William Cuthbert Faulkner (September 25, 1897 – July 6, 1962) was an Americannovelist, film screenwriter, and poet whose works feature his native state of Mississippi. He is regarded as one of the most influential writers of the twentieth century and was awarded the 1949 Nobel Prize for Literature.
Faulkner was known for an experimental style with meticulous attention to diction and cadence, in contrast to the minimalist understatement of his peer Ernest Hemingway. Although Faulkner is sometimes lauded as the inventor of the "stream of consciousness" technique in fiction, this is misleading. Other writers such as Henry James, James Joyce and Edouard Dujardin had used this technique before him.
Along with Mark Twain, Tennessee Williams, and Truman Capote, Faulkner is considered one of the most important "Southern writers." While his work was published regularly from the mid 1920s to the late 1940s, he was relatively unknown before receiving the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1949. Critics and the public now favor his work, and he is widely seen as among the greatest American writers of all time.
September 25, 1897(1897-09-25)
New Albany, Mississippi, U.S.
July 6, 1962 (aged 64)
Byhalia, Mississippi, U.S.
Novelist, short story writer
Modernism, stream of consciousness
James Joyce,William Shakespeare, Sherwood Anderson, T. S. Eliot, Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, Edgar Allan Poe
Juan Rulfo, Gabriel García Márquez, Flannery O'Conner, Cormac McCarthy, Harper Lee, Peter Carey, Steve Erickson, Louise Erdrich, Hunter S. Thompson, Edna O'Brien, Deleuze
Faulkner was born William Falkner in New Albany, Mississippi, and raised in and heavily influenced by that state, as well as by the history and culture of the South as a whole. When he was four years old, his entire family moved to the nearby town of Oxford, where he lived on and off for the rest of his life. Oxford is the model for the town of "Jefferson" in his fiction, and Lafayette County, Mississippi which contains the town of Oxford, is the model for his fictional "Yoknapatawpha County." Faulkner's roots in North Mississippi ran deep. His great-grandfather, William Clark Falkner, was an important figure in northern Mississippi who served as a colonel in the Confederate Army, founded a railroad, and gave his name to the town of Falkner in nearby Tippah County. Perhaps most importantly, he wrote several novels and other works, establishing a literary tradition in the family. More relevantly, Colonel Falkner served as the model for Colonel John Sartoris in his great-grandson's writing.
It is understandable that the older Falkner was influenced by the history of his family and the region in which they lived. Mississippi marked his sense of humor, his sense of the tragic position of blacks and whites, his keen characterization of usual Southern characters and his timeless themes, one of them being that fiercely intelligent people dwelled behind the façades of good old boys and simpletons. After being snubbed by the United States Army because of his height, Faulkner first joined the Canadian and then the Royal Air Force, yet did not see any World War I wartime action. The definitive reason for Faulkner's change in the spelling of his last name is still unknown. Some possibilities include adding an "u" to appear more British when entering the Royal Air Force, or so that his name would come across as more aristocratic. He may have also simply kept a misspelling that an early editor had made.
Although Faulkner is heavily identified with Mississippi, he was living in New Orleans in 1925 when he wrote his first novel, Soldiers' Pay, after being influenced by Sherwood Anderson to try fiction. The small house at 624 Pirate's Alley, just around the corner from St. Louis Cathedral, is now the premises of Faulkner House Books, and also serves as the headquarters of the Pirate's Alley Faulkner Society.
Faulkner married Estelle Oldham (19 February 1896 to 11 May 1972) 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" where he and his family lived until his daughter Jill, after her mother's death, sold the property to the University of Mississippi in 1972. The house and furnishings are maintained much as they were in Faulkner's time. Still, today, one can find Faulkner's scribblings on the wall here, notably, 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 dense novel A Fable.
On writing, 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", in an interview with The Paris Review in 1956. 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."
