proved by his second book on Faulkner, William Faulkner: Toward Yoknapatawpha and Beyond (1978), in which he engages with those novels not set in Yoknapatawpha. Both books are still in print, indicating their continued appeal.
Another book that summarizes Faulkner’s artistry is Michael Millgate’s The Achievement of William Faulkner (1966), a book kept in print by three different publishers for more than three decades. To many, its organization and attack is exemplary: a well-documented biographical introduction precedes chronologically arranged essays on each novel that deal with composition, reception, and critical analysis. As Faulkner scholar Noel Polk has put it, he discovered that he “was not the only one to have encouraged students and colleagues looking for projects ’to Millgate’ their way through … other writers whose careers had not yet been Achieved.”10 Eight additional essays by Millgate have been published as Faulkner’s Place (1997); they draw on his long study and wide view to comment upon many general features of Faulkner’s career not yet visible in 1966 when The Achievement of William Faulkner first appeared.
Even more than Brooks, the prize-winning novelist and poet Robert Penn Warren had his eye on Faulkner’s craft of fiction from the beginning. He wrote reviews of Faulkner’s novels and critical analyses of works about Faulkner, all of which have stood the test of time. In 1966, the year of Millgate’s landmark study, Warren edited Faulkner: A Collection of Critical Essays, with contributions from various French and American critics. His introduction, “Faulkner: Past and Present,” summarized his interpretation of the writer, and his essay on Faulkner and race, “Faulkner: The South, the Negro, and Time,” opened a subject then little discussed. In the essay Warren noted that “Faulkner’s tale is one of the anguish of time, the tension of change,” and concluded that “James Joyce went forth from Ireland to forge … the conscience of his race. Faulkner did a more difficult thing. To forge the conscience of his race, he stayed in his native spot and, in his soul, in vice and in virtue, re-enacted the history of that race.”11
Performing straight New Critical readings of the novels, but without Brooks’s apologia for genteel Southern culture or Millgate’s extensive scholarship on Faulkner’s life and the texts, are Olga Vickery’s often reprinted The Novels of William Faulkner (1959; revised, 1964) and writer and teacher Warren Beck’s Faulkner (1976), a collection of essays about much of the Faulkner canon, and Man in Motion (1961), a study of the Snopes trilogy. As a young professor Beck was acknowledged favorably by Faulkner for three early essays discussing the author’s career up to 1941.
Subsequent to the criticism of Brooks, Vickery, Mitigate, Warren, and Beck, many well-received book-length studies of Faulkner have been published. Faulkner has not lacked for biographies, either, though in no case has his life become as popular a subject as that of such writers as Fitzgerald or Hemingway. In the 1950s and 1960s Joseph Blotner published valuable aids to the biography of Faulkner that have yet to be exhausted by students of his work, a collection of the interviews the writer had given at the University of Virginia and a catalogue of his library.12 Then, in 1974, Blotner published the results of a decade of research on Faulkner’s life, a project enhanced by his access to materials from the Faulkner family that no one else had seen. He had cooperation as well from an important Faulkner collector, Linton Massey of Charlottesville, Virginia. The two-volume, two-thousand-page Faulkner: A Biography remains the basis for subsequent biographies of the writer. In 1984 Blotner published a one-volume edition, the core text of the original edition with some corrections. His biography is a part of the critical record because he chronicles the circumstances under which Faulkner’s works were conceived and composed, as well as how they were received by various audiences. Blotner has also edited Selected Letters of William Faulkner (1977).
In a different kind of biography, historian Joel Williamson became the first to add substantive material to Blotner’s record of Faulkner family history by researching deeply the life of the writer’s great-grandfather. Williamson’s Faulkner and Southern History (1993) uses a great number of historical materials to argue that Colonel William C. Falkner sired a shadow second family with a former slave. He provides further evidence about an incident Blotner also reports: that Faulkner’s maternal grandfather, a lawman from Oxford, Mississippi, who abandoned his wife and only child, disappeared with a handsome lightskinned woman of mixed race who had worked for one of the most prestigious families in Oxford. These circumstances mean that Falkner family history had the same kind of complications, tensions, and consequences that Faulkner addressed repeatedly in his fictional families, from Sartoris to Sutpen to McCaslin. Because of the specialized nature of such a study, however, Williamson’s book has had little effect on Faulkner’s reputation or even on the study of his work outside colleges and universities.
In the realm of specialized academic studies are many books surveying Faulkner’s whole body of work from different perspectives, such as the importance of his apprentice work, his use of mythology, his presentation of African American characters and female characters, and the complexities of his use of language. Annual conferences on Faulkner at the University of Mississippi for more than twenty-five years have taken up these issues by inviting lectures on such topics as Faulkner and psychology, Faulkner and gender, Faulkner and the artist, Faulkner and humor, Faulkner and the natural world, Faulkner and popular culture, Faulkner and race, Faulkner and women, and so on. In addition, many studies have been published concentrating on individual novels.
Throughout the course of Faulkner scholarship several general handbooks or guides to his works have been published, but they were usually intended to have short lives, and they did. Now, new series of handbooks and volumes of annotations for individual Faulkner novels have appeared. They are designed for academic audiences—students and teachers—indicating that Faulkner’s main reputation in America continues to reside within schools, colleges, and universities. Among these handbooks are overviews of the fictional families who inhabit Faulkner’s major novels. In one series Arthur F. Kinney of the University of Massachusetts presents photographs, original historical documents, related writings by Faulkner, contemporary reviews, and both new and reprinted essays on the novels and stories that depict Faulkner’s most important fictional families. Books in the series examine the Compson family (1982), the Sartoris family (1985), the McCaslins (1990), and the Sutpens (1996).
Current criticism of Faulkner has become specialized in yet another way. Much of the criticism that has appeared in the 1990s derives from postmodern interest in philosophical, linguistic, psychological, and cultural theories. These studies are also chiefly intended for an academic audience.
That Faulkner’s readership is found mainly within academia is not surprising, since reading his work has, from the first, remained the province of patient readers with literary sophistication bred by regular and serious commerce with books. The wise student or teacher will always consult a variety of critics, old and new, to find a comfortable first foothold in reading what are undeniably demanding texts. Guides to the usefulness of criticism and scholarship of the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s can be found in Sixteen Modern American Authors, Volume 2: A Review of Research and Criticism Since 1972, edited by Bryer (1990), and in Faulkner chapters in American Literary Scholarship: An Annual, starting in 1975.
The ways in which Faulkner’s work has been received and evaluated are diverse, as with any writer whose career is long and whose posthumous reputation changes or grows. At first he was greeted as a promising young writer who was the equal of his contemporaries Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Wolfe, and Dos Passos and even of his immediate predecessors, such contemporaneous but older writers as Anderson, Cather, Dreiser, Glasgow, Lewis, and Wharton, to name a few. Then, with The Sound and the Fury and As I Lay Dying, Faulkner’s reputation changed: he became a daring experimentalist to some and an obscure writer to others. Sanctuary caused him to be branded as sensational, a “cult of cruelty” writer, and about half the time the novels following Sanctuary received knee-jerk responses from reviewers who kept him in categories—either sensationalist or obscure, sometimes both. By the middle of World War II, when many of the readers who might have tackled Faulkner were in military service, his works dropped out of print. To other writers he was a legendary figure, a genius of the first order who was trapped in Hollywood. In those with whom he worked at Hollywood studios Faulkner inspired respect and awe because they had read his books. Many Hollywood people, including the head of the last screenwriting department he worked in, conspired to provide him additional money and ultimately release him from punishing contracts so that he could go back to Mississippi to write the books they believed he still had in him.13 At the same time, though preoccupied with a punishing war and the antidemocratic occupation of their country by the Nazis, young French writers began expressing their admiration. As Cowley related to Faulkner in 1945, the writer and philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre had told him, “Pour les jeunes en France, Faulkner c’est un dieu” (For young people in France, Faulkner is a God).14 Immediately after the war people such as Sartre popularized Faulkner’s work in Europe, discussing it in literary journals and launching new translations and adaptations.
In the same period Faulkner’s reputation in America also rose, as writers and literary journalists drew attention to his record of achievement or, like Cowley, made samples of his otherwise out-of-print work accessible to the war generation. This generation had experienced directly, through military service, or indirectly, through newsreels and newspapers, extremes of human behavior similar to those Faulkner portrayed and questioned: violent racism; the horror, loss, and triumph of war; and the experience of returning after the war to towns that had not changed in the same ways their young people had. These experiences provided good credentials for reading Faulkner, and there was a lot of Faulkner to catch up on. By 1951, the year after the Nobel Prize changed his economic life, Faulkner had published fifteen novels and his collected short stories. The shift in his critical reputation confirmed by the prize now made him a popular subject for academic instruction and study. Like the modernist painter Picasso, Faulkner became an institution himself, or at least the property of institutions. For the last five years of his life he was affiliated with the English department at the University of Virginia. Critics who had made careers publishing on other periods of literature or other writers started the first tide of studies on Faulkner’s work. He then became the subject of dissertations, conferences, and entire issues of scholarly journals.
It may be questioned whether Faulkner still has a general public. The answer appears to be yes. His novels and stories in paperback still disappear from bookstore shelves, exclusive of their adoption for classroom use. Nor is his reputation in academia static or fixed. In essays, books, and conference presentations, he is constantly reappraised and reinterpreted, attacked and defended. The map of Faulkner is thus a war map of territory constantly subject to contentious interpretations. Yet, it is possible that, like contested land, maps of which are merely conveniences for warriors at a certain moment, Faulkner’s work will endure as he hoped it would, occasionally arousing an emotional response in a reader from a distant place or time who stumbles upon it.
ART IMITATING LIFE
Faulkner explained to his mother in 1925 that the secret to writing novels, which Sherwood Anderson had taught him, was that a writer borrows from his own life but also the lives of others, using his own or other people’s experiences and then exaggerating them until they make a satisfactory and compelling story. Working on this principle, Faulkner and Anderson played games of invention, and Anderson proved his point by publishing in The Dial a story loosely based on Faulkner, “A Meeting South.” Soldiers’ Pay includes a portrait of Faulkner himself in the figure of Julian Lowe, the flying cadet who has missed combat in World War I because he has not finished flight training before the armistice. Not interesting enough to develop as a character, Lowe was dropped out to leave room for other, more compelling characters. The young people in Charlestown, Georgia, the main setting of the novel, were drawn from Faulkner’s life in various ways, and Charlestown, below Atlanta, was a close portrait of Oxford, below Memphis. But none of the portraits in Soldiers’ Pay were as damagingly close to reality as the characters in Faulkner’s second novel, Mosquitoes, written about the bohemian French Quarter crowd whose leader Anderson had become. Anderson appears as Dawson Fairchild, and Faulkner appears as himself, a little “black”—that is, deeply tanned—man named Faulkner encountered once by the voluptuous ingenue of the novel, Jenny, at a dance hall. In both these novels Faulkner was capable of self-mockery, as he was in the unfinished comic novel Elmer, also written in the mid 1920s and published posthumously in 1984. In Elmer, Faulkner used himself as the model for a rural Southern character who travels to Europe via New Orleans.
Faulkner’s third novel, Sartoris, does not include a direct representation of the author himself, but the Sartoris family is a loose portrait of the Falkner family in that Bayard Sartoris’s family tree includes people modeled closely on Faulkner’s grandfather, great-grandfather, and great-aunt. Bayard’s restlessness and unwillingness to settle down duplicate Faulkner’s own behavior in resisting regular gainful employment upon his return from unfinished flight training in Toronto in 1918.
