Faulkner, William (25 September 1897 - 6 July 1962)
William Faulkner (25 September 1897 - 6 July 1962)
Hans H. Skei
University of Oslo
This entry has been expanded by Skei from his Faulkner entry in DLB 102: American Short-Story Writers, 1910–1945, Second Series. See also the Faulkner entries in DLB 9:American Novelists, 1910–1945; DLB 11: American Humorists, 1800–1950; DLB 44: American Screenwriters, Second Series; DLB 316: American Prose Writers of World War I: A Documentary Volume; and DLB Documentary Series 2: James Gould Cozzens, James T. Farrell, William Faulkner, John O’Hara, John Steinbeck, Thomas Wolfe, Richard Wright.
BOOKS: The Marble Faun (Boston: Four Seas, 1924);
Soldiers’ Pay (New York: Boni & Liveright, 1926; London: Chatto & Windus, 1930);
Mosquitoes (New York: Boni & Liveright, 1927; London: Chatto & Windus, 1964);
Sartoris (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1929; London: Chatto & Windus, 1932); original, uncut version edited by Douglas Day as Flags in the Dust (New York: Random House, 1974);
The Sound and the Fury (New York: Cape & Smith, 1929; London: Chatto & Windus, 1931);
As I Lay Dying (New York: Cape & Smith, 1930; London: Chatto & Windus, 1935);
Sanctuary (New York: Cape & Smith, 1931; London: Chatto & Windus, 1931); unrevised version edited by Noel Polk as Sanctuary: The Original Text (New York: Random House, 1981);
These 13 (New York: Cape & Smith, 1931; London: Chatto & Windus, 1933);
Idyll in the Desert (New York: Random House, 1931);
Miss Zilphia Gant (Dallas: Book Club of Texas, 1932);
Salmagundi (Milwaukee: Casanova, 1932);
Light in August (New York: Smith & Haas, 1932; London: Chatto & Windus, 1933);
A Green Bough (New York: Smith & Haas, 1933);
Doctor Martino and Other Stories (New York: Smith & Haas, 1934; London: Chatto & Windus, 1934);
Pylon (New York: Smith & Haas, 1935; London: Chatto & Windus, 1935);
Absalom, Absalom! (New York: Random House, 1936; London: Chatto & Windus, 1937);
The Unvanquished (New York: Random House, 1938; London: Chatto & Windus, 1938);
The Wild Palms (New York: Random House, 1939; London: Chatto & Windus, 1939);
The Hamlet (New York: Random House, 1940; London: Chatto & Windus, 1940; revised, New York: Random House, 1964);
Go Down, Moses and Other Stories (New York: Random House, 1942; London: Chatto & Windus, 1942);
Intruder in the Dust (New York: Random House, 1948; London: Chatto & Windus, 1949);
Knight’s Gambit (New York: Random House, 1949; London: Chatto & Windus, 1951);
Collected Stories of William Faulkner (New York: Random House, 1950; London: Chatto & Windus, 1951);
Notes on a Horsethief (Greenville, Miss.: Levee, 1950 [i.e., 1951]);
Requiem for a Nun (New York: Random House, 1951; London: Chatto & Windus, 1953);
Mirrors of Chartres Street (Minneapolis: Faulkner Studies, 1953);
A Fable (New York: Random House, 1954; London: Chatto & Windus, 1955);
Big Woods (New York: Random House, 1955);
Faulkner’s County: Tales of Yoknapatawpha County (London: Chatto & Windus, 1955);
Jealousy and Episode: Two Stories (Minneapolis: Faulkner Studies, 1955);
The Town (New York: Random House, 1957; London: Chatto & Windus, 1958);
The Mansion (New York: Random House, 1959; London: Chatto & Windus, 1961);
The Reivers (New York: Random House, 1962; London: Chatto & Windus, 1962);
Early Prose and Poetry, edited by Collins (Boston: Little, Brown, 1962; London: Cape, 1963);
Faulkner’s University Pieces, edited by Collins (Tokyo: Kenkyusha, 1962; Folcroft, Pa.: Folcroft, 1970);
Essays, Speeches & Public Letters, edited by James B. Meriwether (New York: Random House, 1966; London: Chatto & Windus, 1967);
The Wishing Tree (New York: Random House, 1967; London: Chatto & Windus, 1967);
The Big Sleep [screenplay], by Faulkner, Jules Furthman, and Leigh Brackett (New York: Irvington, 1971);
The Marionettes: A Play in One Act (Charlottesville: Bibliographical Society, University of Virginia, 1975);
Mayday (South Bend, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1976);
Mississippi Poems (Oxford, Miss.: Yoknapatawpha, 1979);
Uncolkcted Stories of William, Faulkner, edited by Joseph Blotner (New York: Random House, 1979);
To Have and Have Not [screenplay], by Faulkner and Furthman (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1980);
The Road to Glory [screenplay], by Faulkner and Joel Sayre (Carbondale & Edwardsville: Southern Illinois University Press, 1981);
Helen: A Courtship (Oxford, Miss.: Yoknapatawpha, 1981);
Faulkner’s MGM Screenplays, edited by Bruce F. Kawin (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1982);
Elmer, edited by Dianne Cox (Northport, Ala.: Seajay, 1983);
A Sorority Pledge (Northport, Ala.: Seajay, 1983);
Father Abraham, edited by Meriwether (New York: Red Ozier Press, 1983; New York: Random House, 1984);
The DeGaulle Story [screenplay], edited by Louis Daniel Brodsky and Robert W Hamblin (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1984);
Vision in Spring, edited by Judith Sensibar (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1984);
Battle Cry [screenplay], edited by Brodsky and Hamblin (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1985);
William Faulkner Manuscripts, 25 volumes, edited by Blotner, Thomas L. McHaney, Michael Millgate, and Noel Polk (New York & London: Garland, 1986–1987);
Country Lawyer and Other Stories for the Screen, edited by Brodsky and Hamblin (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1987);
Stallion Road [screenplay], edited by Brodsky and Hamblin (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1989).
