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Biography[edit]

William Cuthbert Faulkner was born in New Albany, Mississippi, the first of four sons to Murry Cuthbert Falkner (August 17, 1870 – August 7, 1932) and Maud Butler (November 27, 1871 – October 19, 1960).[1] He had three younger brothers: Murry Charles "Jack" Faulkner (June 26, 1899 – December 24, 1975), author John Faulkner (September 24, 1901 – March 28, 1963) and Dean Swift Faulkner (August 15, 1907 – November 10, 1935).

Faulkner was born and raised in, and heavily influenced by, his home state of Mississippi, as well as by the history and culture of the American South altogether. Soon after Faulkner's first birthday, his family moved to Ripley, Mississippi from New Albany. Here, Murry worked as the treasurer for the family's Gulf & Chicago Railroad Company, a business Murry had been drawn to from an early age. Murry had hoped to inherit the railroad from his father, John Wesley Thompson Falkner. However, John had little confidence in Murry's ability to run a business and sold the railroad for $75,000. Following the sale of the railroad business, Murry had become disappointed and planned to make a new start for his family by moving to Texas and becoming a rancher. Maud, however, disagreed with this proposition, and it was decided that they would move to Oxford, Mississippi, where Murry's father owned several businesses, making it easy for Murry to find work.[2] Thus, only four days prior to William's fifth birthday, the Falkner family settled in Oxford on September 21, 1902,[1][3] where he resided on and off for the remainder of his life.

Family, particularly his mother Maud, his maternal grandmother Lelia Butler, and Caroline Barr (the black woman who raised him from infancy) crucially influenced the development of his artistic imagination: both his mother and grandmother were great readers and also painters and photographers, educating him in visual language. While Murry enjoyed the outdoors and taught his sons to hunt, track, and fish, Maud valued education and took pleasure in reading and going to church. She taught her sons to read before sending them to public school and exposed them to classics such as Charles Dickens and Grimms' Fairy Tales.[4] Faulkner's life-long education by Callie Barr is central to his novels' preoccupations with the politics of sexuality and race.[5]

As a schoolchild, Faulkner had much success early on. He excelled in the first grade, skipped the second, and continued doing well through the third and fourth grades. However, beginning somewhere in the fourth and fifth grades of his schooling, Faulkner became a much more quiet and withdrawn child. He began to play hooky occasionally and became somewhat indifferent to his schoolwork, even though he began to study the history of Mississippi on his own time in the seventh grade. The decline of his performance in school continued and Faulkner wound up repeating the eleventh, and then final grade, and never graduating high school.[6]

Faulkner also spent much of his boyhood listening to stories told to him by his elders. These included war stories shared by the old men of Oxford and stories told by Mammy Callie of the Civil War, slavery, the Ku Klux Klan, and the Falkner family. Faulkner's grandfather would also tell him of the exploits of William's great-grandfather, after whom he was named, William Clark Falkner, who was a successful businessman, writer, and a Civil War hero. Telling stories about William Clark Falkner, whom the family called "Old Colonel," had already become something of a family past time when Faulkner was a boy.[7] According to one of Faulkner's biographers, by the time William was born, his great-grandfather had "been enshrined long since as a household deity."[8]

In adolescence, Faulkner began writing poetry almost exclusively. He did not write his first novel until 1925. His literary influences are deep and wide. He once stated that he modeled his early writing on the Romantic era in late 18th century and early 19th century England.[1] He attended the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) in Oxford, and was a member of Sigma Alpha Epsilon social fraternity. He enrolled at Ole Miss in 1919, and attended three semesters before dropping out in November 1920.[9] William was able to attend classes at the university due to his father having a job there as a business manager. He skipped classes often and received a "D" grade in English. However, some of his poems were published in campus journals.[10][11]