The portrait of the Compson family in The Sound and the Fury draws on several families in Oxford, according to local residents, but the relationships among a father who drinks heavily and four siblings, three boys and a girl, roughly duplicate the household that Faulkner himself lived in when very young. This grouping, suggestive of the close relationships among Faulkner, his brothers Johncie, Jack, and Dean, and their cousin Sallie Murry Wilkins, appears many times in Faulkner’s fiction: the Bundren family of As I Lay Dying includes four brothers and a sister, and both Temple Drake of Sanctuary and Charlotte Rittenmeyer of If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem (The Wild Palms) also have four brothers.
In a few short stories, in the opening pages of Elmer, and in the first attempt at the novel that became Absalom, Absalom! Faulkner created a pair of characters who closely resemble himself and his New Orleans roommate and European traveling companion, the artist William Spratling. In The Sound and the Fury, Faulkner created Quentin Compson from memories of his 1918 visit to Phil Stone in New Haven, Connecticut. The year in which Quentin’s section of the novel is set, 1910, memorializes the time when the thirteen-year-old Faulkner and his sweetheart, Estelle Oldham, vowed that they would marry and have a chicken farm. Faulkner made his unhappiness over Estelle’s 1918 marriage to Cornell Franklin a basis for Quentin’s misery over his sister’s wedding to Herbert Head. A letter Faulkner wrote to his mother from New Haven is dated 2 June 1918, the same month and day as Quentin’s suicide, but it recounts, in a happy mood, many of the activities that Faulkner had Quentin participate in before he kills himself. Shreve, Quentin’s Harvard roommate, owes something to Stone and the long bouts of reading and discussion he and Faulkner engaged in over the years. Stone reappears transformed into lawyer Gavin Stevens in Intruder in the Dust, the stories of Knight’s Gambit, Requiem for a Nun, and the final two volumes in the Snopes trilogy, The Town and The Mansion.
Other real people fill Faulkner’s books, not always in deep disguise. He had to change the name of the sewing-machine salesman in the Snopes trilogy from Suratt to Ratliff because the family of the local sewing-machine salesman, named Suratt, was displeased. One of the old hunters of the Oxford camp that conducted an annual Delta hunt was Ike Roberts, suggesting Ike McCaslin in the stories that make up Go Down, Moses, and even the great bear in “The Bear” is said to have had a real prototype.
Over the years, Faulkner himself became one of his most elaborate fictional creations. He fashioned several public personas, as Lothar Honnighausen has argued in a book about Faulkner’s masks and metaphors.15 He also went to a studio photographer in Oxford, J. R. Cofield, to record many of these personas, as a perusal of Cofield’s collection of images reveals.16 Thus, Faulkner’s autobiographical fiction is sometimes art imitating art, as in his essay “Mississippi,” first published in 1954 in Holiday magazine, in which the narrator Faulkner appears as a character, mingling his own experience growing up with the lives of various characters in his fiction.17 In a few instances life copied art, as when his youngest brother, Dean, was killed in a plane crash in 1935, like the aviators Faulkner had just written about in Pylon or, earlier, in Sartoris. Over Dean’s grave Faulkner placed a headstone that bore the same inscription he had depicted Bayard Sartoris putting over the grave of his brother.
Faulkner’s last novel, The Reivers, is written in a manner, and with a frame, that identifies its author as “Grandfather.” The reference is to himself, though as usual the character is an imaginative amalgam of reality and invention. As a real grandfather Faulkner dedicated this book to his grandchildren. The Reivers relates the adventures of Lucius Priest, whose story bears a resemblance to automobile adventures Faulkner had as a boy with his grandfather and his grandfather’s chauffeur, Chess Carothers. Lucius, modeled in part on the writer himself, overcomes many of the same concerns that drove Quentin to suicide in The Sound and the Fury. In both books Faulkner took liberty with the facts but wrote emotional biography that approximated the truth of his feelings.
Faulkner’s own youth was both ideal and troubled, and he wrote a great deal in many different ways about young people, some of whom resembled himself. Among his most moving stories of youth are the different versions of family life the Compson children remember in The Sound and the Fury, including the story of how they discover that their grandmother, “Damuddy,” has died. The storyline certainly reflects Faulkner’s own experience since he, his brothers, and his cousin Sallie played together often during the year that the real Damuddy died. What inspired the novel that begins with this experience, he said, was the image of a brave little girl in a tree and her brothers watching from below where they could see her muddy underpants. Immediately, the idea became symbolic, as Faulkner explained in his posthumously published preface to The Sound and the Fury, an essay that reveals how his fiction-making mind worked upon life itself:
I saw that peaceful glinting of that branch was to become the dark, harsh flowing of time sweeping her to where she could not return…. And that Benjy must never grow beyond this moment … to where the grief of bereavement could be leavened with understanding and hence the alleviation of rage as in the case of Jason, and of oblivion as in the case of Quentin … and Dilsey with the mudstained drawers scrubbing the naked backside of that doomed little girl— trying to cleanse with the sorry byblow of its soiling that body, flesh, whose shame they symbolised and prophesied….18
Some autobiographical writers who use their friends and acquaintances in the twentieth century have lost friends but move on to different fictional venues and different sources for character. Fitzgerald and Hemingway come to mind. Writers who exploit the folks at home need to be more cautious, as the case of Thomas Wolfe proves. But the people of Oxford, Mississippi, never seemed to take as much offense at Faulkner as did his friends in New Orleans, though he wrote there steadily for more than two decades. Faulkner’s explanation for why Oxford residents seemed not to question or complain about his use of local people and events and his own family’s life for fictional material is that no one in Oxford read his books. “I write about the people around Oxford,” he once said. “I know them, and they know me. They don’t much care what I write.”19 Given Faulkner’s imagination, his discovery of symbolic attributes for his creations, and his skill with words, perhaps his neighbors and family would not have recognized themselves anyway.
FAULKNER’S WORKS IN HISTORY
Growing up in a literate family in a university town with a good regional daily newspaper from Memphis and an effective county weekly, Faulkner could not have missed the march of local, regional, and national events. In fact, he recorded the impact of much that occurred not only in his own time but also in the three generations of Falkners that preceded him. The research of modern historians confirms Faulkner’s imaginative reinvention of history that had not been written yet. In such projects as Requiem for a Nun or the essay “Mississippi,” he wrote historical narrative, imaginative to be sure but grounded in reliable accounts of his times and the past. Even in his less overtly historical fiction, Faulkner nonetheless addressed issues that were often suppressed in the “closed society” of Mississippi, as historian James W. Silver has called it.20
Faulkner’s fiction has become part of the debate on many topics of current interest. Historians quote him to illustrate recent research. Primarily as a consequence of his accurate portrayal of Southern culture and his intuitions about human behavior, his works have stood the test of time. The more the past of both his native region and Southern culture in general are studied, the more Faulkner is found to have portrayed conflicts of race, gender, religion, history, economics, and politics in revealing ways. But perhaps even if his peculiarly Southern social subjects did not remain timely, interest in his work would continue. Faulkner had an uncanny ability, according to the novelist and historian Shelby Foote, to dramatize the emotions of his characters. This has given his work powerful, and universal, appeal.
Brief summaries of critical perspectives in a few books on Faulkner published in the 1990s make clear that his work has continuing relevance. British Marxist critic Richard Godden writes of the work as revealing “fictions of labor” during a period when the South underwent a “radical labor transformation.” Southern historian Daniel Singal concludes his second book investigating the modernist Faulkner with an evocation of the writer’s heritage, which, he observes, has produced writing that “year after year” passes from one hand or mind to another, still “surging with the motion of life.” Polish critic Grazyna Branny compares Faulkner with one of his “masters,” Joseph Conrad, and finds evidence that both writers saw alienation as the inescapable human predicament but showed that emotional commitment to other people—not verbal expression—was a way out. French Faulknerian Andre Bleikasten has written that “Faulkner possessed what is probably the novelist’s rarest gift: the faculty of decentering and displacement, the aptitude to cross boundaries and inhabit other landscapes of the mind, the capacity of allowing oneself to be traversed by unknown currents and tap their intensities…. His signature can of course no longer be erased; there is just no way to prevent the work he has left us from being the sovereign unfolding of a name, from being the place where this name assumes a body....” Lothar Hönnighausen, director of the Nordamerikaprogramm at the University of Bonn in Germany, concludes his study of Faulkner’s personas and their functions by observing that “Faulknerians all over the world will continue to make new images of their master for themselves; however, his face will remain a cryptic mask and metaphor to the last.” Noel Polk, a Mississippian who has edited the corrected texts of Faulkner’s novels, helped launch the Faulkner Concordances series, and participated in the preparation of facsimiles of many of the writer’s manuscripts, proves in his Children of the Dark House (1996) that plenty of room remains for investigating the writer’s psychic and social life.21
ADAPTATIONS OF FAULKNER’S WORKS
Faulkner’s fiction has been adapted for the cinema, television, and stage many times, including musical works and dance performances. Much of his original or collaborative writing for motion pictures is cited, if published, in the list of published works in this chapter. The following is a chronological list of produced, unproduced, and performed adaptations of his original work.
Absolution. Movie treatment, M-G-M, 1932; unproduced. Based on “All the Dead Pilots."
Manservant. Movie treatment, M-G-M, 1932; unproduced. Based on the unpublished story “Love."
War Birds. Screenplay, M-G-M, 1932; unproduced. Based on “Ad Astra” and “All the Dead Pilots,” Sartoris, and John McGavock Grider’s War Birds: Diary of an Unknown Aviator (1926), edited by Elliott White Springs.
The Story of Temple Drake. Movie, Paramount, 1933; directed by Stephen Roberts. Script by Oliver H. P. Garrett. Based on Sanctuary.
Today We Live. Movie, M-G-M, 1933; directed by Howard Hawks. Script by Edith Fitzgerald and Dwight Taylor. Based on “Turn About."
Honor. Screenplay, M-G-M, 1933; unproduced. Based on the story of the same name.
Revolt in the Earth. Screenplay by Faulkner and Dudley Murphy, 1942; original and unproduced. Based on Absalom, Absalom! and “Wash."
Barn Burning. Treatment by Faulkner and A. I. Bezzerides, 1945; original and unproduced. Based on the story of the same name.
As I Lay Dying. Ballet, 1948, choreographed by Valerie Bettis and performed in New York.
As I Lay Dying. Amateur dramatic production, adapted by Mollie Darr, April 1949, Northwestern University.
Intruder in the Dust. Movie, M-G-M, 1949; directed by Clarence Brown. Script by Ben Maddow.
The Brooch. Teleplay CBS, 1953. Broadcast on Lux Video Theatre, 2 April 1953. Based on the story of the same name.
Shall Not Perish. Teleplay, CBS, 1953. Broadcast on Lux Video Theatre, 11 February 1954. Based on the story of the same name.
The Long, Hot Summer. Movie, 20th Century-Fox, 1958; directed by Martin Ritt. Script by Irving Ravetch and Harriet Frank Jr. Based loosely on The Hamlet.
Old Man. Teleplay, 1953, by Horton Foote. Broadcast on Playhouse 90 in 1958. Based on the “Old Man” sections of If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem (The Wild Palms). Published in Foote’s Three Plays (1962). Foote’s teleplay was also the basis for the 1997 television production.
The Tarnished Angels. Movie, Universal, 1957; directed by Douglas Sirk. Script by George Zuckerman. Based on Pylon.
