Faulkner, William 1897–1962
See also William Faulkner Criticism (Volume 1), and Volumes 3, 6, 8, 9, 14, 18, 28.
Faulkner, an American novelist, short story writer, and poet, is considered one of the greatest writers America has produced. Although a variety of attitudes and themes are evident in his work, Faulkner is best known as the chronicler of the decadent South. His genius transcends regionalism, however: in his evocation of the mythical Yoknapatawpha, Faulkner's brilliant narrative technique, complexity of characterization, and innovative use of time sequence mark him as a major figure in American letters. Twice the recipient of the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize, Faulkner also received the Nobel Prize in 1950.
Faulkner has not only remained guilty of occasional carelessness, especially in sentence construction, but seems to have persisted in mannerisms. On the other hand, his progress as a stylist has been steady and rapid; his third novel, Sartoris, while still experimenting toward a technique, was a notable advance over his first two in style as well as in theme and narrative structure, and in his fourth novel, The Sound and the Fury, style is what it has continued to be in all his subsequent work, a significant factor, masterfully controlled. (p. 53)
Repetition of words, for instance, has often seemed an obvious fault. At times, however, Faulkner's repetitions may be a not unjustifiable by-product of his thematic composition. Some of his favorites in Absalom, Absalom!—not just Miss Rosa's "demon," which may be charged off to her own mania, nor "indolent" applied to Bon, but such recurrent terms as effluvium, outrage, grim, indomitable, ruthless, fury, fatality—seem to intend adumbration of the tale's whole significance and tone. Nor is the reiteration as frequent or as obvious here as in earlier books; perhaps Faulkner has been making an experiment over which he is increasingly gaining control. (pp. 53-4)
[His] word-series, while conspicuous at times, may have a place in a style as minutely analytical as Faulkner's. In their typical form they are not redundant, however elaborate, and sometimes their cumulative effect is undeniable—for example, the "long still hot weary dead September afternoon" when Quentin listens to Miss Rosa's story…. [Often] the amplification redounds to the significance of the whole scene. Quite often, too, these series of words, while seemingly extravagant, are a remarkably compressed rendering, as in the phrase "passionate tragic ephemeral loves of adolescence."…
In the later books profuseness of language is always knit into the thematic structure. Thus the elaborate lyrical descriptions of the sunrise and of a spring rain in book three of The Hamlet furnish by their imagery and mood a sharp, artistically serviceable contrast to the perversion of the idiot Ike Snopes, and as such they deepen the melancholy perspective from which this episode is observed. (p. 54)
There is nothing unique … in Faulkner's use of direct and forceful diction or fine figurative image. What is most individual in his style is its persistent lyrical embroidery and coloring, in extended passages, of the narrative theme. In this sense Faulkner is one of the most subjective of writers, his brooding temperament constantly probing and interpreting his subject matter. Thus his full style is comprehensive in its intention. He may often be unfashionably rhapsodic, but he seldom falls into the preciosity that lingers over a passage for its own sweet sake. Definition of his story as a whole and the enhancement of its immediate appeals to the imagination are his constant aims. (p. 55)
[Side] by side with [a] richly interpretative style there exists in almost all of Faulkner's work a realistic colloquialism , expressing lively dialogue that any playwright might envy, and even carrying over into sustained first-person narrative the flavor of regionalism and the idiosyncrasies of character. In the colloquial vein Faulkner's brilliance is...
(The entire section is 11,716 words.)