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William (Cuthbert) Faulkner (1897-1962) - original surname until 1924 Falkner


American short story writer, novelist, best known for his Yoknapatawpha cycle, a comédie humaine of the American South, which started in 1929 with Sartoris / Flags in the Dust and completed with The Mansion ( 1959). Faulkner was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1949. Faulkner's style is not very easy-in this he has connections to European literary modernism. His sentences are long and hypnotic, sometimes he withholds important details, or refers to people or events that the reader will not learn about until much later.

"The writer's only responsibility is to his art. He will be completely ruthless if he is a good one. He has a dream. It anguishes him so much he must get rid of it. He has no peace until then. Everything goes by the board: honor, pride, decency, security, happiness, all, to get the book written. If a writer has to rob his mother, he will not hesitate; the "Ode on a Grecian Urn" is worth any number of old ladies." (from Writers at Work: The Paris Review Interviews, 1959)

William Faulkner was born in New Albany, Mississippi, the oldest of four sons of Murray Charles Faulkner and Maud (Butler) Faulkner. While he was still a child, the family settled in Oxford in north-central Mississippi. Faulkner lived most of his life in the town. While still at school, he began to write poetry. At the Oxford High School he played quarterback on football team and suffered a broken nose. Before graduating, he dropped his studies and worked briefly in his grandfather's bank.

After being rejected from the army because he was too short (5' 5''), Faulkner enlisted in the Royal Canadian Air Force and had basic training in Toronto. He served with the RAF in World War I, but did not see any action. Before he could make his first solo flight, the war was over. This did not stop him later telling that he was shot down in France.

After the war he studied literature at the University of Mississippi for a short time. He also wrote some poems and drew cartoons for the university's humor magazine, The Scream. "I liked the cartoons better than the poetry," recalled later George W. Healy Jr., who edited the magazine. In 1920 Faulkner left the university without taking a degree. Years later he wrote in a letter, "what an amazing gift I had: uneducated in every formal sense, without even very literate, let alone literary, companions, yet to have made the things I made."

Faulkner moved to New York City, where he worked as a clerk in a bookstore, and then returned to Oxford. For a time Faulkner supported himself as a postmaster at the University of Mississippi, but was fired for reading on the job. He drifted to New Orleans, where Sherwood Anderson encouraged him to write fiction rather than poetry.

The early works of Faulkner bear witness to his reading of Keats, Tennyson, Swinburne, and the fin-de-siècle English poetry. His first book was The Marble Faun (1924), a collection of poems. It did not gain success. After a hiatus in Paris, he published Soldier's Pay (1926). The novel centered on the return of a soldier, who has been physically and psychologically disabled in WW I. It was followed by Mosquitoes , a satirical portrait of Bohemian life, artist and intellectuals, in New Orleans.

In 1929 Faulkner wrote Sartoris, the first of fifteen novels set in Yoknapatawpha County, a fictional region of Mississippi-actually Yoknapatawpha was Lafayette County. The Chickasaw Indian term meant "water passes slowly through flatlands." Sartoris was later reissued entitled Flags in the Dust (1973). The Yoknapatawpha novels spanned the decades of economic decline from the American Civil War through the Depression. Racism, class division, family as both life force and curse, are the recurring themes along with recurring characters and places. Faulkner used various writing styles. The narrative varies from the traditional storytelling (Light in August) to series of snapshots (As I Lay Dying) or collage (The Sound and the Fury).Go Down, Moses (1942) was a short story cycle about Yoknapatawpha blacks and includes one of Faulkner's most frequently anthologized stories, 'The Bear', about a ritual hunt, standing as a symbol of accepting traditional cultural values.

Absalom, Absalom! is generally considered Faulkner's masterpiece. It recods a range of voices and vocabularies, all trying to unravel the mysteries of Thomas Sutpen's violent life. "Hemingway," Faulkner said once, "has never been known to use a word that might send a reader to the dictionary."

In 1929 Faulkner married Estelle Oldham Franklin, his childhood sweetheart, who had divorced his first husband, a lawyer. Next year he purchased the traditional Southern pillared house in Oxford, which he named Rowan Oak. Architecture was important for the author-he obsessively restored his own house, named his books after buildings ('the mansion'), and depicted them carefully: "It was a big, squarish frame house that had once been white, decorated with cupolas and spires and scrolled balconies in the heavily lightsome style of the seventies, set on what had once been our most select street." (from 'A Rose for Emily')

With The Sound and the Fury (1929), his first masterwork, Faulkner gained recognition as a writer. Its title originated from the famous lines in Shakespeare's play Macbeth: "Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player, / That struts and frets his hour upon the stage, / And then is heard no more. It is a tale / Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, / Signifying nothing."

