Written by Raphael Leduc


Biography of William Faulkner

William Faulkner was born on September 25, 1897, in New Albany, Mississippi. He was named after his great-grandfather, the “Old Colonel,” who was indeed a colonel in the American Civil War. The old Colonel had died in a duel with a former business partner, a few years before Faulkner’s birth. During his life, the Old Colonel had been involved in politics, business, agriculture, finance, and even wrote a best-selling novel, The White Rose of Memphis. This man’s impressive achievements would put pressure on his descendents to live up to his standard.

The family moved from New Albany to Oxford, Mississippi, when William was five: his grandfather had decided to sell his railroad. William Faulkner would live in Oxford for most of his life. During his youth, he showed his artistic talent through drawing and poetry. His early works imitated the romantic poets. However, he found school boring, and his grades declined until he finally quit in tenth grade. William tried to enrol in the American Air Force but was rejected because of his height (he was 5’6’’). Although he was accepted into the Canadian Royal Air Force, the war ended before he would see combat. This didn’t stop him from spinning many tall tales about his “achievements”, such as claiming he had a metal plate in his head.

After the war, Faulkner returned to Oxford, Mississippi, where he was admitted to the University of Mississippi under a provision for war veterans. There, he took advantage of the campus newspaper (the Mississippian) to publish his first poems and short stories, but quit after three semesters. He would continue to write for the Mississippian for the next few years.

In 1921, Faulkner took a job in a New York City bookstore, and tried unsuccessfully to make contacts in the publishing world. Returning to Oxford in 1922, he worked at the university post office until 1924 when he was forced to resign due to his very low work ethics and standards.

The year 1924 is also when Faulkner saw his first book published—The Marble Faun—a volume of poetry.  He then moved to New Orleans in 1925, where he met writers involved in the literary magazine The Double Dealer. One of these writers was Sherwood Anderson, who advised him to write fiction. Faulkner’s first book, Soldier's Pay, was inspired by his experience in the war and was published in 1926. After this novel, he spent a few months in Paris, possibly imitating many of his contemporaries. He visited the same café as James Joyce, yet could never summon the courage to speak to him.

It is with his third novel—Sartoris—that Faulkner began to focus on his homeland, the American South. He drew upon his family history to create a fictional county: Yoknapatawpha. Sartoris had a hard time finding a publisher, and Faulkner began to write a novel for his own pleasure, since he thought his career was over.  He thought the work unpublishable, yet it became his first novel to know success: The Sound and the Fury, published in 1929. This was the starting point of his most prolific period, which lasted until 1942. During these years he wrote As I Lay Dying (1930), Sanctuary (1931), Light in August (1932), Pylon (1935), Absalom! Absalom! (1936), The Unvanquished (1938), The Wild Palms [If I Forget Thee Jerusalem] (1939), The Hamlet (1940), and Go Down, Moses! (1942). The short story “A Rose For Emily” was part of his first short story collection, These 13 (1932).

Faulkner finally attained widespread recognition when he won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1949. In his acceptance speech, he reveals his views on the creative process:

     I feel that this award was not made to me as a man, but to my work - a life's work in the agony and sweat of the human spirit, not for glory and least of all for profit, but to create out of the materials of the human spirit something which did not exist before. (From http://nobelprize.org/literature/laureates/1949/faulkner-speech.html)

     Faulkner would keep writing until his death in 1962. He revisited the American South frequently, through families that appeared in several novels. His writing style is known for its long sentences and carefully chosen words.  He concerned himself with the passage of time, and as such he frequently uses narrative time shifts and many of his characters have trouble dealing with social changes in their milieu.

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