Collections: Three Famous Short Novels (New York: Random House, 1942)—comprises Spotted Horses, Old Man, and The Bear;
The Portable Faulkner, edited by Malcolm Cowley (New York: Viking, 1946; revised and enlarged, 1967); republished as The Essential Faulkner (London: Chatto & Windus, 1967);
The Faulkner Reader (New York: Random House, 1954);
Snopes: A Trilogy, 3 volumes (New York: Random House, 1964)—comprises The Hamlet (revised edition), The Town, and The Mansion.
PLAY PRODUCTIONS: The Marionettes, University, Miss., University of Mississippi, 4 March 1920;
Requiem for a Nun, London, Royal Court Theatre, 26 November 1957; New York, John Golden Theatre, 30 January 1959.
PRODUCED SCRIPTS: Today We Live, story and dialogue by Faulkner, motion picture, M-G-M, 1933;
The Road to Glory, by Faulkner and Joel Sayre, motion picture, 20th Century-Fox, 1936;
Slave Ship, story and additional dialogue by Faulkner, motion picture, 20th Century-Fox, 1937;
To Have and Have Not, adapted by Faulkner and Jules Furthman from Ernest Hemingway’s novel, motion picture, Warner Bros., 1944;
The Big Sleep, adapted by Faulkner, Furthman, and Leigh Brackett from Raymond Chandler’s novel, motion picture, Warner Bros., 1946;
Land of the Pharaohs, by Faulkner, Harry Kurnitz, and Harold Jack Bloom, motion picture, Warner Bros., 1955;
The Graduation Dress, by Faulkner and Joan Williams, television, CBS, 1960.
When William Faulkner was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for 1949, he used his Nobel Prize address in Stockholm in December 1950 to address the youth of the world. He spoke of the old verities of the human heart and offered the most direct expressions of the legacy that he wanted to leave behind. His words may sound vague and general; yet, they are a summing up of beliefs central to all his writing:
I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet’s, the writer’s, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet’s voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.
Faulkner’s writings are immersed in history; they record minute changes in social structures and in the rules and conventions that regulate human behavior, and they demonstrate the complexity of individual man and of social life.
Faulkner was in many ways a born storyteller, although his apprenticeship period was long and arduous, and when he reached complete mastery of character and narrative voice, critics and readers alike were unappreciative and reluctant to accept the challenge his experimental and modernistic texts presented. Over the years criticism and scholarship have discovered that his genius lies in the ability to portray all types of characters—male and female, white and Indian and black, old and young, normal and mentally handicapped—and in the use of a variety of narrative voices. By letting the characters contribute to the narration, Faulkner also reveals that the same story may mean many things to different people, that truth is relative, and that literature may lead to understanding but more often leads to more questions.
Faulkner was deeply immersed in the culture, the landscape, and the mores and values of the region where he was born and where he spent all of his life: the American South. He is clearly and obviously a “Southern writer,” but not in any sense of denigration or limitation. His books transcend the borders of his native region and of what he called in a Paris Review interview his own “postage stamp of native soil,” since he always rewrites the homeland and lifts his tales to a new level of significance and meaning, not only through his technical brilliance but through a rich and varied imagery that is both local and universal, rural and modernistic, rooted in local custom and in classical literature, and moving between the mimetic rendering of local speech and high modernist prose.
Faulkner scholarship—almost an industry in itself—has little by little sorted out the many factual errors that marred early criticism and research. In some cases Faulkner was himself responsible for factual errors in his biography, because of the stories he told and the different masks he hid behind. As late as in the 1950s critics still referred to Faulkner’s experience in World War I and the wounds he suffered there— although he never saw active duty. Furthermore, early critics and readers sought correspondences between Faulkner’s life and his fiction, being used to contemporary writers who frequently drew on autobiography in their writing. There are no direct parallels between Faulkner as a person and his characters, with the possible exception of the portraits of the artist that he creates early in his career. In a general sense, Faulkner’s fiction derived from the fact that he was descended from a colorful Southern family and from growing up and living in a South that had lost the Civil War but still kept the memory of the glory and gallantry in the war and the humiliation of defeat alive. Although Faulkner may not always have had the facts and details right, he had a profound sense of history. The past would never become only past but would always remain a part of a living now.