The Sound and the Fury. Movie, 20th Century-Fox, 1959; directed by Martin Ritt. Script by Ravetch and Frank. Based loosely on the novel of the same name.
Sanctuary. Movie, 20th Century-Fox, 1960; directed by Tony Richardson. Script by James Poe. Based more on Albert Camus’s adaptation of Requiem for a Nun than upon Sanctuary.
The Reivers. Movie, 20th Century-Fox, 1969; directed by Mark Rydell. Script by Ravetch and Frank.
Tomorrow. Movie, Filmgroup, 1972; directed by Joseph Anthony. Script by Foote. Based on the story of the same name. Script published in Foote’s Three Plays.
The Long, Hot Summer. Television movie, Long Hot Productions, 1985; directed by Stuart Cooper. Screenplay by Rita Mae Brown and Dennis Turner. Based on the script for the 1958 movie production.
Barn Burning. Videoplay Coronet, 1979; directed by Peter Werner. Based on the story of the same name.
Oh, Mr. Faulkner, Do You Write? Play, 1981, by John Maxwell and John Dupree. A one-man show starring Maxwell that portrays Faulkner at the time he won the Nobel Prize. Based on documented words written or spoken by Faulkner over the years.
A Rose for Emily. Videoplay, Chubbuck Cinema, 1982; directed by Lyndon Chubbuck. Script by H. Kaye Dyal. Based on the story of the same name.
Two Soldiers. Videoplay, American Film Institute, 1985; directed by Christopher La Palm. Based on the story of the same name.
Old Man. Teleplay by Foote, Hallmark Hall of Fame Productions, 1997. Based on the “Old Man” sections of If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem (The Wild Palms).
Like the response of reviewers who encountered Faulkner’s novels and story collections when they were first published, the public response—that is, the response of the nonacademic reading public—has been mixed.
When Faulkner was a student, hanger-on, and postmaster at the University of Mississippi during the 1920s, publishing esoteric poems in the student newspaper, the response of university students was satire and ridicule. The campus name for him, “Count No ’count” (that is, “no account”), expresses their view of his dandified appearance and literary pretensions. But students and faculty with whom Faulkner was closely associated admired his talent and enjoyed his company for conversation, projects of writing and art, and golf.
At the time of Faulkner’s death in 1962, at the height of his fame, he was widely if not intimately known and had become a public legend. His more popular fiction, such as Sanctuary, and stories about him written for mass-circulation weekly magazines had appeared long before he won the Nobel Prize in 1950. Faulkner’s death was noted in America and abroad in hundreds of newspaper pieces: obituaries, editorials, news accounts of his funeral, and reminiscences by people who had known him well or even briefly. News stories from Oxford, Mississippi, as well as accounts of outsiders who had visited there, noted how much he had touched local life. In between the two extremes of early ridicule and worldwide fame later in life, Faulkner struggled to be ignored and sometimes fought to be heard. As a citizen of Oxford, he wrote letters to the newspaper protesting the destruction of historic buildings and the unfairness of a World War II memorial that did not acknowledge the contributions of African American soldiers. He hand-distributed a political broadside favoring the legalization of beer sales in Oxford when the local newspaper would not sell him an advertisement; he wrote a sardonic piece about the killing of one of his dogs by a speeding car. He wrote letters urging racial justice to the major newspaper of his region, the Memphis Commercial Appeal. He even wrote letters to The New York Times and Time magazine on issues that concerned him. Thus, Faulkner acquired in his home state a public persona among Mississippians who never read a word of his fiction.
The public in Oxford and most people in Mississippi knew very well who he was, and the view of many was that he betrayed his own state by writing unrealistic and shameless stories set there. As a University of Mississippi student politely asked him in a rare class session in 1947, if he was not making a “slam” on Mississippi’s way of life. The editor of the Jackson Daily News regularly wrote against him in columns and editorials, mockingly calling him “Weeping Willie Faulkner” because of his liberalism on the race issue.
The marketing of Faulkner’s paperbacks changed over the years, as the lurid New American Library covers of the 1950s and 1960s gave way to the more tasteful covers that grace the Vintage International series. But the inexpensive New American Library volumes put Faulkner’s books into the hands of many people who would not otherwise have picked them up. It was reported at the time of his death that from 1947, when Sanctuary was published in a New American Library edition, up until July 1962, the New American Library’s Signet editions had printed eight million copies of ten Faulkner titles.22 The strong sales of his books today probably reflect not so much a public constituency as a largely academic one, for he is still taught widely in middle schools (chiefly stories such as “A Rose for Emily” and As I Lay Dying), high schools, and colleges.
The movie adaptations of Faulkner’s novels made in his lifetime were aimed at a mass audience. They justifiably met with a mixed public reaction because they were not always well made or even true to the novels on which they were based. Faulkner’s own movie adaptation of his all-male war story, “Turn About,” released in 1933 as Today We Live, was turned into a Joan Crawford vehicle advertised in newspapers with a fashion spread on her movie wardrobe. As Bruce Kawin has observed in his Faulkner and Film (1977), Faulkner’s concerns and strengths as a writer were different from those of movie producers trying to appeal to a popular audience. Hollywood, Kawin writes, wanted straightforward storytelling, something Faulkner rarely employed. His books often tested, puzzled, or even offended popular taste. When he won the Nobel Prize, puzzlement and offense were expressed in many popular media, including a negative editorial comment in The New York Times. Yet, when Faulkner died, he was considered a national treasure, his funeral covered by Life magazine.
1. William Faulkner, The Marble Faun and A Green Bough (New York: Random House, 1965), p. 11.
2. Faulkner, The Hamlet: The Corrected Text (New York: Vintage, 1991), p. 11.
3. Malcolm Cowley, introduction to The Portable Faulkner, revised edition (New York: Viking, 1967), p. xxxii.
4. See Faulkner, “To the Book Editor of the Chicago Tribune,” 16 July 1927; reprinted in Essays, Speeches & Public Letters, edited by James B. Meriwether (New York: Random House, 1965), pp. 197–198.
5. Joseph Blotner, Faulkner: A Life (New York: Random House, 1974), I: 679. In the context of praising Hemingway, Wolfe, Dos Passos, Wilder, and Stephen Vincent Benet as “young Americans today who are doing such passionate and authentic work that it makes me sick to see that I am a little too old to be one of them,” Lewis added Faulkner, “who has freed the South from hoop skirts.”
6. Don Stanford, “The Beloved Returns and Other Recent Fiction,” Southern Review, 6 (Winter 1941); reprinted in William Faulkner: The Contemporary Reviews, edited by M. Thomas Inge (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995), p. 224.
7. Harlan Hatcher, “Faulkner’s The Hamlet is ’Exercise in Horror,’” Columbus (Ohio) Citizen, 28 April 1940; reprinted in The Contemporary Reviews, p. 219.
8. Negotiations between Cowley and Faulkner are recorded in The Faulkner-Cowley File: Letters and Memories, 1944–1962 (New York: Viking, 1966).
9. See, for example, Thomas L. McHaney “Brooks on Faulkner: The End of the Long View,” Review, 1 (1979): 29–45; McHaney, “Faulkner and Modernism: Why Does it Matter?” in New Directions in Faulkner Studies, edited by Doreen Fowler and Ann J. Abadie (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1984), pp. 37–60; and André Bleikasten, The Ink of Melancholy: Faulkner’s Novels, from The Sound and the Fury to Light in August (Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1990).
10. Noel Polk, review of 1989 edition of The Achievement of William Faulkner, Mississippi Quarterly, 43 (Summer 1990): 460.
11. Robert Penn Warren, “Faulkner: The South, the Negro, and Time,” in Faulkner: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Warren (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1966), p. 271.
12. Frederick L. Gwynn and Blotner, Faulkner in the University: Class Conferences at the University of Virginia 1957–1958 (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1959); and William Faulkner’s Library: A Catalogue, compiled by Blotner (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia/Bibliographical Society of the University of Virginia, 1964).
13. Finlay McDermid, then head of the story department at Warner Bros., tried to get the studio to rewrite its agreement with Faulkner. See Faulkner: A Comprehensive Guide to the Brodsky Collection, volume 2: The Letters, edited by Louis Daniel Brodsky and Robert W. Hamblin (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1984), pp. 33–35. Editors at Doubleday offered Faulkner an advance to write a book on the Mississippi River, hoping to relieve him from dependence on Hollywood, but he declined because “I have too much respect for my ancient and honorable trade (books) to take someone’s money without knowing neither of us will be ashamed of the result.” See Selected Letters of William Faulkner, edited by Blotner (New York: Random House, 1977), pp. 201–202.
14. Cowley, The Faulkner-Cowley File, p. 24.
15. Lothar Hönnighausen, Faulkner: Masks and Metaphors (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1997).
16. Jack Cofield, William Faulkner: The Cofield Collection (Oxford, Miss.: Yoknapatawpha Press, 1978).
17. Faulkner, “Mississippi,” in Essays, Speeches & Public Letters, pp. 11–43.
18. Faulkner, “An Introduction to The Sound and the Fury,” Mississippi Quarterly 26 (Summer 1973): 413–414. Another version of Faulkner’s introduction was published in Southern Review, new series 8 (Autumn 1972): 705–910. Both are reprinted in Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury: An Authoritative Text, Backgrounds and Contexts, Criticism, edited by David Minter (New York: Norton, 1987; revised, 1994).
19. “Interview with Ralph Thompson,” in Lion in the Garden: Interviews with William Faulkner, 1926–1962, edited by Meriwether and Michael Millgate (New York: Random House, 1968), p. 62.
20. James W. Silver, Mississippi: The Closed Society (New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1964).
21. Richard Godden, Fictions of Labor: William Faulkner and the South’s Long Revolution (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997); Daniel Singal, William Faulkner: The Making of a Modernist (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997); Grazyna Branny A Conflict of Values: Alienation and Commitment in the Novels of Joseph Conrad and William Faulkner (Krakow: Sponsor, 1997); Bleikasten, The Ink of Melancholy;, Hönnighausen, Faulkner: Masks and Metaphors; Polk, Children of the Dark House: Text and Context in Faulkner (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1996).
22. Mary Stahlman Douglas, “Editor Twice Met Faulkner at National Book Awards,” in Conversations with William Faulkner, edited by Inge (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1999), p. 114.
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In person Faulkner was reticent, and not just about himself. Memoirs by close publishing associates record that he could bring grown men to their knees by failing to make conversation at dinners and during official interviews. In print he was more forthcoming, especially in his letters. His interviews were sometimes valuable revelations of himself, even when they exposed eccentricities or included the tall tales he habitually told. Under the right conditions and with an interviewer he liked, Faulkner could be very explicit about his reading, his development as a writer, his methods, his ideals, and his relationship with the publishing industry and his reading audience. Anyone wanting to consult his interviews should read all of them attentively, noting that some interviews present differing accounts of information about Faulkner’s life—especially his education, his favorite reading, and the way he composed his books. Faulkner often wrote and spoke about himself in self-deprecating ways, but also with candor and full recognition of his role as literary artist.