When he was seventeen, Faulkner met Philip Stone, who would become an important early influence on his writing. Stone was then four years his senior and came from one of Oxford's older families. He was passionate about literature and had already earned bachelor's degrees from Yale and the University of Mississippi. Stone read and was impressed by some of Faulkner's early poetry and was one of the first to discover Faulkner's talent and artistic potential. Stone became a literary mentor to the young Faulkner, introducing him to writers such as James Joyce, who would come to have an influence on Faulkner's own writing. In his early twenties, Faulkner would give poems and short stories he had written to Stone, in hopes of them being published. Stone would in turn send these to publishers, but they were uniformly rejected.[12]

The younger Faulkner was greatly influenced by the history of his family and the region in which he lived. Mississippi marked his sense of humor, his sense of the tragic position of Black and White Americans, his characterization of Southern characters, and his timeless themes, including fiercely intelligent people dwelling behind the façades of good old boys and simpletons. Unable to join the United States Army due to his height (he was 5' 5½"), Faulkner enlisted in the British Royal Flying Corps, later training at RFC bases in Canada and Britain, yet never experienced wartime action during the First World War.[1][3]

In 1918, upon enlisting in the RFC, Faulkner himself made the change to his surname from the original "Falkner." However, according to one story, a careless typesetter simply made an error. When the misprint appeared on the title page of his first book, Faulkner was asked whether he wanted a change. He supposedly replied, "Either way suits me."[13] Although Faulkner is heavily identified with Mississippi, he was residing in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1925 when he wrote his first novel, Soldiers' Pay,[1] after being directly influenced by Sherwood Anderson to attempt fiction writing. Anderson also assisted in the publication of Soldier's Pay and of Mosquitoes, Faulkner's second novel, by recommending them both to his own publisher.[14] The miniature house at 624 Pirate's Alley, just around the corner from St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans is now the premises of Faulkner House Books, where it also serves as the headquarters of the Pirate's Alley Faulkner Society. [15]

During the summer of 1927, Faulkner wrote his first novel set in his fictional Yoknapatawpha County, entitled Flags in the Dust. This novel drew heavily on the traditions and history of the South, in which Faulkner had been engrossed in his youth. He was very proud of his novel upon its completion and he believed it to be a significant improvement from his previous two novels. However, when submitted for publication, it was rejected by the publishers Boni & Liveright. This came as a huge shock to Faulkner, but he eventually allowed his literary agent, Ben Wasson to significantly edit the text and the novel was finally published in 1928 as Sartoris.[16][17]

In the fall of 1928, when Faulkner was thirty years old, he began working on The Sound and the Fury. He started by writing three short stories about a group of children with the last name Compson, but Faulkner soon began to feel that the characters he had created would be better suited for a full-length novel. Perhaps as a result of his disappointment in the initial rejection of Flags in the Dust, Faulkner had now become indifferent to his publishers and wrote this novel in a much more experimental style. In describing his writing process for this work, Faulkner would later say, "One day I seemed to shut the door between me and all publisher’s addresses and book lists. I said to myself, Now I can write."[18] After its completion, Faulkner this time insisted that Ben Wasson not do any editing or add any punctuation for clarity.[19]

In 1929 Faulkner married Estelle Oldham. Estelle brought with her two children from her previous marriage to Cornell Franklin and Faulkner intended to support his new family as a writer. Beginning in 1930, Faulkner sent out some of his short stories to various national magazines. Several of his stories were published and this brought him enough income to buy a house in Oxford for his family to live in, which he named "Rowan Oak."[20]

By 1932, however, Faulkner was in a much less secure financial position. He had asked his agent, Ben Wasson to sell the serialization rights for his newly completed novel, Light in August, to a magazine for $5,000, but no magazine accepted the offer. Then, MGM Studios offered Faulkner work as a screenwriter in Hollywood. While Faulkner was not a fan of film, he needed the money, and so he accepted the job offer and arrived in Culver City California in May of 1932. There he worked with director Howard Hawks, with whom he got along well, as they both enjoyed drinking and hunting. Faulkner would continue to find work as a screenwriter for years to come throughout the 1930s and 1940s.[21][22]

Faulkner served as Writer-in-Residence at the University of Virginia at Charlottesville from February to June 1957 and again in 1958.[23] He suffered serious injuries in a horse-riding accident in 1959, and died from a myocardial infarction, aged 64, on July 6, 1962, at Wright's Sanitorium in Byhalia, Mississippi.[1][3] He is buried along with his family in St. Peter's Cemetery in Oxford, along with a family friend with the mysterious initials E.T.[24]

