Reader's Encyclopedia

Faulkner, William (1897 - 1962)

American novelist and short - story writer. Faulkner, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1949, is recognized as one of the greatest of American writers. In his novels, most of them set in the imaginary Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi, he created a complex social structure within which he explored the burden of the southern past, the inability of southern aristocracy to meet the demands of modern life, the relations between black and white, and the alienation and loneliness that so beset 20th -century man. In so doing, he drew an immense gallery of vivid and unforgettable characters.

Elements of Faulkner's old Mississippi family ' s past appear in his books. His great - grandfather Col. William C. Falkner (Faulkner changed the spelling with the publication of his first book) wrote a popular romance, The White Rose of Memphis (1880). His violent death in 1889 furnished his great - grandson with material for Sartoris and The Unvanquished, in which he was the model for Col. John Sartoris. In 1918 Faulkner enlisted in the Canadian Air Force but did not see active service. After World War I he briefly attended the University of Mississippi and worked at numerous odd jobs. He published a book of verse, The Marble Faun, in 1924 and, with the help of Sherwood Anderson, secured the publication of his first novel, Soldier's Pay, in 1926.

It was in Sartoris, his third book, that Faulkner created Yoknapatawpha County. In the same year (1929) he produced The Sound and the Fury, by common consent one of his half - dozen masterpieces. Although the styles of the two books are radically different -- The Sound and the Fury owes much to James Joyce and the stream of consciousness technique -- both deal with the breakup of old aristocratic southern families. In As I Lay Dying Faulkner relates a terrifyingly comic story of a ritualized burial journey. But it was not until the publication of Sanctuary in 1931 that Faulkner achieved any appreciable popular success. He himself did much to mislead the reaction to this novel by suggesting that it was hastily written as a potboiler. In fact, he wrote two versions of it. Grotesquely shocking though it often is, it remains an extraordinary examination of a criminal personality, a book of great craft, allegorical in intent.

These Thirteen, a volume of short stories, was followed by Light in August, the agonizing story of Joe Christmas. In 1933 Faulkner published another volume of verse, The Green Bough. Three years later came the brilliant Absalom, Absalom! which was critically regarded as a high point in Faulkner's development. Still to come, however, were The Unvanquished, a collection of interlocking stories; The Wild Palms (1939), also stories; The Hamlet, the first of a trilogy that would include The Town (1957) and The Mansion (1959); Go Down, Moses, containing the famous story " The Bear " ; Intruder in the Dust; Knight's Gambit, more stories; Requiem for a Nun, related to Sanctuary; and A Fable, in which Faulkner left Yoknapatawpha County for the French Army in World War I. This last - mentioned novel won a Pulitzer Prize, as did The Reivers (1962). The Uncollected Stories of William Faulkner (ed J. Blotner) was published in 1979.

In the 1930s, many readers saw only the melodramatic violence in Faulkner's writing. It was not until Malcolm Cowley 's introduction to The Portable Faulkner (1946), later supplemented by publication of the Faulkner - Cowley correspondence (1967), that the continuity and consistency of his work, as well as his concern with "the tragic fable of southern history," began to be fully understood.