William Faulkner

William Faulkner (1897–1962)

William Faulkner was a Mississippi-born novelist, poet, and screenwriter, winner of the 1949 Nobel Prize in literature, and twice a winner of the Pulitzer Prize in fiction (1955, 1963). Considered one of the most important American writers of the twentieth century, he used primarily southern settings in his work—many of his most famous novels, including The Sound and the Fury (1929) and As I Lay Dying (1930), were set in fictional Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi—and examined complex social, psychological, and racial issues. A modernist, he often composed his tragic, even Gothic stories in a dense, stream-of-consciousness style that attempted to emulate the ebb and flow of his characters' thoughts. His characters, meanwhile, ranged from the descendants of slaves to the richest of New South aristocrats, from the illiterate and mentally ill to the Harvard educated. During the last years of his life, Faulkner was a writer-in-residence and a professor at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. MORE...

 

William Cuthbert Falkner was born on September 25, 1897, in New Albany, Mississippi, to Murry Cuthbert Falkner, a railroad worker, and Maud Butler, a housewife. William was raised in Oxford, Mississippi, and, in 1915, left high school to work as a bookkeeper. Longing for adventure, he joined the Canadian Royal Air Force in 1918 by changing the spelling of his name to the British-sounding Faulkner. Faulkner entered the University of Mississippi in 1919 but withdrew in 1920. He then held various jobs in New York and Mississippi until 1924.

Faulkner's first published novel, Soldier's Pay (1926), drew on his experiences in World War I (1914–1918), while Mosquitoes (1927) examined literary life in New Orleans (in 1925, Faulkner lived there with the writer Sherwood Anderson). Faulkner married Lida Estelle Oldham Franklin on June 20, 1929—she had divorced her husband to marry Faulkner and brought two children of her own to the marriage—and they later had two daughters, Alabama, who died nine days after being born, and Jill.

Faulkner's critical and artistic ascendancy did not begin until the publication of The Sound and the Fury in 1929. Citing Faulkner's use of multiple narrators, critics marveled at the text's loose-limbed experimentalism, in which the author tells his story of the despairing, declining Compson family four separate times but never from the perspective of the character at the novel's center, Caddy. This was Pablo Picasso's Cubism in the form of novel-writing, only instead of Ernest Hemingway's virile hunters or James Joyce's Dubliners, one gets the rotting, rural underbelly of the New South. In As I Lay Dying (1930), Faulkner presented the journey of the Bundren family to bury their mother in fifty-nine chapters—one consisting of only a single, confusing sentence: "My mother is a fish"—and in fifteen different voices.

In addition to his work as a novelist, Faulkner earned a living during the 1930s and 1940s by writing movie screenplays based on his own fiction as well as that of other writers, including Hemingway's To Have and Have Not (1937) and Raymond Chandler's detective story The Big Sleep (1939). Faulkner's later work was not all commercially or even critically successful, but he continued to be recognized, winning the Nobel Prize, two Pulitzer Prizes (the second posthumously), and, in 1955, the National Book Award.

Though he lived most of his life at his Rowan Oak house in Oxford, Faulkner was writer-in-residence at the University of Virginia from 1957 until 1958, a position he accepted in part because his daughter and her family were living nearby. Portions of his lectures at the university are recorded in Faulkner in the University (1959) and William Faulkner: Essays, Speeches and Public Letters (1966). Faulkner bought a house in Charlottesville in 1959 and finished a trilogy he had begun with The Hamlet (1940), completing The Town (1957) and The Mansion (1959). From 1961 until his death, Faulkner taught American Literature at the University of Virginia. His last novel, The Reivers (1962), describes a boy's transition into adulthood.

Faulkner died on July 6, 1962, of a heart attack in Byhalia, Mississippi. He willed the major manuscripts and personal papers in his possession to the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library at the University of Virginia. In addition, in 1998 and 2000, his daughter, Jill Faulkner Summers, a resident of Charlottesville, donated two portions of his personal library to the University of Virginia collection.