He was born William Cuthbert Falkner in New Albany, Mississippi, on 25 September 1897, the first child of Maud Butler Falkner and Murry Cuthbert Falkner. (William Faulkner added the u to his last name in 1918.) His paternal great-grandfather, Colonel William Clark Falkner, had a literary reputation, based mainly on his novel The White Rose of Memphis (1881), and must be seen as a major influence on his descendant, not the least because of his eventful life, which Faulkner transformed and fictionalized as that of Colonel John Sartoris. William Clark Falkner was killed on the street in Ripley, Mississippi, by his former business partner, and this scene is re-created several times in Faulkner’s fiction. Faulkner’s paternal grandfather, John Wesley Thompson Falkner, was a lawyer, railroad owner, and banker. He moved his family from Ripley to Oxford, Mississippi, in 1885, and in Faulkner’s fiction he is used as a model for Colonel John Sartoris’s son, Bayard. Yet, Faulkner’s use of family matters is more than simple recollection: it becomes an attempt to understand the meaning of past events in the context of Southern history.
Murry Falkner led a less glamorous life than his father and grandfather. He married Maud Butler in 1896, and they lived in New Albany and then Ripley, where Murry Falkner worked for the family railroad. When the railroad was sold, the family moved back to Oxford in 1902. Faulkner’s father participated in various business ventures financed by his father, including a livery stable and a hardware store. He finally became secretary of the University of Mississippi and later the business manager of the university.
Growing up in an area of the United States that was just advancing from frontier land, Faulkner led an adventurous life as the oldest of four boys (his brothers were Murry, born in 1899; John, born in 1901; and Dean, born in 1907), learning to handle guns and to hunt. The boys lived among horses and dogs while their father ran the livery stable, and they had many close playmates. Faulkner was a good student in elementary school, but as he grew older he became more interested in playing football than attending school. He enjoyed writing and drawing and often illustrated the poems and stories he wrote—a practice he continued even after he had established himself as a writer.
Faulkner stopped attending Oxford High School midway through the 1914–1915 school year without completing the last grade. He returned the following fall, mostly to play football, but quit school at the end of the season. He had, however, been reading poetry with Phil Stone, an older friend who was important to Faulkner’s development in these early years, and he had already begun showing his own poems to Stone.
Faulkner had several different jobs—ranging from bank clerk to postmaster at the university—during the long period before he began his literary career. He was discontented with his job in his grandfather’s bank but formed several important friendships while spending time around the university campus. He met the writer Stark Young, who became one of Faulkner’s early mentors, as well as Ben Wasson, who later served as his literary agent. But the friendship with Stone, four years older than Faulkner and a native of Oxford who studied law at the University of Mississippi and went on to Yale Law School, was the most decisive one, since Stone introduced him to much important literature and contributed significantly to Faulkner’s literary education.
In 1918 Faulkner’s girlfriend, Estelle Oldham, announced her engagement to Cornell Franklin. She and Faulkner had planned to marry, but the parents on both sides forbade the union. Faulkner had no education or profession, while Franklin was an established lawyer. Even though Oldham was willing to elope with Faulkner, he wanted her father’s consent. Unhappy also with other aspects of his life in Oxford, he decided to join the military. Unable to meet height and weight requirements for the United States Army, he instead joined the Canadian branch of the Royal Air Force (RAF) and went into training in Toronto in July; however, World War I came to an end before he could complete his flight training. He received a discharge in early December and returned to Oxford, wearing his RAF uniform and telling stories that suggested that he not only had been flying but also had been on active duty in the war. Throughout his life Faulkner remained fascinated with flying and fliers, as seen in several of his short stories and in the novel Pylon (1935). The flight training is clearly reflected in Faulkner’s first printed prose sketch, “Landing in Luck” (published in the student newspaper Mississippian, 26 November 1919), a story about a young cadet’s first solo flight, told with humor and a certain amount of technical skill. Despite this attempt at prose fiction, Faulkner was now writing poetry in earnest. He published his first poem in the 6 August 1919 issue of the New Republic, but most of his early poetry appeared in the local student newspaper.
In 1919 and 1920 Faulkner attended the University of Mississippi as a special student, taking courses in French, Spanish, and English (studying William Shakespeare) in his first semester but dropping the English course in his second semester. During this period Faulkner also contributed many drawings to the student newspaper. He began a second academic year but quit after a few weeks, officially withdrawing from the university in November 1920. His verse play, The Marionettes, produced by hand in six copies, was performed in 1920 at the university but was not published until 1975. He also made a single copy of a collection of his poems, “Visions in Spring,” and gave it to Estelle Franklin, who visited in Oxford in 1921. He went to New York, apparently following a suggestion from Young, and there he worked briefly as a bookstore clerk in the Fifth Avenue Doubleday Bookstore, run by Elizabeth Prall, who later married Sherwood Anderson. In late December 1921 he returned to Oxford to become postmaster of the University of Mississippi post office, a position he held from December 1921 to October 1924. Customers’ complaints were frequent, and he even got an official government reprimand for the job he did, but he read a great deal—probably including the literary magazines subscribed to by the university professors—and he continued writing poetry. In New Orleans, where he often went on weekends, he met some of the literati who edited the Double Dealer, which published his poem “Portrait” in the June 1922 issue. He also wrote book reviews and made his first attempts at writing some of the short stories published in the early 1930s.
