William (Cuthbert) Faulkner
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 in 1959. Faulkner was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1949. Faulkner's style is not very easy - in this he has much 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, as 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. About the age of 13, he began to write poetry. He dropped out of high school before graduating and worked briefly in his grandfather's bank.
After being rejected from the army because he was too short, 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. 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. In 1920 he left the university without taking a degree and moved to New York City, working as a clerk in a bookstore. Then he returned to Oxford where he supported himself as a postmaster at the University of Mississippi. Faulkner was fired for reading on the job. He drifted to New Orleans, where Sherwood Anderson encouraged him to write fiction rather than poetry.
Faulkner's first book, THE MARBLE FAUN, a collection of poems, appeared in 1924, but did not gain success. In 1926 he published SOLDIER'S PAY, a novel centering 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. The early works of Faulkner bear witness to his reading of Keats, Tennyson, Swinburne, and the literature of the 1890s.
In 1929 Faulkner wrote Sartoris, the first of fifteen novels set in Yoknapatawpha County, a fictional region of Mississippi. The book 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). ABSALOM, ABSALOM!, generally considered Faulkner's masterpiece, operates through a range of voices, all trying to unravel the mysteries of Thomas Sutpen's violent life.In 1929 Faulkner married Estelle Oldham Franklin, his childhood sweetheart, who had divorced. 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. While working at an electrical power station in a nightshift job, he wrote As I Lay Dying (1930). The book consists of interior monologues, most of them spoken by members of the Bundren family. Faulkner follows the illness, death and burial of Addie Bundren. Her dying wish is to be buried in her home town. The family struggles through flood and fire to carry her coffin to the graveyard in Jefferson, Mississippi. 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) was according to the author "deliberately conceived to make money." In the story a young woman is raped by a murderer and finds sanctuary in a brothel. In these and the following works 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.
To earn money 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. 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! concentrated 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, writing 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 in 1946 with the publication of THE PORTABLE FAULKNER, which rescued him from near-oblivion. However, Faulkner's physique was seriously weakened by hard drinking, and besides his own problems 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." Hollywood was a refuge from domestic problems, but he also had there series of affairs. Later Meta Carpenter Wilde, a script girl, wrote a book about their relationship. For serious creative work Hollywood was a wrong place for Faulkner, which he did not hide: "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 1940 in THE HAMLET. 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.