William Cuthbert Faulkner
William Cuthbert Faulkner (September 25, 1897 — July 6, 1962) was an American writer of novels, short stories, poetry and occasional screenplays.
The majority of his works are based in his native state of Mississippi. Faulkner is considered one of the most important writers of the Southern literature of the United States, along with Mark Twain, Robert Penn Warren, Flannery O'Connor, Truman Capote, Eudora Welty, Thomas Wolfe, Harper Lee and Tennessee Williams. Though his work was published as early as 1919, and largely during the 1920s and 1930s, Faulkner was relatively unknown until receiving the 1949 Nobel Prize in Literature. Some now consider Faulkner to be the greatest writer of all time.
William Cuthbert Faulkner was born in New Albany, Mississippi, the first of four sons to Murry Cuthbert Faulkner (August 17, 1870 – August 7, 1932) and Maud Butler (November 27, 1871 – October 19, 1960). 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. Only four days prior to his fifth birthday, the Faulkner family settled in Oxford, Mississippi on September 21, 1902, where he resided on and off for the remainder of his life.
Faulkner demonstrated an aptitude for painting in water colors and for writing verses in songs as a child, but grew increasingly disillusioned with any and all artistic pursuits in the sixth grade. He instead directed his attention to literature, and later stated that he modeled his early writing on the Romantic era in late 18th century and early 19th century in England. 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.
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.
In 1918, upon enlisting in the RFC, Faulkner himself made the change to his surname. 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." Although Faulkner is heavily identified with Mississippi, he was residing in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1925 when he wrote his first novel, Soldiers' Pay, after being directly influenced by Sherwood Anderson to attempt fiction writing. 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.
Faulkner served as Writer-in-Residence at the University of Virginia at Charlottesville from February to June 1957. 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. 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.
In the early 1940s, Howard Hawks invited Faulkner to come to Hollywood to become a screenwriter for the films Hawks was directing. Faulkner happily accepted because he badly needed the money, and Hollywood paid well. Thus Faulkner contributed to the scripts for the films Hawks made from Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep and Ernest Hemingway's To Have and Have Not. Faulkner became good friends with Hawks, the screenwriter A. I. Bezzerides, and the actors Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall.
An apocryphal story regarding Faulkner during his Hollywood years found him with a case of writer's block at the studio. He told Hawks he was having a hard time concentrating and would like to write at home. Hawks was agreeable, and Faulkner left. Several days passed, with no word from the writer. Hawks telephoned Faulkner's hotel and found that Faulkner had checked out several days earlier. It seems Faulkner had spoken quite literally, and had returned home to Mississippi to finish the screenplay.
As a teenager in Oxford, Faulkner dated Estelle Oldham, the popular daughter of Major Lemuel and Lida Oldham, and believed he would some day marry her. However, Estelle dated other boys during their romance, and one of them, Cornell Franklin, ended up proposing marriage to her before Faulkner did, in 1918. Estelle's parents insisted she marry Cornell, as he was an Ole Miss law graduate, had recently been commissioned as a major in the Hawaiian Territorial Forces, and came from a respectable family with which they were old friends. Fortunately for Faulkner, Estelle's marriage to Franklin fell apart ten years later, and she was divorced in April 1929. Faulkner married Estelle in June 1929 at College Hill Presbyterian Church just outside of Oxford, Mississippi. They honeymooned on the Mississippi Gulf Coast at Pascagoula, then returned to Oxford, first living with relatives while they searched for a home of their own to purchase. In 1930 Faulkner purchased the antebellum home Rowan Oak, known at that time as "The Bailey Place." He and his daughter, Jill, lived there until after her mother's death. The property was sold to the University of Mississippi in 1972. The house and furnishings are maintained much as they were in Faulkner's day. Faulkner's scribblings are still preserved on the wall there, including the day-by-day outline covering an entire week that he wrote out on the walls of his small study to help him keep track of the plot twists in the novel A Fable.
The quality and quantity of Faulkner's literary output were achieved despite a lifelong drinking problem. Since he rarely drank while writing, instead preferring to binge after a project's completion, it is generally agreed that his alcohol use was an escape from the pressures of everyday life and unrelated to his creativity. Whatever the source of his addiction, it undoubtedly weakened his health.
Faulkner is known to have had several extramarital affairs. One was with Howard Hawks's secretary and script girl, Meta Carpenter. Another, from 1949-53, was with a young writer, Joan Williams, who made her relationship with Faulkner the subject of her 1971 novel, The Wintering.
When Faulkner visited Stockholm in December 1950 to receive the Nobel Prize, he met Else Jonsson (1912–1996) and they had an affair that lasted until the end of 1953. Else was the widow of journalist Thorsten Jonsson (1910–1950), reporter for Dagens Nyheter in New York 1943–1946, who had interviewed Faulkner in 1946 and introduced his works to the Swedish readers. At the banquet in 1950 where they met, publisher Tor Bonnier referred to Else as widow of the man responsible for Faulkner being awarded the prize.