The following examples are characteristic:
Born male and single at early age in Mississippi. Quit school after five years in seventh grade. Got job in Grandfather’s bank and learned medicinal value of his liquor. Grandfather thought janitor did it. Hard on janitor. War came. Liked British uniform. Got commission R.F.C., pilot. Crashed. Cost British gov’t £2000. Was still pilot. Crashed. Cost British gov’t £2000. Quit. Cost British gov’t $84.30. King said, ’Well done.’ Returned to Mississippi. Family got job: postmaster. Resigned by mutual agreement on part of two inspectors; accused of throwing all incoming mail into garbage can. How disposed of outgoing mail never proved. Inspectors foiled. Had $700. Went to Europe. Met man named Sherwood Anderson. Said: ’Why not write novels? Maybe won’t have to work.’ Did. Soldiers’ Pay. Did. Mosquitoes. Did. Sound and Fury. Did. Sanctuary, out next year. Now flying again. Age 32. Own and operate own typewriter.1
Darling Momsey: and Dad
I have got an chance to join up with the British and get a commission as second lieutenant—leftenant they call it—in about three months after I am sent to training camp. It’s a wonderful chance, for there is no thing to be had in the U.S. Army now, except a good job stopping boche bullets as a private. I have got to know Lieutenant Todd rather well, and he’s explained things to me. The English are trying to get officers now—they have two million unofficial reserve troops in house now, which they cant use at all. I can enlist as a second year Yale man, he will recommend me for a commission at once. It’s the chance I’ve been waiting for now. Every thing will be my way, I can almost have my pick of anything. I’ll be in at the wind up of the show. The chances of advancement in the English Army are very good; I’ll perhaps be a major at the end of a year’s service. I’ve thought about it constantly. This chance will not last, as Todd is going next week and then it will be a bit harder, 1 shall probably have to enlist in the line and take my chances of promotion, which I’d rather do than get in the U.S. Army and be sent into action under an inexperienced officer. The English officers are the best yet, take better care of their men and weigh all chances for them. So I shall learn war in the best of schools, where the elimination of risk is taught above every thing. So I think I shall enlist tomorrow. Then I shall be given a month’s furlough before sailing for England.
Its rather hard to explain in a letter just how I feel, but you both know that already, how badly I’ve always desired to go. At the rate I am living now, I’ll never be able to make anything of myself, but with this business 1 will be fixed up after the war is over.
THE YOUNG CRITIC
Only by means of some astounding blind machination of chance will the next twenty-five years see in America a fundamentally sound play—a structure solidly built, properly produced and correctly acted. Playwrights and actors are now at the mercy of circumstances which must inevitably drive all imaginative people whose judgment is not temporarily aberrant, to various conditions of fancied relief; to a frank pandering to … that stratum which, unfortunately, has money in this country—to Europe; and to synthetic whiskey.
Writing people are all so pathetically torn between a desire to make a figure in the world and a morbid interest in their personal egos—the deadly fruit of the grafting of Sigmund Freud upon the dynamic chaos of a hodgepodge of nationalities. And, with characteristic national restlessness, those with imagination and some talent find it unbearable. O’Neill has turned his back on America to write of the sea, Marsden Hartley explodes vindictive fire-crackers in Montmartre, Alfred Kreymborg has gone to Italy, and Ezra Pound furiously toys with spurious bronze in London. All have found America aesthetically impossible; yet, being of America, will some day return, a few into dyspeptic exile, others to write joyously for the movies.
We have, in America, an inexhaustible fund of dramatic material. Two sources occur to any one: the old Mississippi river days, and the romantic growth of railroads. And yet, when the Mississippi is mentioned, Mark Twain alone comes to mind: a hack writer who would not have been considered fourth rate in Europe, who tricked out few of the old proven “sure fire” literary skeletons with sufficient local color to intrigue the superficial and the lazy.3
THE APPRENTICE NOVELIST
I got the cake and bacon and cheese. Us et them. Yes, the story of Mr. Anderson’s [Sherwood Anderson, “A Meeting South,” Dial (April 1925)] was started by me. It is not documentary—that is, a true incident. 1 just kind of cranked him up. What really happens, you know, never makes a good yarn. You have got to get an impulse from somewhere and then embroider it. And that is what Sherwood did in this case. He has done another about me as I really am, not as a fictitious character. He is now writing a book about childhood, his own childhood [Tar: A Midwestern Childhood, 1926]; and 1 have told him several things about my own which he is putting in as having happened to him.
I am now giving away the secrets of our profession, so be sure not to divulge them. It would be kind of like a Elk or a Mason or a Beaver or something giving away the pass word. This thing he is doing now, the childhood thing, he has a contract for. He expects about—I think he said—seven thousand dollars for. Someday, I’ll be that good. In secret, remember. He and I are getting our book along [about Andrew Jackson’s comical backwoods descendants in the swamps near New Orleans], and I am writing one of my own, a novel.4
... I can name offhand several books which I should like to have written, if only for the privilege of rewriting parts of them. But I dare say there are any number of angels in heaven today (particularly recent American arrivals) who look down upon the world and muse with a little regret on how much neater they would have done the job than the Lord, in the fine heat of His creative fury, did.
circulation magazine, and most of the devices of the hard-boiled writers had disappeared. The crimes were simple, if temporarily hidden, and the detective was genial, his sidekick a teenage boy of good character and background.
Faulkner wrote during four decades in which America changed a great deal, as it endured the aftermath of World War I, Prohibition, the Jazz Age, the Depression, World War II, and the Cold War. Naturally, he examined themes that have concerned other serious writers from Shakespeare to Toni Morrison: family dissolution, cultural conflict and change, the apprenticeship of the sensitive artist, tragic individualism, the weight of the past, the power (and comedy) of sex, clan loyalty and its betrayal, the corruptibility of the innocent in war, and the conflict between agrarian and urban life.
The theme of the apprenticeship of the artist can be found in Joyce’s famous Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Anderson’s Winesburg, Ohio (1919), and Mann’s The Magic Mountain. Faulkner’s version is oblique, like Mann’s—his artist is an artistic sensibility, not a practitioner of art. For the coming-of-age theme, Faulkner’s The Reivers and Intruder in the Dust may be compared with J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye (1951), a novel Faulkner much admired, and Cather’s My Antonia. Quentin’s coming of age in The Sound and the Fury is comparable to Eugene Gant’s in Thomas Wolfe’s novel of the same year, Look Homeward, Angel, another work Faulkner admired. The power of the past in The Sound and the Fury and Absalom, Absalom! may be compared with the theme of the past in Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past, Mann’s Buddenbrooks, Graham Swift’s Waterland, and Styron’s Lie Down in Darkness. Mosquitoes, with its comedy of sex, is usefully studied in relation to one of Faulkner’s sources, Aldous Huxley’s 1921 novel Crome Yellow. Portraits of drastic change in America’s rural environment appear as moral comedy in The Hamlet and as tragic failure in Go Down, Moses, both of which bear discussion with such books of as John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath (1939), Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind (1936), and Erskine Caldwell’s Tobacco Road (1932) and God’s Little Acre (1933).
Light in August is a chilling match to Ralph Ellison’s surreal portrait of the underground or inauthentic man as African American, Invisible Man (1952). As studies of the proud and strong African American, Go Down, Moses and Intruder in the Dust connect in illuminating ways to such novels as Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937) and Morrison’s Beloved. The struggle for racial justice portrayed in Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird (1960) is given different but equally moral treatment in Intruder in the Dust.
The novel that Faulkner often said he recommended for young first-time readers of his works, The Unvanquished, is usefully compared with Crane’s The Red Badge of Courage for its portrayal of how war affects the young. The depiction in The Unvanquished of the African American struggle in the South during and after the Civil War may be studied in relation to Margaret Walker Alexander’s Jubilee (1966), which also goes well with Go Down, Moses for similar reasons. Faulkner’s attempt in Go Down, Moses to capture the lives of rural African Americans merits discussion in terms of Hurston’s more folkloric books, especially Mules and Men (1935), and Ernest Gaines’s The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (1971).
Faulkner’s Sanctuary, Requiem for a Nun, The Town, and The Mansion, which touch on themes of the sheltered and proscribed lives of American women, may be discussed in relation to Wharton’s House of Mirth, Cather’s The Song of the Lark (1915), Glasgow’s The Sheltered Life, Styron’s Lie Down in Darkness, and such contemporary novels as Ellen Gilchrist’s Net of Jewels (1992) and Ellen Douglas’s Can’t Quit You, Baby (1988).
Additional themes that have been discussed in the critical literature on Faulkner’s books include agrarianism, alienation, the American dream, the Christ figure, community and its decline, endurance, the eternal verities, evil as self-destructive, the grotesque and Gothic, greed, human freedom, humor, the loss of innocence, the mysteries of the wilderness, primitivism, religion, ritual, Southern honor, stoicism, time, tragic isolation, the thwarted life, and violence. Faulkner gave a simple list of the themes that were most important to him—the eternal verities he cited in his Nobel Prize speech: love, honor, pity, pride, compassion, and sacrifice.
1. William Faulkner, “Classroom Statements at the University of Mississippi,” in Lion in the Garden: Interviews with William Faulkner, 1926–1962, edited by James B. Meriwether and Michael Millgate (New York: Random House, 1968), p. 58.
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- Which Romantic and modernist poets most influenced Faulkner?
- How does Faulkner fit in with the writers of the Lost Generation, such as Ernest Hemingway and F Scott Fitzgerald?
- What are Faulkner’s main contributions to the art and subject matter of the novel?
- Faulkner called himself a “failed poet.” What does that mean in terms of his use of language in the novels or stories?
- Discuss five aspects of Faulkner’s novels that identify him as a modernist writer.
- How did reviews of Faulkner’s novels affect his career?
- What inspires other writers of fiction to hold Faulkner in high esteem?
- Summarize Faulkner’s experience writing for motion pictures.
- If Faulkner was, as he said, never very interested in formal education after the seventh grade, how did he acquire the skills of language and fiction writing that he demonstrates in his novels?
- In what ways did Faulkner’s career change after 1945? Cite some reasons for this change.
- What is the relationship of Faulkner’s short-story writing to his career as a novelist?
- View one of the popular movies made of Faulkner’s novels from 1949 on: Intruder in the Dust (1949), The Tarnished Angels (1957), The Long, Hot Summer (1958), The Sound and the Fury (1959), Sanctuary (1961), The Reivers (1969), and Tomorrow (1972). How true is the movie to the book? Write a comparison of the story line and seriousness of purpose in the movie with the novel or story on which the movie is based.
- T. S. Eliot identified James Joyce’s use of Homer’s Odyssey as a structural element in his novel Ulysses as “the mythical method.” Discuss the Easter-week setting in The Sound and the Fury as a key to the “mythical method” in that book.
- In Selected Letters of William Faulkner, examine several of Faulkner’s personal or business letters and discuss what they reveal about his writing career.
- Examine a few of Faulkner’s interviews in Lion in the Garden: Interviews with William Faulkner, 1926–1962 or Conversations with William Faulkner in which he discusses how he began his writing career. Which of the anecdotes he tells about himself seem accurate, based on what is known about his life?
- Choose one of Faulkner’s short stories and discuss his use of time, setting, character, dialogue, and unusual language in the story. Look up all words you do not know.
- Read one of Faulkner’s novels and write your own eight-hundred-word review of it as if for a newspaper. Then find one or more published newspaper reviews of that novel in William Faulkner: The Contemporary Reviews and compare a positive and a negative review of the book with your own.
- What was the decade of Faulkner’s greatest productivity? In what decade was he least productive? What accounts for the difference?
- When reading one of Faulkner’s novels, highlight either the story of one important character in the novel or the earliest common story to several characters. What do these germinal stories tell you about the novel?
- Compare the style of expression of Benjy Compson in The Sound and the Fury to the style of expression of Jake Barnes in Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises.
- To whom does the “I” in As I Lay Dying refer? Argue for the “I” as referring to a different character than the one you first chose.
- What characteristics of Faulkner’s times find expression in a book or story by him that you have read?