Criticism[edit]

Faulkner's work has been examined by many different critics from a wide variety of critical perspectives. The New Critics became very interested in Faulkner's work, with Cleanth Brooks writing The Yoknapatawpha County and Michael Millgate writing The Achievement of William Faulkner. Since then, critics have looked at Faulkner's work using other approaches, such as feminist and psychoanalytic methods.[25][26] Faulkner's works have been placed within the literary traditions of modernism and the Southern Renaissance.[27]


References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f MWP: Willliam Faulkner (1897–1962) at Ole Miss.edu.
  2. ^ Minter, David L. William Faulkner, His Life and Work. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980
  3. ^ a b c William Faulkner – Biography at Nobelprize.org
  4. ^ Minter, David L. William Faulkner, His Life and Work. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980
  5. ^ Sensibar, Judith L. Faulkner and Love: The Women Who Shaped His Art, A Biography (paperback). Yale University Press, 2010. ISBN 0300165684
  6. ^ Minter, David L. William Faulkner, His Life and Work. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980
  7. ^ Minter, David L. William Faulkner, His Life and Work. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980
  8. ^ Coughlan, Robert. The Private World of William Faulkner. New York, NY: Harper & Brothers, 1953., p.38
  9. ^ "University of Mississippi: William Faulkner". Olemiss.edu. Retrieved September 27, 2010. 
  10. ^ Coughlan, Robert. The Private World of William Faulkner. New York, NY: Harper & Brothers, 1953.
  11. ^ Porter, Carolyn. William Faulkner. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2007.
  12. ^ Coughlan, Robert. The Private World of William Faulkner. New York, NY: Harper & Brothers, 1953.
  13. ^ Nelson, Randy F. The Almanac of American Letters. Los Altos, California: William Kaufmann, Inc., 1981: pp. 63–64. ISBN 086576008X
  14. ^ Hannon Charles "Faulkner, William" The Oxford Encyclopedia of American Literature. Jay Parini. © 2004, 2005 Oxford University Press, Inc.. The Oxford Encyclopedia of American Literature: (e-reference edition). Oxford University Press.
  15. ^ http://www.wordsandmusic.org/
  16. ^ Porter, Carolyn. William Faulkner. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2007.
  17. ^ Hannon Charles "Faulkner, William" The Oxford Encyclopedia of American Literature. Jay Parini. © 2004, 2005 Oxford University Press, Inc.. The Oxford Encyclopedia of American Literature: (e-reference edition). Oxford University Press.
  18. ^ Porter, Carolyn. William Faulkner. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2007., p. 37
  19. ^ Porter, Carolyn. William Faulkner. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2007.
  20. ^ Williamson, Joel. William Faulkner and Southern History. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1993.
  21. ^ Williamson, Joel. William Faulkner and Southern History. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1993.
  22. ^ Hannon Charles "Faulkner, William" The Oxford Encyclopedia of American Literature. Jay Parini. © 2004, 2005 Oxford University Press, Inc.. The Oxford Encyclopedia of American Literature: (e-reference edition). Oxford University Press.
  23. ^ Blotner, J. and Frederick L. Gwynn, eds. Faulkner in the University: Conferences at the University of Virginia, 1957-1958.
  24. ^ "Touring William Faulkner Oxford, Mississippi". Literarytraveler.com. Retrieved September 27, 2010. 
  25. ^ Hannon Charles "Faulkner, William" The Oxford Encyclopedia of American Literature. Jay Parini. © 2004, 2005 Oxford University Press, Inc.. The Oxford Encyclopedia of American Literature: (e-reference edition). Oxford University Press.
  26. ^ Wagner-Martin, Linda. William Faulkner: Six Decades of Criticism. East Lansing, MI: Michigan State University Press, 2002.
  27. ^ Abadie, Ann J. and Doreen Fowler. Faulkner and the Southern Renaissance. Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 1982.