Faulkner also had a romance with Jean Stein, an editor, author, and daughter of movie mogul Jules Stein
From the early 1920s to the outbreak of World War II, when Faulkner left for California, he published 13 novels and numerous short stories. This body of work formed the basis of his reputation and led to him being awarded the Nobel Prize at age 52. This prodigious output, mainly driven by an obscure writer's need for money, includes his most celebrated novels such as The Sound and the Fury (1929), As I Lay Dying (1930), Light in August (1932), and Absalom, Absalom! (1936). Faulkner was also a prolific writer of short stories.
His first short story collection, These 13 (1931), includes many of his most acclaimed (and most frequently anthologized) stories, including "A Rose for Emily", "Red Leaves", "That Evening Sun", and "Dry September". Faulkner set many of his short stories and novels in Yoknapatawpha County—based on, and nearly geographically identical to, Lafayette County, of which his hometown of Oxford, Mississippi is the county seat. Yoknapatawpha was Faulkner's "postage stamp", and the bulk of work that it represents is widely considered by critics to amount to one of the most monumental fictional creations in the history of literature. Three novels, The Hamlet, The Town and The Mansion, known collectively as the Snopes Trilogy, document the town of Jefferson and its environs, as an extended family headed by Flem Snopes insinuates itself into the lives and psyches of the general populace.
Other works include Sanctuary (1931), a sensationalist "pulp fiction"-styled novel, characterized by André Malraux as "the intrusion of Greek tragedy into the detective story." Its themes of evil and corruption, bearing Southern Gothic tones, resonate to this day. Requiem for a Nun (1951), a play/novel sequel to Sanctuary, is the only play that Faulkner published, except for The Marionettes, which he self-published as a young man.
Faulkner was known for his experimental style with meticulous attention to diction and cadence. In contrast to the minimalist understatement of his contemporary Ernest Hemingway, Faulkner made frequent use of "stream of consciousness" in his writing, and wrote often highly emotional, subtle, cerebral, complex, and sometimes Gothic or grotesque stories of a wide variety of characters including former slaves or descendants of slaves, poor white, agrarian, or working-class Southerners, and Southern aristocrats.
In an interview with The Paris Review in 1956, Faulkner remarked, "Let the writer take up surgery or bricklaying if he is interested in technique. There is no mechanical way to get the writing done, no shortcut. The young writer would be a fool to follow a theory. Teach yourself by your own mistakes; people learn only by error. The good artist believes that nobody is good enough to give him advice. He has supreme vanity. No matter how much he admires the old writer, he wants to beat him." Another esteemed Southern writer, Flannery O'Connor, stated that "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."
Faulkner wrote two volumes of poetry which were published in small printings, The Marble Faun (1924) and A Green Bough (1933), and a collection of crime-fiction short stories, Knight's Gambit (1949).
Faulkner shows similarities to comparable authors of his time like T. S. Eliot and Ernest Hemingway. Although each author has different styles, they explore similar themes and certain questionable topics of the time. One similarity, for example, is shown between Hemingway’s short story “Hills Like White Elephants” and Faulkner’s novel, As I Lay Dying, in which they discuss abortion. In Hemingway’s story, the American man is accompanying the girl on a train to Madrid to have an abortion as an unmarried couple, while in Faulkner's novel Dewey Dell eagerly awaits her mother's death so that she can get to town and purchase medicine that will abort her illegitimate pregnancy.
Faulkner received the 1949 Nobel Prize for Literature for "his powerful and artistically unique contribution to the modern American novel." Though he won the Nobel prize for 1949, it was not awarded until the 1950 awards banquet, when Faulkner was awarded the 1949 prize and Bertrand Russell the 1950 prize. Although this was a great honor, Faulkner completely hated all of the fame and glory that resulted from his recognition. He hated it so much that he did not even tell his 17-year-old daughter about it. She only heard of her father’s honor when she was called to the principal’s office during the school day.
He donated a portion of his Nobel winnings "to establish a fund to support and encourage new fiction writers", eventually resulting in the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. He donated another portion to a local Oxford bank to establish an account to provide scholarship funds to help educate African-American education majors at nearby Rust College in Holly Springs, Mississippi. Faulkner won two Pulitzer Prizes for what are considered as his "minor" novels: his 1954 novel A Fable, which took the Pulitzer in 1955, and the 1962 novel, The Reivers, which was posthumously awarded the Pulitzer in 1963. He also won two National Book Awards, first for his Collected Stories in 1951 and once again for his novel A Fable in 1955. And in 1946, Faulkner was one of three finalists for the first Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine Award. He came in second to Manly Wade Wellman. On August 3, 1987, the United States Postal Service issued a 22-cent postage stamp in his honor.