- Faulkner said that Mark Twain was the “grandfather” of his whole generation of writers. Explain what he meant by this and how it affected his writing.
- Choose another writer of the modernist period with whom you think Faulkner might be usefully compared or contrasted and write a short essay about the similarities or differences.
- From the chapter “Faulkner as Studied” choose a novelist from the list of those with whom Faulkner has been studied. Compare and contrast a single novel by each writer.
- Choose another writer who has been studied in comparison to Faulkner by virtue of thematic similarities and discuss possible connections between the two.
- Explain how a Faulkner novel you are reading is best described by one of the following categories: Lost Generation novel, experimental novel, proletarian novel, naturalistic novel, psychological novel, post-World War I novel, symbolist novel, philosophical novel, expressionist novel, or impressionist novel.
- How did Faulkner’s family life contribute to his novel-writing?
- Using the Internet as a resource, try to find the origins or meanings of the characters’ names in a short story or novel.
- Keep a reading log in a notebook. Summarize carefully each story or chapter of Faulkner that you read. In the back of the notebook, list unfamiliar words and briefly define them. Plan to teach three of the words you have learned to other members of the class.
- How would you apply the term modernist or naturalist to a Faulkner work you have just read?
- Using your own paperback text of a Faulkner work, or a photocopy of a story, make neat marginal notes on each page about what happens. Underline words or phrases that you do not recognize and write brief definitions in the margin after you have looked them up. Your notes should summarize what the author has accomplished on each page: the development of scene, character, plot, and theme. Doing this once or twice for stories makes you a more effective reader in the future, whether you then mark up pages or not.
- Write down two or three moral values that you perceive Faulkner expressing in the novel or story you are reading. How does Faulkner take sides on the main moral question or questions in the work?
- In teams of six students, create book clubs that will read together, discuss, and report on a Faulkner novel or story for your class. Each of the six members must read the whole work carefully and assume a special role for a final oral report. These are the roles: 1) Director— organizes the project and finds general themes and ideas in the work; 2) Time Tracer—plots the references to time and the chronology of the narrative; 3) Place Chaser—notes all scenes and changes of scene and comments on the significance of the various settings; 4) Name Taker-notes all named characters and seeks to find whether their names are used as allusions to history, literature, religion, or myth; 5) Structure Seeker—notes how the novel is organized, whether around a theme of development, a myth or tale, another work of literature, and so on; 6) Diction Coach—looks up all unfamiliar words in a dictionary and reports on the author’s use of language; explores the differences in use of language between different “voices” in the book.
If extra club members are available, the group or teacher can designate one a Plot Plotter, who explains the way structure and point of view in the novel are used to manipulate plot elements, create suspense, and move the story forward. Another student can be a Research Reader, who looks into a survey of research and scholarship on the book to report on how the novel has been interpreted. Five- or ten-minute reports by each member of the club can give the entire class a sophisticated reading of the book.
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1825: William Clark Falkner, Faulkner’s great-grandfather, is born near Knoxville, Tennessee. He is a model for Colonel John Sartoris, who appears in or is referred to in several of Faulkner’s books, beginning with Sartoris.
1842: William C. Falkner arrives in the north Mississippi town of Ripley, apprentices himself to law, and prospers.
1846: William C. Falkner serves as a lieutenant in the U.S. Army in the Mexican War and is wounded, losing the joints of two fingers.
1848: William C. Falkner marries Holland Pearce of Ripley. John Wesley Thompson Falkner, the grandfather of Faulkner and a model for old Bayard Sartoris, the Young Colonel in Sartoris, is born in Ripley. The child is named after John Wesley Thompson, an uncle by marriage of William C. Falkner.
1849: William C. Falkner kills the son of a prominent local man in a dispute on the streets of Ripley and is acquitted on grounds of self-defense. His young wife, Holland, dies of tuberculosis.
1851: William C. Falkner kills another local man on the streets of Ripley and is again acquitted by reason of self-defense. He places his son by his late wife in the care of the John Wesley Thompsons, with the understanding that he will never take the child from them. Living in Cincinnati, William C. Falkner publishes at his own expense two book-length romantic narrative poems, The Siege of Monterrey and The Spanish Heroine. In the fall he returns to Ripley and marries Lizzie Vance. Of their eight children, four survive infancy and only three live beyond their twenties: daughters Effie, Willie Medora, and Alabama LeRoy.
1861: The Civil War begins. William C. Falkner organizes the Magnolia Rifles, a Confederate regiment, and is elected commander with the rank of colonel, a title he will carry until his death.
1862: The Magnolia Rifles elect a new commander. Keeping his rank, Colonel Falkner returns to Ripley and raises another regiment, the First Mississippi Partisan Rangers. They operate locally for one year.
1863: Colonel Falkner disappears from the official record of the war effort.
1865: The war ended, Colonel Falkner reestablishes his business affairs and buys land, quickly becoming one of the most prosperous men of north Mississippi.
1869: Colonel Falkner’s son by his first marriage, John Wesley Thompson Falkner, completes law studies and marries Sallie McAlpine Murry, daughter of a prominent Ripley physician.
1870: John and Sallie Falkner’s first child, Murry Cuthbert Falkner, the novelist’s father, is born in Ripley.
1871: Colonel Falkner is president of the newly incorporated Ripley Railroad and proposes to build a narrow-gauge line north from Ripley to Middleton, Tennessee, a junction point for an east-west rail line.
1872: Colonel Falkner’s railroad opens its first twenty-six miles of track, the segment between Ripley and Middleton. The first stop north of Ripley is called “Falkner,” which Faulkner will later falsely claim to be the family’s place of origin.
1881: Colonel Falkner’s romantic first novel, The White Rose of Memphis, is published by G. W. Carleton of New York and S. Low of London; the book remains in print well into the twentieth century.
1882: Colonel Falkner’s second novel, The Little Brick Church, is published by Lippincott of Philadelphia.
1884: Colonel Falkner tours Europe, sending reports to the Ripley newspaper. Upon his return, his Rapid Ramblings in Europe is published by Lippincott.
1885: John Falkner moves his family to Oxford, Mississippi; Colonel Falkner’s wife, Lizzie, moves the same year to nearby Memphis, Tennessee, with their two unmarried daughters. Recent research by historian Joel Williamson suggests that Colonel Falkner had sired children by an African American woman who worked for his household, and that Lizzie may have moved away because of this affair.
1889: Colonel Falkner is killed on the streets of Ripley by R. J. Thurmond, a former partner in the railroad business. The shooting takes place in daylight in front of witnesses, but Thurmond is acquitted in a sensational trial.
1896: Murry Falkner marries Maud Butler of Oxford, the best friend of his sister, Holland. They move to New Albany, Mississippi, where Murry works as freight agent for the family railroad, now called the Gulf and Chicago Railroad. The following year Maud Falkner gives birth to William Cuthbert Falkner, the writer, who later changes the spelling of his last name to Faulkner.
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- FACSIMILES OF MANUSCRIPTS AND TYPESCRIPTS
- BIOGRAPHICAL STUDIES
- HISTORICAL WORKS
- ESSAY COLLECTIONS
FACSIMILES OF MANUSCRIPTS AND TYPESCRIPTS
Faulkner was careful to preserve most of the manuscripts and typescripts of his published works. Some materials he gave away to friends, and many of these have resurfaced in the hands of collectors or college and university libraries (see Primary and Secondary Bibliography section). The majority of his manuscripts and typescripts he eventually deposited at the University of Virginia Library, where a private collector, Linton Massey, had already developed an impressive collection of Faulkner’s works. Faulkner left some manuscripts and typescripts in a closet at his Oxford home, Rowan Oak, and they have become part of the valuable Faulkner collections at the University of Mississippi, which also owns and curates Rowan Oak. The study of an author’s drafts teaches a great deal about his craft, characteristic compositional habits, and the development of his work. Faulkner’s readers are fortunate to have access, through published facsimiles, to abundant evidence of how he wrote and revised.
Marionettes. Oxford, Miss.: Yoknapatawpha Press, 1975. Limited-edition facsimile of one surviving manuscript of Faulkner’s hand-illustrated, lettered, and bound dream play about Pierrot and Columbine, created in 1920 for friends in the Ole Miss theatrical club called “The Marionettes.”
Marionettes, introduction and textual apparatus by Noel Polk. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1975. Limited-edition facsimile of another surviving manuscript of Faulkner’s dream play. (Each of the six copies Faulkner made is unique.)
Mayday. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1977. Limited-edition facsimile of the unique copy of a hand-illustrated, lettered, and bound allegorical narrative prepared in 1926 for Helen Baird, whom Faulkner unsuccessfully courted in New Orleans and Pascagoula, Mississippi, in 1926.
Mosquitoes: A Facsimile and Transcription of the University of Virginia Holograph Manuscript, edited by Thomas L. McHaney and David L. Vander Meulen. Charlottesville: Bibliographical Society of the University of Virginia/University of Virginia Library, 1997.
William Faulkner Manuscripts, 25 volumes, edited by Joseph Blotner, McHaney, Michael Millgate, and Polk. New York: Garland, 1986–1987. Comprises volume 1, Elmer and A Portrait of Elmer; volume 2, Father Abraham and The Wishing Tree; volume 3, Soldiers’ Pay; volume 4, Mosquitoes; volume 5, Flags in the Dust; volume 6, The Sound and the Fury; volume 7, As I Lay Dying; volume 8, Sanctuary; volume 9, These 13; volume 10, Light in August; volume 11, Doctor Martino and Other Stories; volume 12, Pylon; volume 13; Absalom, Absalom!; volume 14, The Wild Palms; volume 15, The Hamlet; volume 16, Go Down, Moses; volume 17, Intruder in the Dust; volume 18, Knight’s Gambit; volume 19, Requiem for a Nun; volume 20, A Fable; volume 21, The Town; volume 22, The Mansion; volume 23, The Reivers; volume 24, Short Stories; and volume 25, Unpublished Stories.
A concordance is a list of all the words in a text, cited alphabetically with an indication of the context of phrases or sentences in which they occur. For the study of any author such tools provide evidence of the linguistic texture of a work often overlooked by even the closest reader. Many of the Faulkner concordances include essays by scholars on how to use them for analytical study. Concordances constructed on powerful computers, as these were, have the added advantage of including a statistical summary of the vocabulary of each book, an alphabetical tabulation of word frequency, and a tabulation of vocabulary by frequency of usage.
Absalom, Absalom!: A Concordance to the Novel, 2 volumes, edited by Noel Polk and John D. Hart. West Point, N.Y.: Faulkner Concordance Advisory Board / Ann Arbor, Mich.: University Microfilms International, 1989.
As I Lay Dying: A Concordance to the Novel, edited by Jack L. Capps, introduction by Cleanth Brooks. West Point, N.Y.: Faulkner Concordance Advisory Board / Ann Arbor, Mich.: University Microfilms International, 1977.
Collected Stories of William Faulkner: Concordances to the Forty-Two Short Stories, 5 volumes, edited by Polk and Hart. West Point, N.Y.: Faulkner Concordance Advisory Board / Ann Arbor, Mich.: University Microfilms International, 1990.
A Fable: A Concordance to the Novel, edited by Polk and Kenneth Privratsky, introduction by Keen Butterworth. West Point, N.Y.: Faulkner Concordance Advisory Board / Ann Arbor, Mich.: University Microfilms International, 1981.
Go Down, Moses: A Concordance to the Novel, edited by Capps, introduction by Michael Millgate. West Point, N.Y.: Faulkner Concordance Advisory Board / Ann Arbor, Mich.: University Micro-films International, 1977.