-- Flannery O'Connor, "Some Aspects of the Grotesque in Southern Fiction"
Faulkner's most celebrated novels include The Sound and the Fury (1929), As I Lay Dying (1930), Light in August (1932), Absalom, Absalom! (1936), and The Unvanquished (1938). Faulkner was also a prolific writer of short stories: His first short story collection, These 13 (1932), 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.
Additional 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 his The Marionettes, which he essentially self-published as a young man. Faulkner also 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.
Faulkner's literary accolades are numerous. He received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1949 for "his powerful and artistically unique contribution to the modern American novel". Although Faulkner won two Pulitzer Prizes, they were not awarded for his most famous novels, but were both given to what are considered as Faulkner's "minor" novels. First was his 1954 novel A Fable, which took the Pulitzer in 1955, and then his 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.
In 1946, Faulkner was one of three finalists for the first Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine Award. He came in second to Manly Wade Wellman.
Much has been made of the fact that Faulkner had a serious drinking problem throughout his life. He was not alone in this area; a list of contemporaneous American writers who struggled with alcohol would stretch to several pages. But as Faulkner himself stated on several occasions, and as was witnessed by members of his family, the press, and friends at various periods over the course of his career, he did not drink while writing, nor did he believe that alcohol helped to fuel the creative process. It is now widely believed that Faulkner used alcohol as an "escape valve" from the day-to-day pressures of his regular life, including his never-ending and maddening financial straits, rather than the more romantic vision of a brilliant writer who needed alcohol to pursue his craft. From 1949 to 1953, he conducted an affair with a young writer who considered him her mentor. The relationship with Joan Williams (1928-2004) became the subject of her third novel, called The Wintering (1971).
William Faulkner's Underwood Universal Portable typewriter in his office at Rowan Oak, which is now maintained by the University of Mississippi in Oxford as a museum.
In the 1930s Faulkner moved to Hollywood to be a screenwriter (producing scripts for Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep and Ernest Hemingway's To Have and Have Not, both directed by Howard Hawks). Faulkner became good friends with director Howard Hawks, as well as screenwriter A.I. Bezzerides. Faulkner also befriended actors Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. Also at that time, Faulkner started an affair with Hawks's secretary and script girl Meta Carpenter. In Hollywood, Faulkner was rather famous for drinking as well, and throughout his life was known to be an alcoholic. Faulkner's Hollywood experience is treated in fictionalized fashion in the Joel and Ethan Coen 1991 film Barton Fink. That film's supporting character, W.P. Mayhew, is intended as a composite of Faulkner and his Lost Generation peer, F. Scott Fitzgerald.
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 been quite literal and had returned home to Mississippi to finish the screenplay.
Faulkner 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 served as Writer-in-Residence at the University of Virginia from 1957 until his death at Wright's Sanitorium in Byhalia, Mississippi of a heart attack at the age of 64.
Soldiers' Pay (1926)
Sartoris/Flags in the Dust (1929/1973)
The Sound and the Fury (1929)
As I Lay Dying (1930)
Light in August (1932)
Absalom, Absalom! (1936)
The Unvanquished (1938)
If I Forget Thee Jerusalem (The Wild Palms/Old Man) (1939)
The Hamlet (1940)
Go Down, Moses (1942, episodic novel made up of rewritten previous published short stories)
The William Faulkner Audio Collection. Caedmon, 2003. Five hours on five discs includes Faulkner reading his 1949 Nobel Prize acceptance speech and excerpts from As I Lay Dying, The Old Man and A Fable, plus readings by Debra Winger ("A Rose for Emily", "Barn Burning"), Keith Carradine ("Spotted Horses") and Arliss Howard ("That Evening Sun", "Wash"). Winner of AudioFile Earphones Award.
William Faulkner Reads: The Nobel Prize Acceptance Speech, Selections from As I Lay Dying, A Fable, The Old Man. Caedmon/Harper Audio, 1992. Cassette. ISBN 1-55994-572-9
William Faulkner Reads from His Work. Arcady Series, MGM E3617 ARC, 1957. Faulkner reads from The Sound and The Fury (side one) and Light in August (side two). Produced by Jean Stein, who also did the liner notes with Edward Cole. Cover photograph by Robert Capa (Magnum).
