William Cuthbert Faulkner (1897-1962) was born in New Albany, Mississippi. Winner of the Nobel Prize for literature in 1950 and various book awards around the world, this Southern novelist and short story writer has been acclaimed as one of the greatest writers of the twentieth century.
Among his most notable works are The Sound and The Fury (1929), As I Lay Dying (1930), Light in August (1932) and Absolom, Absolom! (1936).
Faulkner was born into a colorful family in the Deep South. He was influenced by his family’s history as well as the Southern region in which he lived with deep ties to the Civil War, Reconstruction, slavery and discrimination. He grew up in Oxford, Mississippi which he later used as a model for his fictional “Yoknapatawpha County”. William demonstrated artistic talents for writing and poetry at an early age; however, formal education bored him. A high school dropout, he tried to enlist in the U.S. Army in 1918 only to be turned down due to his small stature, so he went to Canada and enlisted in the British Armed Forces. He also changed his name from Falkner to Faulkner. He attended the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) in 1919 for a short while publishing poems, reviews and short stories for the campus newspaper, Mississippian. Nevertheless, he never got a degree. Some of his various jobs consisted of working at a New York bookstore, as postmaster at the Ole Miss post office, and for a New Orleans newspaper in1925. The same year he travelled through England, France and Italy. He lived in Paris, and took on the appearance of a bohemian like many of the Lost Generation before him. His use of symbols and impressionism may have been influenced by this period of this life. However, it was his meeting with writer Sherwood Anderson in New Orleans that launched his career. He published his first novel, Soldier’s Pay (1926).
He married a former sweetheart, Estelle Oldham in 1929. She already had two children from a former marriage. She and William would also have two daughters of their own. Needing money, he accepted an offer from MGM Studios in Hollywood as a screen writer and worked for the film studios through the 30’s and 40’s.
The Southern Renaissance
Along with famous writers such as Allen Tate, Caroline Gordon, Katherine Anne Porter, and Robert Penn Warren, William Faulkner falls into the category of “Southern Renaissance” writers. This period of literature usually refers to the time between World War I and World War II where the authors are distanced enough from the War for Southern Independence and slavery to be able to use more modern techniques of storytelling such as “stream of consciousness”, complicated points of views and shifting time references. Their main themes are based on the burden of the Southern past, its shame, stoic Southern traditions and eccentricity in the face of social upheaval. There is great focus on the individual’s relationship to community and how these characters develop both socially and morally.
Faulkner is well known for his works dealing with a fictional Southern setting and landscape, “Yoknapatawpha County”. Many of his short stories, “A Rose for Emily”, “Red Leaves”, “That Evening Sun”, as well as his novels, The Hamlet (1940), The Town (1957) and The Mansion (1959) take place in Yoknapatawpha County. It has been referred to as a microcosm of the South. The novels are set in a time frame from the beginning of the nineteenth century to Faulkner’s own time. In his Yoknapatawpha sagas as well as in his other works, i.e. Sanctuary (1931), The Unvanquished (1938) and The Reivers (1962), he has developed all types of characters: Southern aristocrats, African-Americans, Yankees, children, back woodsmen, Indians, as well as white trash and Southern grotesques. There is also much emphasis placed on the ongoing relationships between Blacks and Whites. His novels and short stories are often violent and deal with human behavior on all levels of society. Several have also been made into films.
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