While working at an electrical power station in a nightshift job, Faulkner wrote As I Lay Dying (1930), about the illness, death, and burial of Addie Bundren. The book consists of interior monologues, most of them spoken by members of the Bundren family. The deceased herself has one monologue; her dying wish is to be buried in her home town. Struggling through flood and fire the family carries her coffin to the graveyard in Jefferson, Mississippi. Ultimately, the journey becomes Addie's curse. "Now you are aware of me! Now I am something in your secret and selfish life, who have marked your blood with my own for ever and ever." Cash, Addie's son, breaks his leg, Darl, another son, attempts to cremate his mother's body by setting fire to the barn, and Dewey Dell is raped in the cellar of a pharmacy. Addie is buried next to her father in the family plot. Darl's sanity dies with her mother and he is taken finally to an asylum. Anse, the father, appears with a woman, introducing her as the new 'Mrs Bundren'.

Sanctuary (1931), dedicated to Sherwood Anderson for services rendered, was according to the author "deliberately conceived to make money." In the story a young woman is raped by a murderer. She finds sanctuary in a brothel, but none of the sexual acts there is described in detail. Sanctuary was one of nine novel identified as obscene in the criminal proceedings in the Court of Quarter sessions in Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania. The other allegedly obscene novels were Harold Robbins's Never Love a Stranger, James T. Farrell's Studs Lonigan Trilogy, and A World I Never Made, Erskine Caldwell's God Little Acre, Calder Willingham's End as a Man, and Faulkner's Wild Palms.  

In 1933 Faulkner started to take flying lessons and he bought his own plane. To earn money and support Estelle, their three children, and some of the Oldhams, Faulker worked over the next 20 years in Hollywood on several screenplays, from Today We Live (1933) to Land of the Pharaos (1955). His own stories were for the conservative producers too daring: they dealt with rape, incest, suicide etc. Moreover, Faulkner experimented with methods of narration, using page-long sentences, and forcing the reader to hold in mind details and phrases that are meaningful only at the end of the story.

Between scriptwriting Faulkner published several novel. Pylon (1934) was a story of four adults and a child, who travel from air show to another. Absalom, Absalom! focused on Thomas Sutpen's attempts to found a Southern dynasty in the 19th-century Mississippi. The Wild Palms (1939) was a story of the Snopes family, in which the character McCord is based on Ernest Hemingway and parallels A Farwell to Arms. Go Down Moses, and Other Stories (1942) contained 'The Bear,' one of his most celebrates pieces of short fiction.

"He wrote A Fable in my house. He'd be typing away in the middle of the night. Worked right on the typewriter, typed all night. I walked in on him, asked him what he was working on there in the middle of the night. He said, "Oh... on a novel." "Well... what's it about?" He said, "Oh, it's about Jesus Christ coming to earth during the World War." ( A.I. Bezzerides in The Big Book of Noir, ed. by Ed Gorman, Lee Server and Martin H. Greenberg, 1998)

By 1945, when Faulkner's novels were out of print, he moved again to Hollywood to write under contract movie scripts, mostly for director Howard Hawks. He had read Faulkner's 1926 novel Soldier's Pay when it had just appeared and recommended it to his friends. In the early 1930s Faulkner had written for the director an adaptation from his short story 'Turn About'. Their first meeting ended in heavy drinking, and started a long friendship. "Just a year apart in age, with Hawks the senior, both were reserved to the point of noncommunicativemess; Nunnally Johnson was astonished by the sight of the two of them just sitting together not saying a word. When they did talk, they did do slowly, in a drawling manner." (Todd McCarthy in Howard Hawks: The Grey Fox of Hollywood, 1997) Faulkner cooperated with Hawks among others in the films To Have and Have Not (1944), based freely on Ernest Hemingway's novel, and The Big Sleep (1946), based on Raymond Chandler's novel. When Hemingway had turned down Hawk's offer to work with his own book, the director had said, "I'll get Faulkner to do it; he can write better than you can anyway."