Through the financial patronage of his friend Stone, Faulkner’s first book, The Marble Faun, was published in Boston in 1924. That same year he met Anderson in New Orleans, and for the first half of 1925 Faulkner lived in the city with the Andersons. It was the most formative year in Faulkner’s development as an artist: in this decisive year he made an almost complete transition from being a poet to becoming a fiction writer, publishing several pieces of experimental prose in the New Orleans Times-Picayune (collected in New Orleans Sketches, 1958). Faulkner had planned to embark from New Orleans to Europe, but he stayed on for some time with the Andersons and sailed for Europe aboard the West Ivis on July 1925. He traveled in Italy, Switzerland, France, and England before sailing for home on 8 December. Some of his early stories are set in postwar Europe, and his travels also paid off in his later fiction, although the time he spent on a novel titled “Elmer” did not pay off—he had to abandon this work before completion (the material was later turned into a short story, “A Portrait of Elmer,” and a 1983 book.)
Faulkner’s first published novel, Soldiers’ Pay, appeared on 25 February 1926, apparently accepted on Anderson’s recommendation. In the same year he wrote Mosquitoes (1927) in addition to minor work, such as the novelette Mayday (not published until 1976) and some poems for Helen Baird, whom he courted at this time; the poems were posthumously published as Helen: A Courtship (1981).
Soldiers’ Pay is not a remarkable first novel, but it is typical of its time—the aftermath of World War I. It depicts the fortunes of returning war hero Donald Mahon with sympathy and bitterness. The wounded hero does not have a chance of fitting into postwar society, and he heads toward death with little regret. In a later story Faulkner depicts “All the Dead Pilots”—which includes those who survived the war but are at a total loss in a world at peace. The pessimism of Faulkner’s first novel was noted by many readers, but it offers interesting stories of several minor characters, such as the enigmatic Margaret Powers, a war widow who marries the dying soldier, making martyrs of them both. Soldiers’ Pay thus becomes more than a war story or an antiwar novel. It was the first Faulkner book to be translated into any language when a Norwegian version was brought out in 1932.
Mosquitoes was completed in New Orleans, where Faulkner spent most of his time in 1926. It is a book about artists and art, with much discussion of aesthetics and with artists as some of the main characters—Gordon the sculptor and Dawson the writer. Other characters are simply those who want to be with artists, and many of them are losers. The symbolism Faulkner attempts in this book is not consistent, and much of the imagery seems overdone. Yet, he manages to establish an understanding of the power of art to create harmony, even if this harmony is based on unhappiness or grief.
In 1927, dividing his time between Oxford and Pascagoula, Mississippi, Faulkner wrote Flags in the Dust, which was accepted only after his friend Wasson cut it severely. It was published as Sartoris on 31 January 1929 (the original version was published in 1974), and the reception was mixed. In the meantime, he had abandoned a serious attempt to write a fictional account of a clannish group of people, almost a tribe of their own, who arrived in his fictional world and slowly but surely changed everything there for the worse: the Snopeses. Apparently, Stone had suggested that such people deserved fictional treatment, but Faulkner was unable to pursue his material further than a piece of short-story length, called “Father Abraham” (published in 1983).
Faulkner had high hopes for Flags in the Dust and was disappointed when it had to be cut and revised. It was a novel that he had to write, and for which he found much of the story material in the lives of his ancestors and other stories he had picked up. It is Faulkner’s first storytelling novel, in which legends, tall tales, and gossip are included. It is also the first “typical” Faulkner novel, because it is located in his part of the South and because it tells the story of a family. Episodes from this novel are reused and retold in subsequent books. A central theme is the brother-sister relationship between Narcissa and Horace Benbow, which is even more developed and thematically important in the uncut version of the book. This kind of relationship, often with dramatic consequences, is at the core of several of Faulkner’s best novels, published in the years immediately following the publication of Sartoris.
Despite all the diverse work Faulkner did in 1927 and 1928—he also worked sporadically on many short stories—he had a new and clear understanding of what the material for his fictions ought to be. Anderson may have suggested that he ought to use his own landscape and his own people, but Faulkner’s discovery is also related to the problem of narrative form. As he struggled against reluctant publishers, bad reviews, and low sales, he discovered his own “postage stamp of native soil,” the basis for his fictional Yoknapatawpha County. With The Sound and the Fury (1929) a complete transition seems to have occurred. His earlier novels are flawed by self-involvement and lack of distance from his characters; not so in The Sound and the Fury. The apprenticeship years had come to an end, and what are undoubtedly the major years of his career began.
In his private life important events also took place: Estelle Franklin divorced her husband and married Faulkner on 20 June 1929. In 1930 they bought an old house, naming it Rowan Oak, and Faulkner began making money from the sales of short stories to the national magazines. Estelle Faulkner had two children from her previous marriage; she and Faulkner had a prematurely born daughter, Alabama, on 11 January 1931, but the child died nine days later. Their daughter Jill was born on 24 June 1933. The house needed much expensive renovation and repair, and after the death of his father in 1932 Faulkner also contributed to the support of his mother. In 1935, when his youngest brother, Dean, died in an airplane crash, Faulkner—who had paid for his flying lessons—felt obliged to support Dean’s wife and child. Only income from short-story sales made this responsibility at all possible, but he was unable to sell enough stories to the best-paying magazines, notably The Saturday Evening Post, and in May 1932 he went to Hollywood for the first time to secure a steady, monthly income.