Light in August
Light in August is a 1932novel by the American authorWilliam Faulkner.
Light in August is an exploration of racial conflict in the society of the Southern United States. The title of the book was inspired by the special light that illuminates Mississippi in August, which seems to come from the far past. This underlines Faulkner's interest in the weight of history and the manner in which we relate to our pasts. A "light", at this time, was also a slang term for a pregnancy. Thus, a "Light in August" highlights the pregnancy and childbirth of one of the novel's protagonists, Lena Grove.
Originally Faulkner planned to call the novel Dark House, which also became the working title for Absalom, Absalom! However, one evening while sitting on a porch during a summer evening, his wife remarked on the strange quality that light in the south has during the month of August. Faulkner rushed out of his chair to his manuscript, scratched out the original title, and pencilled in Light in August.
So this Light in August can be seen in the novel as Lena Grove's newly born child. The child is born in August and is the "light" of the new generation, a generation untouched by the racism, prejudice, and hatred of the past.
Time magazine included the novel in its TIME 100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005.
The narrative structure consists of three connected plot-strands. The first strand tells the story of Lena Grove, a young pregnant woman who is trying to find the father of her unborn child, Lucas Burch. With that purpose she leaves her home town and walks several hundred miles afoot to Jefferson, a town in Faulkner's fictional Yoknapatawpha County. There she is supported by Byron Bunch, an employee in the planing mill who falls in love with Lena and hopes to marry her. Bunch keeps secret that Lucas Burch is hiding in town under the alias Joe Brown. Lena is a simple child of nature, representing positive human qualities like innocence and endurance. Her journey in August and the birth of her child are symbolic of the eternal cycle of nature.
The narrative plot of Lena's story is also circular; it builds a framework around the two other plot-strands. One of these is the story of the enigmatic character Joe Christmas.
Christmas came to Jefferson three years before the novel's beginning, and got a job at the planing mill. The work at the planing mill is a cover up for his illegal alcohol business. He has a sexual relationship with Joanna Burden, an older woman who descended from a formerly powerful abolitionist family. Joanna Burden continues her ancestors' struggle for Black emancipation, which makes her an outsider in the society of Jefferson, much like Christmas.
Her relationship with Christmas begins rather unusually, with Christmas sneaking into her house to steal food, for he has not eaten in twenty four hours. As a result of sexual frustration and the beginning of menopause, Joanna turns to religion. Joanna's turn to religion is frustrating for Christmas, who as a child ran away from his abusive adoptive parents who were conservatively religious. At the climax of her relation to Christmas, she tries to force him, by threatening him with a gun, to admit publicly his black ancestry and to join a black law firm. Joanna Burden is murdered soon after by Christmas in an attempted murder-suicide. Her throat is slit and she is nearly decapitated. Her body was left to burn inside her house which is set on fire to cover the evidence of her murder. The murder was presumably committed by Joe Christmas, but this is not explicitly narrated. It appears that Lucas Burch/Joe Brown may have at least set the house on fire. Lucas is initially cast as a possible murderer, as he was found inside the burning house by a passing farmer who rescued Joanna's body from the flames.
Thanks to a tip-off by Lucas Burch/Joe Brown, Christmas' previous business partner in the moon-shining venture and the father of Lena's child, Christmas is caught after giving himself up in a neighboring town. During his unsuccessful escape attempt, Christmas is shot and castrated by a national Guardsman named Percy Grimm.
The third plot strand tells the story of Reverend Gail Hightower. He is obsessed by the past adventures of his Confederate grandfather, who was killed while stealing chickens from a farmer's shed. Hightower's community dislikes him because of his sermons about his dead grandfather, and because of the scandal surrounding his personal life: his wife committed adultery, and later killed herself, turning the town's community against Hightower and effectively turning him into a pariah. The only character who does not turn his back on the Reverend is Byron Bunch, who visits Hightower from time to time. Bunch also tries to convince the Reverend to give the imprisoned Christmas an alibi, but Hightower initially refuses. When Christmas escapes from police custody he runs to Hightower's house where he tries to hide. Hightower then accepts Byron's suggestion, but it is too late as Percy Grimm is close behind.