The Hamlet: A Concordance to the Novel, 2 volumes, edited by Polk and Hart. West Point, N.Y.: Faulkner Concordance Advisory Board / Ann Arbor, Mich.: University Microfilms International, 1990.
Intruder in the Dust: A Concordance to the Novel, edited by Polk, introduction by Patrick Samway. West Point, N.Y.: Faulkner Concordance Advisory Board / Ann Arbor, Mich.: University Microfilms International, 1983.
Light in August: A Concordance to the Novel, 2 volumes, edited by Capps, introduction by Joseph Blotner. West Point, N.Y.: Faulkner Concordance Advisory Board / Ann Arbor, Mich.: University Microfilms International, 1979.
The Mansion: A Concordance to the Novel, 2 volumes, edited by Polk and Hart. West Point, N.Y.: Faulkner Concordance Advisory Board / Ann Arbor: University Microfilms International, 1988.
Pylon: A Concordance to the Novel, edited by Polk and Hart. West Point, N.Y.: Faulkner Concordance Advisory Board / Ann Arbor: University Microfilms International, 1989.
The Reivers: A Concordance to the Novel, 2 volumes, edited by Polk and Hart. West Point, N.Y.: Faulkner Concordance Advisory Board / Ann Arbor: University Microfilms International, 1990.
Requiem for a Nun: A Concordance to the Novel, edited, with an introduction, by Polk. West Point, N.Y.: Faulkner Concordance Advisory Board / Ann Arbor, Mich.: University Microfilms International, 1979.
Sanctuary: Corrected First Edition Text, Library of America, 1985: A Concordance to the Novel, 2 volumes, edited by Polk and Hart. West Point, N.Y.: Faulkner Concordance Advisory Board / Ann Arbor, Mich.: University Microfilms International, 1990.
Sanctuary: The Original Text, 1981: A Concordance to the Novel, 2 volumes, edited by Polk and Hart. West Point, N.Y.: Faulkner Concordance Advisory Board / Ann Arbor, Mich.: University Microfilms International, 1990.
The Sound and the Fury: A Concordance to the Novel, edited by Polk and Privratsky, introduction by Andre Bleikasten. West Point, N.Y.: Faulkner Concordance Advisory Board / Ann Arbor, Mich.: University Microfilms International, 1980.
The Town: A Concordance to the Novel, 2 volumes, edited by Polk and Lawrence Z. Pizzi. West Point, N.Y.: Faulkner Concordance Advisory Board / Ann Arbor, Mich.: University Microfilms International, 1985.
Uncollected Stories of William Faulkner: Concordances to the Forty-Five Short Stories, 5 volumes, edited by Polk and Hart. West Point, N.Y.: Faulkner Concordance Advisory Board / Ann Arbor, Mich.: University Microfilms International, 1990.
The Unvanquished: A Concordance to the Novel, 2 volumes, edited by Polk and Hart. West Point, N.Y.: Faulkner Concordance Advisory Board / Ann Arbor, Mich.: University Microfilms International, 1990.
The Wild Palms: A Concordance to the Novel, edited and introduced by Privratsky. West Point, N.Y.: Faulkner Concordance Advisory Board / Ann Arbor, Mich.: University Microfilms International, 1983.
The following are primarily guides to thousands of critical, historical, biographical, cultural, and other studies of Faulkner; a few guide the reader to major collections of his papers and manuscripts.
Bassett, John E. Faulkner: An Annotated Checklist of Recent Criticism. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1984.
Bassett. Faulkner in the Eighties: An Annotated Critical Bibliography. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow, 1991.
Bassett. William Faulkner: An Annotated Checklist of Criticism. New York: Lewis, 1972.
Bassett, ed. William Faulkner: The Critical Heritage. London & Boston: Rout-ledge & Kegan Paul, 1975.
Blotner, Joseph. William Faulkner’s Library: A Catalogue. Charlottesville: Bibliographical Society of the University of Virginia/University Press of Virginia, 1964.
Bonner, Thomas, Jr. William Faulkner: The William B. Wisdom Collection: A Descriptive Catalogue. New Orleans: Tulane University Libraries, 1980.
Brodsky, Louis Daniel, and Robert W. Hamblin, eds. Faulkner: A Comprehensive Guide to the Brodsky Collection, 5 volumes. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1982–1988.
Cohen, Philip G., David Krause, and Karl F Zender. “William Faulkner.” In Sixteen Modern American Authors: Volume 2, A Survey of Research and Criticism Since 1972, edited by Jackson R. Bryer. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1990.
Crane, Joan St. C., and Anne E. H. Freudenberg, eds. Man Collecting: Manuscripts and Printed Works of William Faulkner in the University of Virginia Library. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Library, 1975.
Cox, Leland H., ed. William Faulkner: Biographical and Reference Guide. Detroit: Gale, 1982.
Hayhoe, George. “Faulkner in Hollywood: A Checklist of His Filmscripts at the University of Virginia.” Mississippi Quarterly, 31 (Summer 1978): 407–419.
Hayhoe. “Faulkner in Hollywood: A Checklist of His Filmscripts at the University of Virginia: Some Corrections and Additions.” Mississippi Quarterly, 32 (Summer 1978): 467–472.
Inge, M. Thomas, ed. William Faulkner: The Contemporary Reviews. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.
Kinney, Arthur, and Doreen Fowler, comps. “Faulkner’s Rowan Oak Papers: A Census.” Journal of Modem Literature, 10 (June 1983): 327–334.
Lloyd, James B. The Oxford ‘Eagle,’ 1900–1962: An Annotated Checklist of Material on William Faulkner and the History of Lafayette County. Mississippi State: Mississippi Quarterly, 1976.
Massey, Linton. William Faulkner: Man Working, 1919–1962: A Catalogue of the William Faulkner Collections at the University of Virginia. Charlottesville: Bibliographical Society of the University of Virginia, 1968.
McHaney, Thomas L. “William Faulkner.” In Bibliography of American Fiction, 1919–1988, volume 1, edited by Matthew J. Bruccoli and Richard Layman. New York: Facts on File, 1991.
McHaney. “William Faulkner.” In Essential Bibliography of American Fiction: Modern Classic Writers, edited by Bruccoli and Judith Baughman. New York: Facts on File, 1994.
McHaney. William Faulkner: A Reference Guide. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1976.
Meriwether, James B. The Literary Career of William Faulkner. Princeton: Princeton University Library, 1961.
Meriwether. “The Short Fiction of William Faulkner: A Bibliography.” Proof, 1 (1971): 293–329.
Meriwether. “William Faulkner.” In Sixteen Modern American Writers: A Survey of Research and Criticism, edited by Bryer. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1973.
Meriwether. William Faulkner: An Exhibition of Manuscripts. Austin: Research Center, University of Texas, 1959.
Petersen, Carl. Each in Its Ordered Place: A Faulkner Collector’s Notebook. Ann Arbor, Mich.: Ardis, 1975.
Petersen. On the Track of the Dixie Limited: Further Notes of a Faulkner Collector. La Grange, Ill.: Colophon Book Shop, 1979.
Price-Stevens, Gordon. “The British Reception of William Faulkner, 1929–1962.” Mississippi Quarterly, 18 (Summer 1965): 119–200.
Sensibar, Judith. Faulkner’s Poetry: A Bibliographical Guide to Texts and Criticism. Ann Arbor, Mich.: University Micro-films International, 1988.
Skei, Hans H. William Faulkner: The Short Story Career: An Outline of Faulkner’s Short Story Writing from 1919 to 1962. Oslo: Universitetsforlaget, 1981.
Watson, James G. “Carvel Collins’s Faulkner: A Newly Opened Archive.” Library Chronicle of the University of Texas, 20 (1991): 17–35. A report on part of the Faulkner Collection at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center at the University of Texas at Austin.
William Faulkner Manuscripts, 25 volumes. (See under Facsimiles above.) Introductions to each volume list relevant manuscript materials at the New York Public Library, the University of Virginia Library, the University of Texas, and in other collections.
Fant, Joseph L., Ill, and Robert Ashley, eds. Faulkner at West Point. New York: Random House, 1964.
Gwynn, Frederick, and Joseph Blotner, eds. Faulkner in the University: Class Conferences at the University of Virginia, 1957–1958. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1959.
Inge, M. Thomas, ed. Conversations with William Faulkner. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1999.
Meriwether, James B., and Michael Millgate, eds. Lion in the Garden: Interviews with William Faulkner 1926–1962. New York: Random House, 1968.
Blotner, Joseph, ed. Selected Letters of William Faulkner. New York: Random House, 1977.
Cowley, Malcolm. The Faulkner-Cowley File: Letters and Memories, 1944–1962. New York: Viking, 1966.
Watson, James G., ed. Thinking of Home: William Faulkners Letters to His Mother and Father, 1918–1925. New York: Norton, 1992.
Biographical writing can take more forms than narratives of a person’s life. The following is a selection of materials that narrate or otherwise construct aspects of Faulkner’s career and the background of that career.
Aiken, Charles S. “Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County: A Place in the American South.” Geographical Review, 69 (July 1979): 331–348.
Bezzerides, A. 1. William Faulkner A Life on Paper, edited by Ann Abadie. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1980. Script of motion picture about Faulkner’s life. The movie is still available.
Blotner, Joseph. Faulkner: A Biography, 2 volumes. New York: Random House, 1974. Revised edition, 1 volume. New York: Random House, 1984. The authorized biography.
Brodsky, Louis D., and Robert W. Hamblin. Faulkner: A Comprehensive Guide to the Brodsky Collection. Volume 1, The Biobibliography. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1982. Chronological presentation of biographical materials from Brodsky’s collection.,
Brown, Andrew. History of Tippah County, Mississippi: The First Century. Ripley, Miss.: Tippah County Historical and Genealogical Society, 1976. A history that tells much about the milieu in which Faulkner’s great-grandfather William C. Falkner and his children lived.
Brown, Calvin S. A Glossary of Faulkner’s South. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1976.
Cofield, J. R. William Faulkner: The Cofield Collection. Oxford, Miss.: Yoknapatawpha Press, 1978. Photographs of Faulkner and family.
Cullen, John B., with Floyd C. Watkins. Old Times in the Faulkner Country. Chapel Hill: University of North William Faulkner Carolina Press, 1961. Memoir of a man who grew up with Faulkner.
Falkner, Murry C. The Falkners of Mississippi. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1967. Memoir by Faulkner’s brother.
Faulkner, Jim. Across the Creek: Faulkner Family Stories. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1986. Memoir by a nephew of Faulkner.
Faulkner, John. My Brother Bill: An Affectionate Memoir. New York: Trident, 1963. New edition, with an introduction by Jim Faulkner, Athens, Ga.: Hill Street Press, 1998.
Franklin, Malcolm. Bitterweeds: Life with William Faulkner at Rowan Oak. Irving, Tex.: Society for the Study of Traditional Culture, 1977. Memoir by Faulkner’s stepson.
Gray, Richard. The Life of William Faulkner. Blackwell Critical Biographies, no. 5. Oxford: Blackwell, 1994.
Gresset, Michel. A Faulkner Chronology, translated by Arthur B. Scharff. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1985.
Harrington, Evans. Faulkner’s Mississippi: Land into Legend. Oxford: University of Mississippi Department of Educational Film Production, 1965. Motion-picture biography.
Harrison, Robert. Aviation Lore in Faulkner. Amsterdam & Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 1985.