Faulkner’s early career is interesting and bewildering, and only in retrospect is it at all possible to find unity and continuity in it. His themes, subjects, and narrative methods went in many directions, and they could change abruptly. In different books—Flags in the Dust and The Sound and the Fury—Faulkner was, to varying degrees, “rewriting the homeplace” and creating the basis for his Yoknapatawpha County. This area appears to have been sharply mapped out in the author’s head, including people and events that he could refer to as needed in his fiction.
With the writing of The Sound and the Fury, completed in October 1928, Faulkner had gone through a complete transition. He had written an experimental novel, and he had done so without thinking of publication or critics or readers. At the same time he did his best to write and market saleable short stories, since they were more profitable. In the late 1920s Faulkner worked consistently on his short stories, some of which had their origins in sketches and stories written a few years before, and which he now revised, often time and again, until he finally had to abandon a story or sell it for as little as $25 to a magazine. The short-story activity was higher than at any other point in his career, and it is almost incredible that he could write his best and most autonomous short stories—as many as forty of them—in the same period that he was writing The Sound and the Fury, As I Lay Dying (1930), Sanctuary (1931), and Light in August (1932).
Faulkner regarded the short story highly and deemed it the most demanding form after poetry. He worked consistently and conscientiously to perfect his stories—not to suit the needs of a particular market but to satisfy his own artistic demands. This concern is demonstrated in his arduous work on his short-story collections, most notably These 13 (1931) and Collected Stories (1950), in which he tried to superimpose a design or a structure upon the otherwise disparate short stories. He was a dedicated craftsman in all his work, and the seriousness of his short-story writing is demonstrated in the many different manuscripts and typescripts for individual stories, as well as in his correspondence with magazine editors and agents.
Faulkner is often referred to only as a novelist, and his name always brings to mind the titles of his great novels; but his short-story achievement is not to be forgotten, and there are enough outstanding stories among the 120 he wrote to place him among the great American short-story writers of the twentieth century. Many of Faulkner’s short stories may be regarded as a concentration of material later developed in novels. Faulkner’s material—the immense array of strange local
characters, hunting stories, and tall tales, and the Southern legacy, including the lost cause, slavery, and aristocratic families—often seemed to require the longer form. Yet, some of Faulkner’s novels started in a single image, a central episode, material fit for a short story.
The Sound and the Fury began as a short story, initially titled “Twilight” and focusing on what Faulkner called, in an introduction to the novel (included in A Faulkner Miscellany, 1974), “perhaps the only thing in literature which would ever move me very much”—an image of Caddy Compson “climbing the pear tree to look in the window at her grandmother’s funeral while [her brothers] Quentin and Jason and Benjy and the negroes looked up at the muddy seat of her drawers.” Faulkner said he had to write a novel about Caddy, “my heart’s darling,” almost in spite of himself. Caddy is a kind of absent center: although none of the four sections of the book presents her point of view, the novel documents and interprets her journey through life. Caddy’s brothers—who narrate one section of the novel each—react to her actions. She is in many ways the brave one, the kind one, the beautiful one in the Compson family, the only one who really cares for the mentally handicapped Benjy, who in his turn always associates her name (or the sound of it) with the smell of trees, with the good things in his poor life.
The novel depicts a family disintegrating completely over a period of some thirty years. The Compsons cannot adjust to a changing world: their proud heritage is of no help, and a whining mother and a drinking father with no capacity for compassion or pity provide poor role models for the children. The book also portrays the decline of traditional values and the rise of commercialism in the new South, but everything is presented through the decline of the Compson family. If the book carries a message, it is the timeless one that people must care for each other and that only love makes life bearable.
The Sound and the Fury is a modernist novel in the sense that it tells a story four times, and if one includes the appendix that Faulkner wrote for Malcolm Cowley’s The Portable Faulkner in 1945, there is even a fifth attempt at telling the story in order to “get it right.” The reiterated attempts at telling the story of the Compson family’s decline indicates that understanding is possible, although it may be hard to achieve.
The Sound and the Fury was published on 7 October 1929 in a printing of 1,789 copies, and there was no need for a new printing until a year and a half later, despite enthusiastic reviews. Faulkner had ignored the demands of the marketplace and had written only for himself when he began The Sound and the Fury; his next book was designed to be “the most horrific tale I could imagine,” in order to make money. Faulkner began work early in 1929 on what eventually appeared in 1932 as Sanctuary, but the publishers initially found that the manuscript was too shocking. After his marriage and a summer away from Oxford, Faulkner took a job at the university power plant. During this period he wrote As I Lay Dying, which was published before Sanctuary.
