William Faulkner Faulkner, William (Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

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Introduction

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

William Faulkner 1897-1962

(Full name William Cuthbert Faulkner) American novelist, short story writer, poet, playwright, essayist, and screenwriter.

The following entry provides criticism on Faulkner's works from 1985 through 1999. See also A Rose for Emily Criticism, The Bear Criticism, William Faulkner Criticism (Volume 1), and Volumes 3, 6, 8, 9, 18.

A preeminent figure in twentieth-century American literature, Faulkner created a profound and complex body of work in which he often explored exploitation and corruption in the American South. Many of Faulkner's novels and short stories are set in Yoknapatawpha County, a fictional area reflecting the geographical and cultural background of his native Mississippi. Faulkner's works frequently reflect the tumultuous history of the South while developing perceptive explorations of the human character. In his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize for literature in 1949, Faulkner stated that the fundamental theme of his fiction is “the human heart in conflict with itself,” and he used a variety of narrative techniques to enrich his exploration of this struggle.

Biographical Information

Faulkner was born to Murry Falkner and Maud Butler in New Albany, Mississippi, on September 25, 1897. A colorful Southern family, the Falkners (Faulkner added the “u” to the name when he joined the Canadian Royal Air Force in 1918) often figure prominently in his fiction. Murry Falkner worked for the family railroad until it was sold in 1902, at which time he moved his family to Oxford, Mississippi. An indifferent student, Faulkner dropped out of high school in 1915 to work as a clerk in his grandfather's bank. He began writing poetry and submitted drawings to the University of Mississippi's yearbook. During World War I, Faulkner tried to enlist in the U.S. army, but was rejected because of his small stature. Instead, he manipulated his acceptance into the Royal Canadian Air Force by affecting a British accent and forging letters of recommendation. The war ended before Faulkner experienced combat duty, however, and he returned to his hometown where he intermittently attended the University of Mississippi as a special student. In 1919 his first poem, “L'Apres-midi d'un faune,” was published in the New Republic, and later in the same year the Mississippian published one of his short stories, “Landing in Luck.” After a brief period of employment as a bookstore clerk in New York, Faulkner returned to Oxford, where he was hired as a university postmaster. He was released from his duties, however, because he often failed to deliver mail. After the end of his postal career, Faulkner traveled to New Orleans to visit his friend Elizabeth Prall, who was married to the acclaimed fiction writer Sherwood Anderson. Though Faulkner's primary ambition was to be a poet and his verse was published in his first full-length book, The Marble Faun (1924), he realized that his prose was more accomplished and was encouraged by Anderson to write fiction. When his next work, Sartoris (1929), the first novel set in Yoknapatawpha County, was rejected by numerous publishers, Faulkner became disgusted with the publishing industry and decided to write only for himself. The resulting novel, The Sound and the Fury (1929), established the respect of numerous literary critics towards Faulkner's work and went on to become one of his best-known works. With critical recognition established, Faulkner sought greater financial rewards from his writing. With an eye on the commercial market, he began composing what he called “the most horrific tale I could imagine.” The result was Sanctuary (1931), a novel that had to be revised before final publication due to its graphic violence and the extravagant depravity of its characters. An objective study of human evil, Sanctuary caused a minor uproar even in its revised form. While it became Faulkner's best-selling novel, a number of critics disparaged the work for its sensationalistic violence. Faulkner lived...

(The entire section is 174,991 words.)