Haynes, Jane Isbell. William Faulkner: His Lafayette County Heritage: Lands, Houses, and Businesses. Ripley, Miss.: Seajay Society/Tippah County Historical and Genealogical Society, 1992. Information from courthouse records and private collections, including photographs, wills, and other materials connected to Falkner family life and property in the counties of Oxford and Lafayette.
Haynes. William Faulkner: His Tippah County Heritage: Lands, Houses, and Businesses, Ripley, Mississippi. Columbia, S.C.: Seajay Press, 1985. Information from courthouse records and local memoirs, photographs, and other material about the Falkner family heritage in Colonel William C. Falkner’s adopted hometown of Ripley, Mississippi.
Hines, Thomas S. William Faulkner and the Tangible Past: The Architecture of Yoknapatawpha. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996. More than one hundred photographs of dwellings in Mississippi that help the reader visualize the architecture of Faulkner’s world.
Holditch, W. Kenneth. “The Brooding Air of the Past: William Faulkner.” In Literary New Orleans, edited by Richard S. Kennedy. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1992.
Holditch. “William Spratling, William Faulkner, and Other Famous Creoles.” Mississippi Quarterly, 51 (Summer 1998): 423–434.
Minter, David. William Faulkner: His Life and Work. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980; revised, 1982.
Sobotka, C. John, Jr. A History of Lafayette County, Mississippi. Oxford, Miss.: Oxford Bicentennial Commission, 1976.
Snell, Susan. Phil Stone of Oxford: A Vicarious Life. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1991. This biography of Faulkner’s longtime friend and literary mentor depicts elements of life in Oxford, Mississippi, not found in Faulkner biographies.
Wasson, Ben. Count No Count: Flashbacks to Faulkner. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1983. Memoir by a man who knew Faulkner as a student at the University of Mississippi and later served him briefly as agent and editor.
Webb, James W, and A. Wigfall Green. William Faulkner of Oxford. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1965. Memoirs by townspeople who grew up with or knew Faulkner.
Wilde, Meta Carpenter. A Loving Gentleman: The Love Story of William Faulkner and Meta Carpenter. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1976.
Wolff, Sally, with Floyd C. Watkins. Talking About William Faulkner: Interviews with Jimmy Faulkner and Others. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1996.
Faulkner has interested historians because his fiction often dramatizes how things are remembered and retold and the problems associated with interpreting historical evidence. He also anticipated much of what Southern historians found when they finally dug into the archival record of the region’s past. Faulkner’s books lend themselves to comparison with historical works because he tempered his imagination with acute observations of the culture in which he grew up. He can be both a guide and an inspiration to the student of history, and the reading of his novels and stories benefits from attention to historical works about the South. The following list is necessarily selective, but each work cited is apt to lead a student to further reading.
Aiken, Charles S. The Cotton Plantation South Since the Civil War. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1998.
Ayers, Edward. The Promise of the New South: Life After Reconstruction. New York & Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1992.
Bradbury, John M. Renaissance in the South, 1920–1960. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1963.
Cash, Wilbur J. The Mind of the South. New York: Knopf, 1941.
Cobb, James C. The Most Southern Place on Earth: The Mississippi Delta and the Roots of Regional Identity. New York: Oxford University Press, 1992.
Conkin, Paul K. The Southern Agrarians. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1988.
Cooper, William J., Jr., and Thomas E. Terrell. The American South: A History, 2 volumes. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1991.
Foote, Shelby. The Civil War, 3 volumes. New York: Random House, 1958–1974.
Foreman, Grant. The Five Civilized Tribes: Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek, Seminole. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1934.
Fox-Genovese, Elizabeth. Within the Plantation Household: Black and White Women of the Old South. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1988.
Genovese, Eugene D. Roll, Jordan, Roll: The World the Slaves Made. New York: Pantheon, 1974.
Harrison, Alferdteen, ed. Black Exodus: The Great Migration from the American South. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1991.
Hobson, Fred. And Now I See: The White Southern Racial Conversion Narrative. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1999.
Hobson. Tell About the South: The Southern Rage to Explain. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1983.
Hurmence, Belinda, ed. My Folks Don’t Want Me to Talk About Slavery: Twenty-One Oral Histories of Former North Carolina Slaves. Winston-Salem, N.C.: John F. Blair, 1984.
Jones, Anne Goodwyn. Tomorrow is Another Day: The Woman Writer in the South, 1859–1936. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1981.
Jordan, Winthrop. White Over Black: American Attitudes Toward the Negro, 1550–1812. Chapel Hill: Institute of Early American History and Culture/University of North Carolina Press, 1968.
Kirby, Jack Temple. The Countercultural South. Macon, Ga.: Mercer University Press, 1995.
Kirby. Darkness at the Dawning: Race and Reform in the Progressive South. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1972.
Kirby. Rural Worlds Lost: The American South, 1920–1960. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1987.
Lomax, Alan. The Land Where the Blues Began. New York: Pantheon, 1993.
McMillen, Neil. Dark Journey: Black Mississippians in the Age of Jim Crow. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1989.
McMillen. Remaking Dixie: The Impact of World War II on the American South. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1997.
McPherson, James M. Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era. New York & Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988.
Murray, Albert. Stomping the Blues. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1978.
O’Brien, Michael. The Idea of the American South: 1920–1941. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1979.
Roboteau, Albert J. A Fire in the Bones: Reflections on African-American Religious History. Boston: Beacon, 1997.
Simkins, Francis Butler. A History of the South. New York: Knopf, 1956.
Vance, Rupert B. Human Geography of the South: A Study in Regional Resources and Human Adequacy. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1935.
Wilson, Charles Reagan. Baptized in Blood: The Religion of the Lost Cause. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1980.
Wilson. Judgment and Grace in Dixie: Southern Faiths from Faulkner to Elvis. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1995.
Wilson and William Ferris, eds. Encyclopedia of Southern Culture. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1989.
Woodward, C. Vann. The Burden of Southern History. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1960; revised, 1968; third edition, 1993.
Woodward. The Origins of the New South 1877–1913. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1971.
Wyatt-Brown, Bertram. Honor and Violence in the Old South. New York: Oxford University Press, 1986.
Wyatt-Brown. The House of Percy: Honor, Melancholy, and Imagination in a Southern Family. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.
Faulkner Journal (semiannual, Fall 1985–).
Faulkner Newsletter (quarterly, 1981–).
Faulkner Studies (semiannual, 1951–1954).
Faulkner Studies (1980).
Mississippi Quarterly (annual Faulkner issue, summer, 1963–).
Teaching Faulkner (semiannual, 1991–).
The following books are almost all mentioned by author or quotation elsewhere in this volume. They also represent the range of analysis and interpretation devoted to Faulkner’s writing. Hundreds of essays on Faulkner have appeared since 1939, the year that two still-famous general essays on his work were published by the poet Conrad Aiken and fiction writer George Marion O’Donnell. Guides to those essays are easily found in recently published volumes listed in the Bibliography section. New essays, as well as many fine older essays, are collected in various anthologies, proceedings of conferences, and special Faulkner journals.
Adams, Richard P. Faulkner: Myth and Motion. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1968.
Arnold, Edwin. Annotations to Faulkner’s Mosquitoes. New York: Garland, 1989.
Arnold and Dawn Trouard. Reading Faulkner: Sanctuary. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1996.
Beck, Warren. Man in Motion: Faulkner’s Trilogy. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1961.
Bleikasten, André. Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, translated by Roger Little. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1973.
Bleikasten. The Ink of Melancholy: Faulkner’s Novels from The Sound and the Fury to Light in August. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1990.
Bleikasten. The Most Splendid Failure: Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1976.
Bradbury, Malcolm, and James McFarlane. Modernism: 1890–1930. London: Penguin, 1976.
Branny, Grazyna. A Conflict of Values: Alienation and Commitment in the Novels of Joseph Conrad and William Faulkner. Krakow: Sponsor, 1997.
Brodhead, Richard. “Introduction: Faulkner and the Logic of Remaking.” In Faulkner: New Perspectives, edited by Brodhead. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1983.
Brooks, Cleanth. William Faulkner: Toward Yoknapatawpha and Beyond. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1978.
Brooks. William Faulkner: The Yoknapatawpha Country. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1963.
Broughton, Panthea. Faulkner: The Abstract and the Actual. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1974.
Brown, Calvin S. A Glossary of Faulkner’s South. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1976.
Brylowski, Walter. Faulkner’s Olympian Laugh: Myth in the Novels. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1968.
Butterworth, Keen. A Critical and Textual Study of Faulkner’s A Fable. Ann Arbor: University Microfilms International, 1983.
Butterworth and Nancy Butterworth. Annotations to Faulkner’s A Fable. New York: Garland, 1989.
Clarke, Deborah. Robbing the Mother: Women in Faulkner. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1994.
Dasher, Thomas E. William Faulkner’s Characters: An Index to the Published and Unpublished Fiction. New York: Garland, 1981.
Davis, Thadious. Faulkner’s “Negro.” Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1983.
Douglass, Paul. “Deciphering Faulkner’s Uninterrupted Sentence” and “Faulkner and the Bergsonian Self.” In his Bergson, Eliot, and American Literature. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1986.
Duvall, John N. Faulkner’s Marginal Couple: Invisible, Outlaw, and Unspeakable Communities. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1990.
Fadiman, Regina. Faulkner’s Light in August: A Description and Interpretation of the Revisions. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1975.
Ferguson, James. Faulkner’s Short Fiction. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1991.
Fowler, Doreen. Faulkner’s Changing Vision: From Outrage to Affirmation. Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1997.
Godden, Richard. Fictions of Labor: William Faulkner and the South’s Long Revolution. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.
Gresset, Michel. Fascination: Faulkner’s Fiction 1919–1936. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1989. Adapted by Thomas West from the French text Faulkner, ou La Fascination: Poetic du Regard. Paris: Klincksieck, 1982.
Gutting, Gabriele. Yoknapatawpha: The Fictioning of Geographical and Historical Facts in William Faulkner’s Fictional Picture of the Deep South. Frankfurt: Peter Lang, 1992.
Gwin, Minrose C. The Feminine and Faulkner: Reading (Beyond) Sexual Difference. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1990.
Hahn, Stephen, and Arthur F. Kinney, eds. Approaches to Teaching William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury. New York: Modern Language Association, 1996.
Hoffman, Daniel. Faulkner’s Country Matters: Folklore and Fable in Yoknapatawpha. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1989.
Holmes, Catherine D. Annotations to Faulkner’s The Hamlet. New York: Garland, 1996.
Hönnighausen, Lothar. Faulkner: Masks and Metaphors. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1997.
Hönnighausen. William Faulkner: The Art of Stylization in his Early Graphic and Literary Work. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987.
Horton, Merrill. Annotations to Faulkner’s The Town. New York: Garland, 1996.
Hinkle, James, and Robert McCoy. Reading Faulkner: The Unvanquished. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1995.
Irwin, John. Doubling and Incest, Repetition and Revenge. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1975.
Jehlen, Myra. Class and Character in Faulkner’s South. New York: Columbia University Press, 1976.
Jenkins, Lee. Faulkner and Black-White Relations: A Psychoanalytic Approach. New York: Columbia University Press, 1981.
Johnson, Susie Paul. Annotations to Faulkner’s Pylon. New York: Garland, 1989.
Kaluza, Irena. The Functioning of Sentence Structure in the Stream-of-Consciousness Technique of William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury: A Study in Linguistic Stylistics. Krakow: Jegellonian University Press, 1967.
Kartiganer, Donald M. The Fragile Thread: The Meaning of Form in Faulkner’s Novels. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 1979.