Faulkner always referred to As I Lay Dying as a tour de force, a book for which he had such deliberate plans that when he wrote the first word he knew what the last one would be. Accordingly, there was no sense of joy and expectation in the creation of this novel, compared to what he said he had experienced with The Sound and the Fury. Yet, As I Lay Dying can be paired with The Sound and the Fury since these two novels are among Faulkner’s most brilliant stylistic experiments and since brother-sister conflicts are central in both novels. Both books are radical deviations from the norms of the well-made novel, but the form of the novels is so much a part of their theme that any kind of straight chronological and authorial narrative is unthinkable. If modernist fiction was understood to be an urban phenomenon, Faulkner in As I Lay Dying made modernism rural, through fifty-nine dialogues by fifteen different narrators or observers who enable readers to follow the odyssey of the Bundrens from the backwoods areas of Yoknapatawpha to Jefferson in order to bury Addie, their dead wife and mother, with her people there.
All through the novel there is a precarious balance, not always kept, between the desires of the individual characters and the responsibility they should have to their society. Responsibility and obligation lie behind the macabre journey, since the dying Addie has asked to be buried with her kin. Anse, the incredibly lazy husband, intends to keep his promise, although readers may ultimately become suspicious of his motives. A strong irony is at work in most of the monologues in the novel, revealing Anse and his children with their individual dreams and preoccupations, some of them utterly selfish, others not. A whole range of emotions colors the monologues and hence the novel as a whole, from anger and hatred and fear to loyalty and reverence. Each monologue has the name of the speaker or observer as its title, and some of them are by non-family members, most importantly the neighbors Cora and Vernon Tull, thus letting readers see the grotesque journey with the rotting corpse from new perspectives.
As I Lay Dying was published on 6 October 1930. Again Faulkner surprised his readers with a tale of almost epic stature about poor peasants in a rural world, told with passion and sympathy for the mother figure. But the novel also works through irony and mockery so that readers have difficulty deciding whether the book is comic or tragic. It relies upon a classical structure to create a mock epic, and it indirectly discusses the limits of language and its referential ability; Addie, in her one monologue, also comments on language versus action in a world that has become increasingly strange to her.
Faulkner was now in the midst of his most productive period, and his output was enormous by any standard. Unexpectedly, he received galley proofs for Sanctuary shortly after the publication of As I Lay Dying. Faulkner asked his publisher not to print the original version, because he now felt that this “horrific tale” was “a shabby thing,” but he needed the money and agreed to cut and revise it. Faulkner revised the book, almost to the extent of rewriting it, now focusing the novel on the heroine, Temple Drake.
Sanctuary in the 1931 version has been hailed by critics as a roman noir and has been studied together with other examples of crime fiction of high literary merit. The story of Temple Drake is a study in human evil; Faulkner later called it an examination of “the outrage of a potential believer.” The gangster Popeye rapes Temple, using a corncob since he is impotent. Popeye has murdered a man to get to Temple, whom he sets up in a brothel. Horace Benbow defends the man who is falsely accused of the murder, but Temple lies when she testifies, so that Popeye goes free and an innocent man is sent to death. Popeye is later executed for a murder he has not committed. Popeye is a deliberate caricature, mechanical, inhuman, and inflexible, and the reader is never allowed to get close enough to even try to understand him. Nor is it simple to understand the motives behind Temple’s actions or her psychology; by the end of this story of foreboding and horror, she appears to be as innocent and untainted as any other young woman.
Published on 9 February 1931, Sanctuary was a sensation. It sold seven thousand copies by early April, but critics were furious, especially those in the South. Faulkner was somewhat surprised and later had a tendency to disparage this novel, which scholars later have deemed a much more competent novel and more technically adept than its author would admit. He enjoyed the money, including the funds that the movie rights for the controversial 1933 adaptation The Story of Temple Drake brought in—all spent on Rowan Oak. The original text of Sanctuary, which focuses more on Horace Benbow and filters most of the story through his perspective, was brought out in 1981.
As I Lay Dying had introduced several characters that reappear and become more important in later books. Events that became important narrative kernels in Faulkner’s novels in the 1950s were hinted at in the early 1930s, and episodes from short stories were often revised to fit in with the longer narrative of a novel. His first short-story collection, These 13, was published in 1931 and received more laudatory reviews than any of his novels had.
When Faulkner put together this collection he had some forty stories from which to choose. One can only guess his motives for selecting the thirteen stories he included in the book, but the resulting volume presents a rather coherent and convincing picture of the world as a wasteland filled with dust and dreams, hopes and frustrations. Faulkner took great care in structuring this collection to achieve unity, moving toward one finale.
His next novel was begun in August 1931 and published on 6 October 1932, and proved to be closer to the conventional narrative than its predecessors had been. Light in August is not an experimental novel, although the narrative works by delayed flashbacks and gives readers access to the pasts of major characters through long capsule stories. A strong and moving such narrative is the story of mixed-blood protagonist Joe Christmas’s childhood, which may help readers understand Joe’s alienation. Joe is one of the loneliest characters in American fiction, always on the run, most of the time from himself and a self-knowledge that he never obtains.
Light in August opens with a description of the pregnant Lena Grove, alone and barefoot on the road from Alabama, searching for the man whom she has known as Lucas Burch. She finds instead the kind and helpless Byron Bunch, who immediately falls in love with her. This story is contrasted to the relationship of Joe Christmas and Joanna Burden, whom he murders, an act for which he is later brutally slain by Percy Grimm, since the Reverend Gail Hightower, living in the dark past of his ancestor’s glory in the Civil War, is unable to act until it is too late. Light in August is a novel about community and family, about religious fanaticism and lack of humanity, and it may still be a novel about humanity since so many people are called upon to act on behalf of others and to form new relationships that may in the end bring to the community a recognition of its failure and its errors.