Faulkner's second period of success started with the publication of The Portable Faulkner (1946), which rescued him from near-oblivion. However, Faulkner's physique and mental functioning was weakened by hard drinking. "When I have one martini I feel bigger, wiser, taller," he confessed. "When I have a second I feel superlative. After that there's no holding me." Besides problems with alcohol his wife's drug addiction and declining health shadowed his life. "I will always believe that my first responsibility is to the artist, the work," he wrote in a letter; "it is terrible that my wife does not realise or at least accept that." Their daughter Jill later said that "Nothing about the marriage was right."

Moreover, Hollywood was not the best refuge from domestic problems, because Faulkner also had there series of affairs, among others with Meta Carpenter Wilde, a script girl, who wrote a book about their relationship. Faulkner did not hide his fear and contempt of the city: "Sometimes I think if I do one more treatment or screenplay, I'll lose whatever power I have as a writer," he told Carpenter. Faulkner published in 1951 Requiem for a Nun, and badly received magnum opus A Fable in 1954.The Town (1957) and The Mansion (1959) continued the story of the Snopes family, which he had begun in The Hamlet (1940).

With The Reivers (1962), set early in the 20th-century, Faulkner nostalgically revisited his childhood, and extends the world of Sanctuary. On June 17, 1962, he was thrown from a horse, and a few weeks later, on July 6, Faulkner died of a coronary occlusion. The New York Times cited his critics in his obituary and stated that "Mr. Faulkner's writings showed an obsession with murder, rape, incest, suicide, greed and general depravity that did not exist anywhere but in the author's mind". (July 7, 1962) Fourty-three years later, in his review of Jay Parini's book One Matchless Time: A Life of William Faulkner (2004) the Nobel writer J.M. Coetzee defined Faulkner not only as "the most radical innovator in the annals of American fiction," but "a writer to whom the avant-garde of Europe and Latin America would go to school." (The New York Review of Books, April 7, 2005)

For further reading: William Faulkner: His South by R.P. Warren (1951); William Faulkner: A Critical Study by I. Howe (1952); The Literary Career of William Faulkner by J.B. Meriwether (1961); William Faulkner by C. Brooks (1963); A Reader's Guide to William Faulkner by E.L. Volpe (1964); Faulkner: A Collection of Critical Essays, ed. by R.P. Warren (1966); Faulkner: A Biography by J.L. Blotner (1974, 2 vols.); William Faulkner by W. Beck (1976); A Loving Gentleman by Meta Carpenter Wilde and Orin Borsten (1976); William Faulkner: Toward Yoknapatawpha and Beyond by C. Brooks (1978); William Faulkner, His Life and Work by D. Minter (1980); The Origins of Faulkner's Art by J.L. Sensibar (1984); William Faulkner: The Yoknapatawpha Fiction, ed. by A. Robert Lee (1987); Faulkner's Apocrypha by Joseph R. Urgo (1989); The Feminine and Faulkner by Minrose C. Gwin (1990); Faulkner's Subject by Philip M. Weinstein (1992); Critical Essays on William Faulkner, ed. by Arthur F. Kinney (1996); William Faulkner and the Tangible Past: The Architecture of Yoknapatawpha by Thomas S. Hines (1997); Existential-Phenomenological Readings on Faulkner by William J. Sowder (1997), Faulkner: Masks and Metaphors by Lothar Honninghausen (1997), Faulkner. The Return of the Repressed by Doreen Fowler (1997); Conversations with William Faulkner, ed. by M. Thomas Inge (1999); One Matchless Time: A Life of William Faulkner by Jay Parini (2004) - See: publications of Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha Series: Faulkner and Gender; Faulkner and Psychology; Faulkner and Ideology; Faulkner and the Short Story; Faulkner and Natural World; Faulkner and the Artist; Faulkner in Cultural Context - See alsoBen Hecht, Tennessee Williams, Raymond Chandler, Sherwood Anderson - Note: Toni Morrison, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993, wrote her thesis at Cornell University on Faulkner and Virginia WoolfJames Hadley Chase based his famous mystery story No Orchids for Miss Blandish (1939) on Faulkner's Sanctuary.