At the end of the novel, the Reverend helps Lena to deliver her baby, a circumstance that helps him break his inner isolation and makes him feel his approaching death.
All characters in Light in August are multidimensional: i.e., each one is subject and object, observer and observed, self-crucified and crucified by others, villain and victim.
Style and structure
In this novel, Faulkner was influenced by European literary stylistics and conventions, like the stream of consciousness technique, necessary to explore the innermost recesses of the psyche of the characters. The novel's narrative is not organized chronologically, as it is interrupted by often lengthy flashbacks. The main focus of the narration constantly shifts from one character to another. Other significant stylistic devices are the numerous interior monologues that Faulkner uses to achieve the utmost authenticity in his characters' voices. Just as a person does not know the history of a new acquaintance; Faulkner gives more information about characters as the novel progresses.
Isolation is arguably the main theme of the work. Lena, Christmas, Hightower, Bunch, and Joanna are all isolated to varying degrees. Christmas can be viewed as an existential character in search of meaning or identity. He is a victim figure, objectified, virtually powerless. Hightower's retreat from society and his reluctance to reenter it can be read to contrast Christmas. Similarly, Lena's naturalistic/primal representation contrasts Christmas.
Joe Christmas, whose name is obviously symbolic (J.C.), can be viewed as a Christ figure. He showed up in front of the orphanage on Christmas day, symbolic of Jesus' birth. On a side note, Faulkner has 66 total characters in his book, and there are 66 books in the Bible. His death (at age 33) is described in terms of rising and serenity. The bullets from Percy Grimm's gun pierce the wooden table behind which Christmas crouches like nails through a cross. Lena and her fatherless child parallel Mary and Christ. Byron Bunch acts as the Joseph figure, acting as father for Lucas Burch/Joe Brown. Christianimagery can be found throughout.
As detailed by Hlavsa's Faulkner and the Thoroughly Modern Novel (Charlottesville: U of Virginia P, 1991), Light in August has 21 chapters, as does the Gospel of St. John. Each chapter in Faulkner corresponds to themes in John. For example, echoing John's famous, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God", is Lena insistent faith in the "word" of Lucas, who is, after all, the father. John 5, the healing of the lame man by immersion, is echoed by Joe's repeatedly being immersed in liquids. The teaching in the temple in John 7 is echoed by McEachern's trying to teach Joe his catechism. Most important, the crucifixion occurs in John 19, the same chapter in which Joe is slain and castrated.
Misogynistic / homosexual
Christmas' relationships with women are strictly dysfunctional. He understands and engages in relationships only in violent terms. In fact, this is true to a lesser degree for the other characters as well. Some imagery can be interpreted as being homosexual, though others state that Joe's relationships with women were just conflicted. He thinks women are only out to make him cry. Note the masculinity of the names Joanna and Bobbie, the two women he was relationships with.
Christmas' racial identity (or lack thereof) is only a part of a larger theme of identity. To Christmas, his Negro blood, as defined by the behavior of others toward him, represents a sort of original sin which has tainted his body and actions since birth. Blackness is connected with abyss-like imagery and a sort of impurity and separateness from God. This is especially troublesome for the European-appearing Christmas, who has no actual confirmation of his African lineage. Christmas lives his life always on the road, running from white societies which he believes he does not belong in. He hates these seemingly pure societies due to their inability to understand the depths of his irremovable damnation. His racial identity seems to be a secret that he abhors as well as cherishes; he often willingly tells people that he is black, as he seems to enjoy their astonished, pitying, or hate-filled reactions.
Faulkner also explores the idea of the 'curse of racism' through Joanna and Hightower's characters. Both have been ostracized and threatened for their black sympathies, yet both remain in Jefferson as hermetical figures.