Kawin, Bruce. Faulkner and Film. New York: Ungar, 1977.
Kinney, Arthur. Go Down, Moses: The Miscegenation of Time. Boston: Twayne, 1996.
Kreiswirth, Martin. William Faulkner: The Making of a Novelist. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1983.
Langford, Gerald. Faulkner’s Revision of Absalom, Absalom! Austin: University of Texas Press, 1971.
Luce, Dianne C. Annotations to Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying. New York: Garland, 1990.
Matthews, John T. The Play of Faulkner’s Language. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1982.
Matthews. The Sound and the Fury: Faulkner and the Lost Cause. Boston: Twayne, 1990.
McDaniel, Linda Elkins. Annotations to Faulkners Flags in the Dust. New York: Garland, 1991.
McHaney, Thomas L. William Faulkner’s The Wild Palms: A Study. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1976.
Millgate, Michael. The Achievement of William Faulkner. New York: Random House, 1966.
Millgate. Faulkner’s Place. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1997.
Moreland, Richard. Faulkner and Modernism. Reading and Rewriting. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1990.
Morris, Wesley, and Barbara Alverson Morris. Reading Faulkner. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1989.
Mortimer, Gail. Faulkner’s Rhetoric of Loss: A Study of Perception and Meaning. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1983.
Parker, Robert Dale. Absalom, Absalom! The Questioning of Fictions. Boston: Twayne, 1991.
Parker. Faulkner and the Novelistic Imagination. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1985.
Pitavy, François. Faulkner’s Light in August, translated by Gillian Cook. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1979.
Polk, Noel. Children of the Dark House: Text and Context in Faulkner. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1996.
Polk. Faulkner’s Requiem for a Nun: A Critical Study. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1981.
Ragan, David Paul. William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! A Critical Study. Ann Arbor, Mich.: University Micro-films International, 1987.
Roberts, Diane. Faulkner and Southern Womanhood. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1994.
Ross, Stephen. Fictions Inexhaustible Voice: Speech and Writing in Faulkner. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1989.
Ross and Noel Polk. Reading Faulkner: The Sound and the Fury. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1996.
Rousselle, Melinda McLeod. Annotations to William Faulkner’s Sanctuary. New York: Garland, 1989.
Ruppersburg, Hugh M. Reading Faulkner: Light in August. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1994.
Ruppersburg. Voice and Eye in Faulkner’s Fiction. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1983.
Schoenberg, Estella. Old Tales and Talking: Quentin Compson in William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! and Related Works. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1977.
Schwartz, Lawrence H. Creating Faulkner’s Reputation: The Politics of Modern Literary Criticism. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1988.
Sensibar, Judith L. The Origins of Faulkner’s Art. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1984.
Singal, Daniel. William Faulkner: The Making of a Modernist. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997.
Skei, Hans. Reading Faulkner’s Best Short Stories. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1999.
Strandberg, Victor. A Faulkner Overview: Six Perspectives. Port Washington, N.Y.: Kennikat Press, 1981.
Sundquist, Eric. Faulkner: The House Divided. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1983.
Taylor, Nancy Drew. Annotations to Faulkner’s Go Down, Moses. New York: Garland, 1994.
Tully Sue Hayes. Annotations to Faulkner’s Light in August. New York: Garland, 1986.
Urgo, Joseph. Faulkner’s Apocrypha: A Fable, Snopes, and the Spirit of Human Rebellion. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1989.
Vickery Olga. The Novels of William Faulkner: A Critical Interpretation, revised edition. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1964.
Wadlington, Warwick. As I Lay Dying: Stories Out of Stones. Boston: Twayne, 1992.
Wadlington. Reading Faulknerian Tragedy. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1987.
Watson, James G. William Faulkner: Letters and Fictions. Austin: University of Texas Press, 1987.
Watson, Jay. Forensic Fictions: The Lawyer Figure in Faulkner. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1995.
Weinstein, Philip. Faulkner’s Cosmos: A Subject No One Owns. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992.
Weinstein. What Else But Love? The Ordeal of Race in Faulkner and Morrison. New York: Columbia University Press, 1996.
Werner, Craig. Playing the Changes: From Afro-Modernism to the Jazz Impulse. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994.
Wittenberg, Judith. The Transfiguration of Biography. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1979.
Yonce, Margaret. Annotations to Faulkner’s Soldiers’ Pay. New York: Garland, 1989.
THE UNIVERSITY OF MISSISSIPPI FAULKNER AND YOKNAPATAWPHA CONFERENCE PROCEEDINGS:
1976—Harrington, Evans, and Ann J. Abadie, eds. The South & Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha: Actual and Apocryphal. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1977.
1977—Harrington and Abadie, eds. The Maker and the Myth. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1978.
1978—Harrington and Abadie, eds. Faulkner, Modernism, and Film. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1979.
1979—Fowler, Doreen, and Abadie, eds. Fifty Years of Yoknapatawpha. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1980.
1980—Fowler and Abadie, eds. “A Cosmos of My Own. “Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1981.
1981—Fowler and Abadie, eds. Faulkner and the Southern Renaissance. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1982.
1982—Fowler and Abadie, eds. Faulkner: International Perspectives. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1983.
1983—Fowler and Abadie, eds. New Directions in Faulkner Studies. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1984.
1984—Fowler and Abadie, eds. Faulkner and Humor. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1985.
1985—Fowler and Abadie, eds. Faulkner and Women. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1986.
1986—Fowler and Abadie, eds. Faulkner and Race. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1987.
1987—Fowler and Abadie, eds. Faulkner and the Craft of Fiction. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1988.
1988—Fowler and Abadie, eds. Faulkner and Popular Culture. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1989.
1989—Fowler and Abadie, eds. Faulkner and Religion. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1990.
1990—Harrington and Abadie, eds. Faulkner and the Short Story. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1992.
1991—Donald M. Kartiganer and Abadie, eds. Faulkner and Psychology. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1994.
1992—Kartiganer and Abadie, eds. Faulkner and Ideology. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1995.
1993—Kartiganer and Abadie, eds. Faulkner and the Artist. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1994.
1994—Kartiganer and Abadie, eds. Faulkner and Gender. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1995.
1995—Kartiganer and Abadie, eds. Faulkner in Cultural Context. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1996.
1996—Kartiganer and Abadie, eds. Faulkner and the Natural World. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1999.
1997—Kartiganer and Abadie, eds. Faulkner at 100: Retrospect and Prospect. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2000.
Barth, J. Robert, ed. Religious Perspectives in Faulkner’s Fiction. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1972.
Bleikasten, André, ed. William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury: A Critical Casebook. New York: Garland, 1982.
Bleikasten and Nicole Moulinoux, eds. Douze lectures de “Sanctuaire.” Etudes Americaines. Rennes: Presses Universitaires de Rennes/Fondation William Faulkner, 1995.
Brodhead, Richard H., ed. Faulkner: New Perspectives. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1983.
Canfield, J. Douglas, ed. Twentieth Century Interpretations of Sanctuary. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1982.
Carey, Glenn O., ed. Faulkner: The Unappeased Imagination: A Collection of Critical Essays. New York: Whitston, 1980.
Collins, R. G., and Kenneth McRobbie, eds. The Novels of William Faulkner. New Views: A Mosaic Series in Literature, no. 17. Winnipeg: University of Manitoba Press, 1973.
Cox, Dianne Luce, ed. William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying: A Critical Casebook. New York: Garland, 1985.
Cox, Leland H., ed. William Faulkner: Critical Collection. Detroit: Gale, 1982.
Coy, Javier, and Michel Gresset, eds. Faulkner and History. Salamanca: Ediciones Universidad de Salamanca, 1986.
Gresset, Michel, and Kenzaburo Ohashi, eds. Faulkner: After the Nobel Prize. Kyoto: Yamaguchi, 1987.
Gresset and Noel Polk, eds. Intertextuality in Faulkner. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1985.
Gresset and Patrick Samway eds. Faulkner and Idealism: Perspectives from Paris. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1983.
Hoffman, Frederick, and Olga Vickery. Three Decades of Faulkner Criticism. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1960.
Hönnighausen, Lothar, ed., Faulkner’s Discourse: An International Symposium. Tübingen: Max Niemeyer, 1989.
Hönnighausen, ed. William Faulkner: German Responses 1997. Amerikastudien/American Studies, 42, no. 4 (1997).
Hönnighausen and Valeria Gennaro Lerda, eds. Rewriting the South: History and Fiction. Tübingen: Francke, 1993.
Kinney, Arthur F., ed. Critical Essays on William Faulkner: The Compson Family. Boston, G. K. Hall, 1982.
Kinney, ed. Critical Essays on William Faulkner: The McCaslin Family. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1989.
Kinney, ed. Critical Essays on William Faulkner: The Sartoris Family. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1985.
Kinney, ed. Critical Essays on William Faulkner: The Sutpen Family. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1995.
Kolmerten, Carol A., Stephen M. Ross, and Judith Bryant Wittenberg, eds. Unflinching Gaze: Morrison and Faulkner Re-envisioned. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1997.
McHaney, Thomas L., ed. Faulkner Studies in Japan. Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1985.
Meriwether, James B. A Faulkner Miscellany. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1974.
Millgate, Michael. New Essays on Light in August. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989.
Moulinoux, Nicole, ed. “William Faulkner.” Europe: Revue Littereaire Mensuelle, no. 753 (February 1992): 3–151.
Muhlenfeld, Elisabeth, ed. William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom! New York: Garland, 1984.
Pitavy, Francois, ed. William Faulkner’s Light in August: A Critical Casebook. New York: Garland, 1982.
Polk, Noel. New Essays on The Sound and the Fury. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993.
Skei, Hans H., ed. William Faulkner’s Short Fiction: An international Symposium. Oslo: Solum, 1997.
Wagner, Linda. William Faulkner: Four Decades of Criticism. East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 1973.
Wagner-Martin, Linda. New Essays on Go Down, Moses. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996.
Warren, Robert Penn, ed. Faulkner: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1966.
Wolfe, George H., ed. Faulkner: Fifty Years After the Marble Faun. University: University of Alabama Press, 1976.
Zacharasiewicz, Waldemar, ed. Faulkner, His Contemporaries, and His Posterity. Tübingen: Francke, 1993.
Zyla, Wolodymyr, and Wendell M. Aycock, eds. William Faulkner: Prevailing Verities and World Literature. Lubbock: Interdepartmental Committee on Comparative Literature, Texas Tech University, 1973.
Weinstein, Phillip M. The Cambridge Companion to William Faulkner. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995.
The Mississippi Writers Page (University of Mississippi Department of English): http://www.olemiss.edu/depts/english/ms-writers/dir/faulkne...
The William Faulkner Collections, Special Collections Department, University of Virginia Library: http://www.lib.virginia.edu/speccol/colls/faulkner.html
Guides to Faulkner materials in these collections can be found in the Bibliography section. (See the Bonner, Brodsky, Crane, Kinney, Massey, Meriwether, Sensibar, and Watson entries; see also William Faulkner Manuscripts under Facsimiles.) Recent acquisitions often can be found by visiting websites for these institutions.
Berg and Arents Collections, New York Public Library, New York City.
Louis D. Brodsky Collection, Southeastern Missouri State University, Cape Girardeau.
Faulkner Collection, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas, Austin.
Faulkner Collection, University of Virginia Library, Charlottesville.
Rowan Oak Papers, Special Collections, University of Mississippi Library, Oxford.
William B. Wisdom Collection, Howard-Tilton Memorial Library, Tulane University, New Orleans.