Faulkner was working in Hollywood from May through August 1932, and he returned to work there often during the next decades, even though he strongly disliked Hollywood. He needed the money, and he formed a good and productive cooperation with director Howard Hawks. He was on contract with M-G-M the first time he went there and had success with transforming his own short story “Turn About” (first published in The Saturday Evening Post, 5 March 1932) into the movie Today We Live (1933). In 1935 he worked for 20th Century-Fox to produce The Road to Glory (1936). The short story “Golden Land” (first published in American Mercury, May 1935) demonstrates Faulkner’s intense dislike of Hollywood, but he also had happy times there, not the least because of a lasting love affair with Meta Carpenter Wilde, whom he met during work on The Road to Glory. Faulkner’s marriage deteriorated sharply through the 1930s; both he and Estelle Faulkner drank heavily and fought, but divorce seems to have been out of the question as socially unacceptable for the head of a Southern family.
Faulkner continued publishing short stories after 1932, although his writing of new stories declined drastically. In 1933 Faulkner’s second and last collection of poetry, A Green Bough, was published. By the time of Doctor Martino and Other Stories (1934) he had more stories than he needed for the book, and most of them had been published already. Whereas These 13 includes seven previously unpublished stories, Doctor Martino and Other Stories includes only two. There seems to be no internal organization of the volume, and the stories do not form any discernible pattern. Yet, there is a clear shift from the preoccupation with war, wilderness, and townspeople in These 13 to a focus on sex, death, and loss in Doctor Martino and Other Stories. Faulkner’s second short-story collection elicited fewer reviews than the first one, and they were not quite in the same vein. Most Faulkner scholars rightly consider the later volume inferior to These 13.
Several of Faulkner’s short stories are set in areas far away from Southern rural locales, and with his next novel, Pylon, he did the same. Pylon has been treated slightly by critics and scholars alike, perhaps because it is a comparably weak book if seen in relation to the books before it and the one to follow, Absalom, Absalom! (1936).
Faulkner had long been fascinated with pilots and flying and was taking flying lessons in 1933. He had watched flying circuses, and in Pylon he tells the story of three fliers, centering on the strong and tough female character of Laverne Shumann, who works and lives with two men. The narrator is a newspaper reporter who seems to be reliable and trustworthy, but the implications of the story he tells are really beyond his grasp. The fliers lead lives that are too unconventional, too deviant, to be understood by an ordinary citizen. Faulkner admired the stunt pilots and their way of life, saying (in Faulkner in the University, 1959) that they were “outside the range of God, not only of respectability, of love, but of God too. Everyone knew that they wouldn’t last very long, which they didn’t.”
Pylon was published on 25 March 1935 to negative reviews. The book was shocking to most critics; the elements of adultery and suicide led Cowley to comment on its “air of unnecessary horror and violence.” The writer himself said that he did not care much about the reception of Pylon, because by that time he was deeply immersed in writing what many critics and scholars claim is his best novel, Absalom, Absalom!, published on 26 October 1936. Confused reviewers still praised Pylon for its narrative power and its tragic tone, and Absalom, Absalom! is certainly one of the most impressive books in Faulkner’s career.
In its presentation of different versions of the same story and an assessment of all kinds of rumors about Thomas Sutpen and his plantation, Sutpen’s Hundred, Absalom, Absalom! is a probing investigation of the human ability to know or to reach certain knowledge. When a story lacks in detail or cannot be concluded, characters and readers speculate, telling new stories of how it might have been, or how it must have been. Suppositions must replace accurate knowledge. Two characters from The Sound and the Fury (who also appear in several short stories), Mr. Compson and his son Quentin, are among the four unreliable narrators. They are joined by the spinster Rosa Coldfield and by Quentin’s Canadian roommate at Harvard, Shreve McCannon. When all possible knowledge of facts comes to an end, and Quentin and Shreve have to substitute speculation, some critics have found that Faulkner, for one chapter in the novel, is a postmodern writer.
At the center of the novel lies Sutpen’s dream of creating his own world, of realizing a magnificent dream of a plantation created through the exploitation of a group of African Americans and an architect he has taken captive. Sutpen is totally absorbed in his mission and has no regard for other people. His lifestyle offends everyone, and rumors about him are spread all over the countryside. The incest theme is again central, and the title does of course suggest a lament for the relations of father and son. Sutpen had left his first wife and son, Charles Bon, when he discovered that his wife has black blood. Charles reappears and falls in love with his half sister, Judith Sutpen, and is killed by his half brother to avoid the incestuous union. When Thomas Sutpen is finally brought down and viciously killed, it is by one of his greatest admirers, who suddenly discovers who the real Sutpen is. This episode is told in one of Faulkner’s strongest short stories, “Wash,” written in 1933 and included in Collected Stories despite Faulkner’s use of it in Absalom, Absalom!
