William Faulkner is, in many opinions, the greatest American novelist and one of the world's greatest novelists in general. His work is characterized by lavish invention, fireworks of technical virtuosity, and a dominant tragic-ironic vision of life in which fate reigns, but is softened and enlivened by frequent burlesque and drastically comic scenes.
His work, which explores the depths of evil and infernal situations (madness, incest, murder, massacre, rape, lynching, fratricide, infanticide), is at the same time an affirmation of humanity and stoic humanism expressed in Christian iconography and an emphasis on the virtues that Faulkner highlighted in his unforgettable speech at the awarding of the Nobel Prize: courage, compassion, pride, love, honor, and sacrifice.
Faulkner's influence on world literature is enormous: suffice it to say that post-war American, Western European, and Latin American literature is unthinkable without him, from Albert Camus to Gabriel Garcia Marquez, from Vargas Llosa to Toni Morrison.
He grew up in a provincial environment, in the north of the poor southern state of Mississippi. The area and people left an indelible mark on his prose. Faulkner didn't graduate, but he read a lot (from world classics to French symbolists: Paul Verlaine, Oscar Wilde, Dostoevsky, Gustave Flaubert, Arthur Rimbaud, Algernon Charles Swinburne, William Shakespeare, and Miguel de Cervantes).
Early Life and Education
William Cuthbert Faulkner was born September 25, 1897, in Albany, Mississippi, and was the eldest of four sons born to Murry Cuthbert Falkner and Maud Butler. In his early years, he was greatly influenced by the Mississippian way of life and was heavily influenced by the culture of the American South.
His mother, Maud, and his maternal grandparents greatly influenced his creative resourcefulness, as they were all enthusiastic readers and knowledgeable in creative pursuits.
His childhood years were one of adventure, with his father teaching him how to hunt, fish, and track, while his mother taught him and his brothers to enjoy reading and going to church. So from an early age, he was exposed to the classics of Charles Dickens and the like.
He began to write poetry and began to model most of his works from the Romantic era. Although he was a good student in school, his academic performance began to decline when he reached high school, where he gradually lost interest in his studies.
He never finished high school, instead enrolling at the University of Mississippi in Oxford. Many of his poems were published in campus magazines, and although he would engage creatively in this way, he was unable to finish the semester at the institution and dropped out in November 1920.
Since he did not finish school, in 1918 he was accepted as a volunteer at the pilot school of the British Air Force in Canada. After the war, he returned to Oxford, where he lived a large part of his life, and where he began his creative life. He started with the novel "Soldier's Pay" in 1926 and several poems and short prose.
But as it was a rather difficult time, Faulkner had a hard time finding publishers. Because of this, he often stayed in Hollywood, where he lived by writing and rewriting scripts written by others, including his adaptations of Hemingway's novels.
Faulkner married Lida Estelle Oldham Franklin on June 20, 1929. She divorced her then-husband to marry Faulkner with whom she had two children. Later, she had two daughters with Faulkner - Alabama, who died nine days after birth, and Jill.
At the beginning of Faulkner's great writing career was his third novel "Sartoris", published in 1929, the story of a distinguished family of that name, which begins his saga about Yoknapatawpha and the town of Jefferson (apocryphal names for a town similar to Oxford and its district Lafayette). Faulkner built a historical, symbolic, and mythical world on an unusually accurately described and lived every detail of the life of his region (which also makes him a regional writer).
With prose of biblical magnitude and feverish intensity, William Faulkner created, as one critic put it, "a cosmos that no one owns." His sensibility was close to the naturalistic writers of the end of the 19th century, but at the same time a highly conscious and conscientious artist, he integrated many modernist narrative techniques into his work (e.g. the technique of stream of consciousness, temporal flashback found in films, the polyphony of voices, narrative cuts, and poetic comments).
The novel "The Sound and the Fury", published in 1929, depicts the downfall of four children of the old Compson family, embedded in the history of the American South, and at the same time is an experimental, innovative stream-of-consciousness novel that can stand alongside Joyce's "Ulysses".