Major Works

Books

  • The Marble Faun (1924)
  • Soldiers' Pay (1926)
  • Mosquitoes (1927)
  • Sartoris (1929)
  • The Sound and the Fury (1929)
  • As I Lay Dying (1930)
  • Sanctuary (1931)
  • These 13 (1931)
  • Idyll in the Desert (1931)
  • Miss Zilphia Gant (1932)
  • Salmagundi (1932)
  • Light in August (1932)
  • A Green Bough (1933)
  • Doctor Martino and Other Stories (1934)
  • Pylon (1935)
  • Absalom, Absalom! (1936)
  • The Unvanquished (1938)
  • The Wild Palms (1939)
  • The Hamlet (1940)
  • Go Down, Moses and Other Stories (1942)
  • Intruder in the Dust (1949)
  • Knight's Gambit (1951)
  • Collected Stories of William Faulkner (1951)
  • Notes on a Horsethief (1951)
  • Requiem for a Nun (1953)
  • Mirrors of Chartres Street (1953)
  • A Fable (1955)
  • Big Woods (1955)
  • Faulkner's County: Tales of Yoknapatawpha County (1955)
  • Jealousy and Episode: Two Stories (1955)
  • The Town (1958)
  • New Orleans Sketches (edited by Carvel Collins, 1958)
  • The Mansion (1961)
  • The Reivers (1962)
  • Early Prose and Poetry (edited by Carvel Collins, 1962)
  • Essays, Speeches & Public Letters (edited by James B. Meriwether, 1966)
  • The Wishing Tree (1967)
  • Faulkner's University Pieces (edited by Carvel Collins, 1970)
  • The Big Sleep (screenplay, by Faulkner, Jules Furthman, and Leigh Brackett, 1971)
  • The Marionettes: A Play in One Act (1975)
  • Mayday (1976)
  • Mississippi Poems (1979)
  • Uncollected Stories of William Faulkner (edited by Joseph Blotner, 1979)
  • To Have and Have Not (screenplay, by Faulkner and Furthman, 1980)
  • The Road to Glory (screenplay, by Faulkner and Joel Sayre, 1981)
  • Helen: A Courtship (1981)
  • Faulkner's MGM Screenplays (edited by Bruce F. Kawin, 1982)
  • Elmer (edited by Dianne Cox, 1983)
  • A Sorority Pledge (1983)
  • Father Abraham (edited by Meriwether, 1983)
  • The DeGaulle Story (screenplay, edited by Louis Daniel Brodsky and Robert W. Hamblin, 1984)
  • Vision in Spring (edited by Judith Sensibar, 1984)
  • Battle Cry (screenplay, edited by Brodsky and Hamblin, 1985)
  • William Faulkner Manuscripts (25 volumes, edited by Blotner, Thomas L. McHaney, Michael Millgate, and Noel Polk, 1986–1987)
  • Country Lawyer and Other Stories for the Screen (edited by Brodsky and Hamblin, 1987)
  • Stallion Road (screenplay, edited by Brodsky and Hamblin, 1989).

Collections

  • Three Famous Short Novels (comprises Spotted Horses, Old Man, and The Bear, 1942)
  • The Portable Faulkner (edited by Malcolm Cowley, 1946)
  • The Faulkner Reader (1954)
  • Snopes: A Trilogy (3 volumes, comprises The Hamlet [revised edition], The Town, and The Mansion, 1964)

Time Line

  • September 25, 1897 - William Cuthbert Falkner, known as William Faulkner, is born in New Albany, Mississippi, to Murry Cuthbert Falkner, a railroad worker, and Maud Butler, a housewife.
  • 1915 - William Faulkner leaves high school to work as a bookkeeper.
  • 1918 - William Falkner joins the Canadian Royal Air Force by changing the spelling of his name to the British-sounding Faulkner.
  • 1919–1920 - William Faulkner is enrolled at the University of Mississippi.
  • 1926 - William Faulkner's first novel, Soldier's Pay, is published, drawing on his experiences in World War I (1914–1918).
  • 1929 - William Faulkner's novel The Sound and the Fury is published.
  • June 20, 1929 - William Faulkner marries Lida Estelle Oldham Franklin. She divorces her husband to marry Faulkner, bringing two children to her second marriage and bearing Faulkner two more daughters named Alabama, who died nine days after being born, and Jill.
  • 1930 - William Faulkner's novel As I Lay Dying is published.
  • 1949 - William Faulkner wins the Nobel Prize for literature.
  • 1955 - In this year, William Faulkner is awarded the first of his two Pulitzer Prize awards for fiction and the National Book Award.
  • 1957–1958 - William Faulkner is writer-in-residence at the University of Virginia.
  • 1961–1962 - William Faulkner teaches, in the final year of his life, American literature at the University of Virginia.
  • 1962 - William Faulkner's last novel, The Reivers, is published. It describes a boy's transition into adulthood.
  • July 6, 1962 - William Faulkner dies of a heart attack in Byhalia, Mississippi. He wills the major manuscripts and personal papers in his possession to the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library at the University of Virginia.
  • 1963 - William Faulkner is awarded his second Pulitzer Prize in fiction.

References

Further Reading
Faulkner in the University, ed. Frederick L. Gwynn and Joseph L. Blotner. Charlottesville, Va: University of Virginia Press, 1995.
Gray, Richard J. The Life of William Faulkner: A Critical Biography. Oxford; Cambridge, Mass.: Blackwell Publishers, 1994.
Minter, David. William Faulkner: His Life and Work. Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980.
Parini, Jay. One Matchless Time: A Life of William Faulkner. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2004.
Cite This Entry
APA Citation:
Smith, D. William Faulkner (1897–1962). (2014, May 27). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Faulkner_William_1897-1962.

MLA Citation:
Smith, D. "William Faulkner (1897–1962)." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 27 May. 2014. Web. READ_DATE.

First published: January 29, 2009 | Last modified: May 27, 2014


Contributed by Dorsía Smith, a professor of English at the University of Puerto Rico, Río Piedras. She is co-editing The Caribbean without Borders.