Selected works:

  • The Marble Faun, 1924
  • Soldier's Pay, 1926
  • Mosquitoes, 1927
  • Sartoris / Flags in the Dust, 1929 (first in Yoknapatawpha cycle)
  • The Sound and the Fury, 1929
    - Ääni ja vimma (suom. Kai Kaila, 1965)
    - film 1959, dir. by Martin Ritt, screenplay by Harriet Frank Jr., starring Yul Brynner, Joanne Woodward, Margaret Leighton
  • As I Lay Dying, 1930
    - Kun tein kuolemaa (suom. Alex Matson, 1952)
  • These 13: Stories, 1931
  • Idyll in the Desert, 1931
  • Sanctuary, 1931
    - Kaikkein pyhin (suom. Paavo Lehtonen, 1979)
    - films: The Story of Temple Drake (1933), dir. by Stephen Roberts, starring Miriam Hopkins, Jack La Rue, William Gargan; 1960, dir. by Tony Richardson, starring Lee Remick. Bradford Dillman, Yves Montand, based on Sanctuary and Requiem for a Nun
  • Salmagundi, 1932 (with a poem by Ernest M. Hemingway)
  • This Earth: A Poem, 1932 (with drawings by Albert Heckman)
  • Light in August, 1932
    - Kohtalokas veripisara (suom. V. Vankkoja ja Sorella Soveri, 1945) / Liekehtivä elokuu (suom. Kai Kaila, 1968)
  • Todayb We Live, 1933 (screenplay with others)
  • A Green Bough, 1933
  • Doctor Martino and Other Stories, 1934
  • Lazy River, 1934 (screenplay; uncredited)
  • Pylon: A Novel, 1935
    - film The Tarnished Angels (1957), dir. by Douglas Sirk, adaptation by George Zuckerman, starring Rock Hudson, Robert Stack, Dorothy Malone, Jack Carson
  • Absalom, Absalom!, 1936
    - Absalom, Absalom (suom. Kai Kaila, 1967)
  • Sutter's Gold, 1936 (screenplay; unused treatment)
  • Banjo on My Knee, 1936 (screenplay; uncredited)
  • The Road to Glory, 1936 (screenplay with others; see also Nunnally Johnson)
  • Slave Ship, 1937 (screenplay; unused)
  • Submarine Patrol, 1938 (screenplay; unused)
  • The Unvanquished, 1938 (drawings by Edward Shenton)
    - Voittamattomat (suom. Paavo Lehtonen, 1987)
  • Four Men and a Prayer, 1938 (screenplay; minor treatment)
  • Gunga Din, 1939 (screenplay; uncredited)
  • Drums Along the Mohawk, 1939 (screenplay; uncredited)
  • The Wild Palms, 1939
    - Villipalmut (suom. Alex Matson, 1947) 
  • The Hamlet, 1940
    - Kylä (suom. Kai Kaila, 1972)
    - films: The Long Hot Summer (1958), dir. by Martin Ritt, screenplay by Irving Ravetch, starring Orson Welles, Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward, Anthony Franciosa, Lee Remick, Angela Lansbury; TVseries The Long, Hot Summer (1965-1966), starring Roy Thinnes, Nancy Malone, Paul Geary, Ruth Roman, Lana Wood; TV series (1985), starring Don Johnson, Jason Robards, Judith Ivey, Cybill Shepherd, Ava Gardner
  • Go Down Moses, and Other Stories, 1942
    - Karhu ja muita novelleja (suom. Kai Kaila, Paavo Lehtonen, Jouko Linturi & Marketta Ormala, 1969)
  • Air Force, 1943 (screenplay; uncredited)
  • Background to Danger, 1943 (screenplay; script revisions)
  • Northern Pursuit, 1943 (screenplay; uncredited)
  • To Have and to Have Not, 1944-45 (screenplay with others)
  • The Southener, 1945 (screenplay; uncredited)
  • Mildred Pierce, 1945 (screenplay; uncredited)
  • The Portable Faulkner, 1946 (edited by Malcolm Cowley)
  • The Big Sleep, 1946 (screenplay with others)
  • Stallion Road, 1947 (screenplay; uncredited)
  • Deep Valley, 1947 (screenplay; uncredited)
  • Intruder in the Dust, 1948 (film 1949, dir. by Clarence Brown, adaptation by Ben Maddow, starring Juano Hernandez, Claude Jarman Jr. and Elizabeth Patterson)
  • The Adventures of Don Juan, 1948 (screenplay; uncredited)
  • Knight's Gambit, 1949
  • Collected Stories, 1950
  • Notes on a Horsethief, 1950 (decorations by Elizabeth Calvert)