The radicality of Faulkner's innovation is also visible in the fact that, essentially, the entire novel is contained in the consciousness of the idiot Benjy. This work is contrasted like an image in a mirror with a novel about the extremely poor peasant family of the Bundrens, "As I Lay Dying", 1930, which consists of the inner monologues of a husband and (dying) wife, their frantic, visionary and extravagant children and neighbors, and the action culminates in the mythic-grotesque, but primitive and stubborn, persistent transportation of the mother's coffin to a distant cemetery during a great flood.
Particularly shocking is "Sanctuary", published in 1931, in which the impotent gangster Popeye rapes the classy and challenging Temple Drake with a corncob and lives with her in a brothel in Memphis. Andre Malraux called the "Sanctuary" the penetration of Greek tragedy into the criminal trivia novel.
Followed "Light in August", published in 1932, centered around the tragic figure of Christ-Satan, hero and criminal Joe Christmas, obsessed with hyper-excited racial consciousness and self-hatred due to the suspicion that he has black blood; that novel simultaneously contains the most poignant love story in Faulkner's oeuvre and an account of the poisonous growth of religious fanaticism, and "Absalom, Absalom!", 1936, a technically inextricable tangle of the obsessive inner monologue of the young Quentin Compson and the triple narrative transmission of versions of the story of the rise and fall of Thomas Set in the era before, during, and after the American Civil War - the action takes place half a century before the actual story of the rise and fall of the South as a separate civilization.
That novel, which the writer himself considered his greatest achievement, is the author's "most Faulknerian" statement about the South, human destiny, and life in general.
"The Hamlet", 1940, is the first volume of the "trilogy" about the Snopes family, grotesquely depicted and caricatured members of a branched tribe of "white scum" and their invasion of Jefferson under the leadership of Flem Snopes, who in the remaining two parts, "The Town" published in 1957. and "Palace", 1960, takes over a bank and becomes a leading figure in Jefferson until he is shot by a defrauded relative.
And in that trilogy, which contains more political satire and social criticism, and less mythic grandeur and tragic schism than is usual with him, Faulkner remains a master: despite all the detachment and sarcasm, the trilogy abounds in unforgettable scenes and characters among which Faulkner's alter ego dominates, lawyer Gavin Stevens and his friend, common-sense and humane salesman V.K.Ratliff (later it turned out that V.K. stands for Vladimir Kirilovič - another ironic and humane comment by Faulkner in the era of the frenzy of McCarthyism and the Cold War).
Among the later novels, "Intruder in the Dust", 1948, a mixture of a detective story and a somewhat didactic narrative directed against the racial sin of the South embodied in lynching, then "Tale", 1954, an allegorical history that recreates a Christian myth, set in the trenches of 1. World War in France, and "The Reivers", 1962, the last novel, published just before the writer's death - a light story woven with nostalgia for past times.
These works are otherwise considered to be weaker and moralizing expressions of the author, who at that time built the persona of a southern gentleman with a liberal-humanist worldview.
However, in the great, tragic period of Faulkner's creativity, which lasted from the late twenties to the mid-forties, works of hybrid forms also appeared: in "The Wild Palms", 1939, the author interweaves a modern urban story about tragic love with a comic folk "epic" about the experiences of an innocent convicted prisoner for great floods.
He published some collections of short stories as "novels": "The Undefeated", 1938, (Faulkner's "western" and his most accessible work), and the chronicle of the rich farming family McCaslin, "Go Down, Moses", 1942, actually a collection of connected stories in which stands out "The Bear", a depiction of the ritual hunting of an ancient bear - a story interwoven with nostalgia for the "lost paradise" that has irretrievably disappeared.
In this sense, "Requiem for a Nun", 1951, composed of dramatic and prose segments, is also interesting. Faulkner also published several collections of short stories and conversations with students at various universities (Virginia Tech, Nagoya), and some initial works and selected letters were published posthumously.
Towards the end of his life, he enjoyed great popularity when he was chosen as an ambassador of American culture in Europe, South America, and Japan. In 1949, he received the Nobel Prize for Literature, giving his most famous speech. We can safely say that it was certainly the moment when Faulkner received the final recognition for all that he had done up to that point.
Faulkner died on July 6, 1962, of a heart attack in Byhalia, Mississippi. He bequeathed the major manuscripts and personal papers he owned to the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library at the University of Virginia. Additionally, 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.
Summaries & Analyses
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