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See Article History Alternative Titles: Youth and early writings As the eldest of the four sons of Murry Cuthbert and Maud Butler Falkner, William Faulkner as he later spelled his name was well aware of his family background and especially of his great-grandfather, Colonel William Clark Falkner, a colourful if violent figure who fought gallantly during the Civil War , built a local railway , and published a popular romantic novel called The White Rose of Memphis.
Born in New Albany, Mississippi, Faulkner soon moved with his parents to nearby Ripley and then to the town of Oxford , the seat of Lafayette county, where his father later became business manager of the University of Mississippi.
In Oxford he experienced the characteristic open-air upbringing of a Southern white youth of middle-class parents: In July , impelled by dreams of martial glory and by despair at a broken love affair, Faulkner joined the British Royal Air Force RAF as a cadet pilot under training in Canada , although the November armistice intervened before he could finish ground school, let alone fly or reach Europe.
After returning home, he enrolled for a few university courses, published poems and drawings in campus newspapers, and acted out a self-dramatizing role as a poet who had seen wartime service. After working in a New York bookstore for three months in the fall of , he returned to Oxford and ran the university post office there with notorious laxness until forced to resign.
A second novel, Mosquitoes , launched a satirical attack on the New Orleans literary scene, including identifiable individuals, and can perhaps best be read as a declaration of artistic independence.
Back in Oxford—with occasional visits to Pascagoula on the Gulf Coast —Faulkner again worked at a series of temporary jobs but was chiefly concerned with proving himself as a professional writer.
None of his short stories was accepted, however, and he was especially shaken by his difficulty in finding a publisher for Flags in the Dust published posthumously, , a long, leisurely novel, drawing extensively on local observation and his own family history, that he had confidently counted upon to establish his reputation and career. When the novel eventually did appear, severely truncated, as Sartoris in , it created in print for the first time that densely imagined world of Jefferson and Yoknapatawpha County —based partly on Ripley but chiefly on Oxford and Lafayette county and characterized by frequent recurrences of the same characters, places, and themes—which Faulkner was to use as the setting for so many subsequent novels and stories.
The novel did find a publisher, despite the difficulties it posed for its readers, and from the moment of its appearance in October Faulkner drove confidently forward as a writer, engaging always with new themes, new areas of experience, and, above all, new technical challenges.
Crucial to his extraordinary early productivity was the decision to shun the talk, infighting, and publicity of literary centres and live instead in what was then the small-town remoteness of Oxford, where he was already at home and could devote himself, in near isolation, to actual writing. In he married Estelle Oldham—whose previous marriage, now terminated, had helped drive him into the RAF in One year later he bought Rowan Oak, a handsome but run-down pre-Civil War house on the outskirts of Oxford, restoration work on the house becoming, along with hunting, an important diversion in the years ahead.
Oxford provided Faulkner with intimate access to a deeply conservative rural world, conscious of its past and remote from the urban-industrial mainstream, in terms of which he could work out the moral as well as narrative patterns of his work.
His fictional methods, however, were the reverse of conservative.
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Greater, if more equivocal , prominence came with the financially successful publication of Sanctuary , a novel about the brutal rape of a Southern college student and its generally violent, sometimes comic, consequences. Despite the demands of film work and short stories of which a first collection appeared in and a second in , and even the preparation of a volume of poems published in as A Green Bough , Faulkner produced in another long and powerful novel.
Complexly structured and involving several major characters, Light in August revolves primarily upon the contrasted careers of Lena Grove, a pregnant young countrywoman serenely in pursuit of her biological destiny, and Joe Christmas, a dark-complexioned orphan uncertain as to his racial origins, whose life becomes a desperate and often violent search for a sense of personal identity , a secure location on one side or the other of the tragic dividing line of colour.
Made temporarily affluent by Sanctuary and Hollywood, Faulkner took up flying in the early s, bought a Waco cabin aircraft, and flew it in February to the dedication of Shushan Airport in New Orleans, gathering there much of the material for Pylon, the novel about racing and barnstorming pilots that he published in The experience perhaps contributed to the emotional intensity of the novel on which he was then working.
Because this profoundly Southern story is constructed—speculatively, conflictingly, and inconclusively—by a series of narrators with sharply divergent self-interested perspectives, Absalom, Absalom! Later life and works The novel The Wild Palms was again technically adventurous, with two distinct yet thematically counterpointed narratives alternating, chapter by chapter, throughout.
But Faulkner was beginning to return to the Yoknapatawpha County material he had first imagined in the s and subsequently exploited in short-story form. Its episodic structure is underpinned by recurrent thematic patterns and by the wryly humorous presence of V.
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For various reasons—the constraints on wartime publishing, financial pressures to take on more scriptwriting, difficulties with the work later published as A Fable—Faulkner did not produce another novel until Intruder in the Dust , in which Lucas Beauchamp, reappearing from Go Down, Moses, is proved innocent of murder, and thus saved from lynching, only by the persistent efforts of a young white boy.
Local Oxford opinion proving hostile to such views, Faulkner in and readily accepted semester-long appointments as writer-in-residence at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. Attracted to the town by the presence of his daughter and her children as well as by its opportunities for horse-riding and fox-hunting, Faulkner bought a house there in , though continuing to spend time at Rowan Oak.
William Faulkner, photograph by Carl Van Vechten, c. Library of Congress, Washington, D.
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But the central sections of Requiem for a Nun are challengingly set out in dramatic form, and A Fable , a long, densely written, and complexly structured novel about World War I , demands attention as the work in which Faulkner made by far his greatest investment of time, effort, and authorial commitment.
Legacy By the time of his death Faulkner had clearly emerged not just as the major American novelist of his generation but as one of the greatest writers of the 20th century, unmatched for his extraordinary structural and stylistic resourcefulness, for the range and depth of his characterization and social notation, and for his persistence and success in exploring fundamental human issues in intensely localized terms.
Some critics, early and late, have found his work extravagantly rhetorical and unduly violent, and there have been strong objections, especially late in the 20th century, to the perceived insensitivity of his portrayals of women and black Americans. His reputation, grounded in the sheer scale and scope of his achievement, seems nonetheless secure, and he remains a profoundly influential presence for novelists writing in the United States, South America, and, indeed, throughout the world.