  • The Damned Don't Cry, 1950 (screenplay; uncredited, partly based on the story The Brooch)
  • Requiem for a Nun, 1951
  • I Decline to Accept the End of Man: Acceptance Speech of William Faulkner upon Receipt of the Nobel Prize for Literature at Stockholm, Sweden, December 14, 1950, 1951
  • Mirrors of Chartres Street, 1953
  • A Fable, 1954 (Pulitzer Prize)
  • Big Woods, 1955 (decorations by Edward Shenton)
  • Land of the Pharohs, 1955 (screenplay with others; produced in the wake of Mika Waltari's bestseller novel The Egyptian, film 1954, dir. by Michael Curtiz)
  • Faulkner’s County: Tales of Yoknapatawpha County, 1955
  • Jealousy, and Episode: Two Stories, 1955
  • The Left Hand of God, 1955 (screenplay; unused)
  • Faulkner at Nagano, 1956 (edited by Robert A. Jelliffe)
  • The Town, 1957
    - Kaupunki (suom. Kai Kaila, 1973)
  • New Orleans Sketches, 1958 (introd. by Carvel Collins)
  • Three Famous Short Novels, 1958
  • The Mansion, 1959
    - Kartano (suom. Kai Kaila, 1974)
  • Selected Short Stories, 1961
  • The Reivers: A Reminiscence, 1962 (Pulitzer Prize)
    - Rosvot (suom. Kai Kaila, 1966)
    - film 1970, dir. by Mark Rydell, screenplay by Harriet Frank Jr., starring Steve McQueen, Sharon Farrell, Will Geer, Michael Constantine, Ruth White
  • William Faulkner: Early Prose and Poetry, 1962 (compilation and introd. by Carvel Collins)
  • Faulkner at West Point, 1964 (edited by Joseph L. Fant, III, and Robert Ashley, with the assistance of other members of the English Dept., U.S. Military Academy)
  • The Faulkner-Cowley File: Letters and Memories, 1944-1962, 1966
  • Essays, Speeches & Public Letters, 1966 (updated, with material never before collected in one volume; edited by James B. Meriwether, 2004)
  • The Wishing Tree, 1967 (illustrated by Don Bolognese)
    - Toivomuspuu (suom. Kaarina Ruohtula, 1971)
  • A Rose for Emily, 1970 (edited by M. Thomas Inge)
  • These Thirteen, 1979 (a limited ed., illustrated by Jerry Pinkney)
  • Flags in the Dust, 1973 (edited and with an introd. by Douglas Day)
  • Faulkner on Love: A Letter to Marjorie Lyons, 1974 (edited by Richard Lyons)
  • The Marionettes, 1975
  • Selected Letters of William Faulkner, 1976 (limited 1st ed; edited by Joseph Blotner)
  • Mayday, 1977
  • Uncollected Stories of William Faulkner, 1979 (edited by Joseph Blotner)
  • Helen, a Courtship; and, Mississippi Poems, 1981 (introductory essays by Carvel Collins and Joseph Blotner)
  • Sanctuary: The Original Text, 1981 (edited by Noel Polk)
  • Faulkner’s MGM screenplays, 1982 (edited with an introduction and commentaries by Bruce F. Kawin)
  • Father Abraham, 1983 (edited by James B. Meriwether, with wood engravings by John DePol)
  • Vision in Spring, 1984 (with an introduction by Judith L. Sensibar)
  • Novels, 1930-1935, 1985
  • Country Lawyer and Other Stories for the Screen, 1987 (edited by Louis Daniel Brodsky and Robert W. Hamblin)
  • "Unpublished" Stories, Typescripts, and Manuscripts, 1987 (introduced and arranged by Thomas L. McHaney)
  • Hunting Stories, 1988  (introduction by Cleanth Brooks; etchings by Neil Welliver)
  • Spotted Horses, 1989 (illustrated with original lithographs by Boyd Saunders)
  • Novels, 1936-1940, 1990
  • Thinking of Home: William Faulkner’s Letters to His Mother and Father, 1918-1925, 1992 (edited by James G. Watson) 
  • Novels 1942-1954, 1994
  • If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem; The Wild Palms, 1995  
  • Novels, 1957-1962, 1999
  • My Mother is a Fish: A Commonplace Reader of William Faulkner’s Fiction, 2000 (compiled by Janet Nosek)
  • Novels, 1926-1929, 2006

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