In 1934 Faulkner had written the first six stories in a series about the Civil War (the “Bayard-Ringo” stories). Three of these stories were published in 1934, one in 1935, and the last two stories late in 1936. A seventh story, “An Odor of Verbena,” was written in order to complete The Unvanquished (1938), but Faulkner also made unsuccessful attempts to sell it independently. For The Unvanquished Faulkner had to revise these stories, some of them substantially. He considered his Civil War stories “trash” and felt that he sacrificed more important work by writing his romanticized tales about heroic Southern action during the Civil War. But when he undertook the work of revising and transforming the stories into a unified book, more of his genuine concerns were included. In his revisions Faulkner carefully brought the thematic content of the earliest stories in line with the serious direction of the later stories, adding a more mature narrator who could give a clearly retrospective view of the incidents and cruelties of war. The issue of race became more significant, and Faulkner proved that he could make a serious novel out of short fiction he had described as trash. Published on 15 February 1938, The Unvanquished was certainly not a mere collection of short stories, although Faulkner’s next recycling of a series of stories into a novel, Go Down, Moses (1942), resulted in a more important work of fiction.
The Wild Palms, published on 19 January 1939, is an interesting book in Faulkner’s career since he blends two stories: one a distinctly Southern story with old mores and values and situated in a flooded landscape, the other a story about modern people who follow their idea of romantic love and who fight against financial constraints and respectability to make it last. The book has a contrapuntal structure, with alternating chapters from the two juxtaposed tales and an ending that is surprising but inevitable.
The two stories are so different that they have been printed separately, as when Cowley used “Old Man” in The Portable Faulkner. But Faulkner’s intention was clearly to join them, even if they may appear to have little in common. In “Wild Palms” Harry Wilbourne leaves medical school to run away with a married woman, Charlotte Rittenmeyer, in an attempt to find the romantic and idyllic love that she believes in. Later he becomes the bigger romantic, but it all ends in catastrophe when she gets pregnant and he bungles the abortion so that she bleeds to death. He accepts his punishment, because he knows that “between grief and nothing I will take grief.” In “Old Man” a tall convict in a work gang is assigned the rescue of a pregnant woman from a tree during a raging flood. He saves her, and even cuts the umbilical cord when her baby is born, only to have ten years for attempted escape added to his prison sentence. Prison is for him a safe place from women, and so the two male protagonists are both jailed, and the romantic hero and his opposite are brought together.
In 1938, when Faulkner mapped out his plans for what has become known as “The Snopes Trilogy” (The Hamlet, 1940; The Town, 1957; and The Mansion, 1959), he had reached the maturity and had all the storytelling tools to undertake what he really had begun as early as 1926 with “Father Abraham.” His production had been enormous and on a consistently high level, but it had brought him less money than he had expected and wanted. He still struggled to make ends meet, but he knew his worth: at some point during the writing and revisions of The Hamlet he added a manuscript note: “By God, I’m the best in America!” The Hamlet, in its broad and leisurely narrative so distant from the urgency and experimentation of his early books, proves his point. Following Cleanth Brooks’s 1963 assessment, critics now consider it the best of the books in the trilogy, and one of Faulkner’s richest and most rewarding works of art.
The Hamlet is one of Faulkner’s loosely joined novels because so much of the material had been used in short stories from the late 1920s onward. Faulkner said in a letter to Cowley as the latter was preparing The Portable Faulkner (1946) that the book “was incepted as a novel,” but that the writing of it only produced short stories. Thus, he created the Snopes clan. On the basis of this material and the character of the sewing machine agent Suratt, later renamed V. K. Ratliff, Faulkner sat down in 1938 and wrote The Hamlet. In classroom discussions in Virginia in 1957 Faulkner claimed that he wrote it “in the late twenties,” then added that “It was mostly short stories. In 1940 I got it pulled together.”
All three books in the trilogy are dedicated to Stone, with good reason, since he had the original idea of what became “Snopesism”—the single-minded drive for property without any human consideration at all. Yet, Faulkner had grown and matured to the point where he could create likeable Snopeses, and finally to a point where even the meanest Snopes, the murderous Mink, also has human traits.
Flem Snopes’s rise from poverty to riches begins in the hamlet of Frenchman’s Bend, where Varner’s store is the center of all talk, gossip, and barter. Flem clerks in Varner’s store. He is a shrewd businessman who apparently cannot be beaten, because all his adversaries have some humanity in them. Old Will Varner is the only match for Flem, but he lets Flem marry his youngest daughter, the lazy and beautiful Eula, who is pregnant. To the itinerant sewing machine seller, Ratliff, who observes the couple when they leave for their honeymoon, this union is the real tragedy in the little, lost village: the impotent little man whose only interest is money gets the young and lovely Eula, so rare and exquisite that she is always compared to Helen of Troy. Ratliff sees it as his duty and obligation to stand up against Flem. But he is also fooled, which gives Flem his first foothold in Jefferson. By the end of the novel, Flem has outgrown and exploited everyone, including his own kin, and now seeks greener pastures in the county seat.
One may find a sociological theme at the center of The Hamlet, or one may read the novel as an absolute confrontation between opponents—Flem versus Ratliff, or even Snopesism versus humanity. The wide canvas, the rich and varied storytelling, the happy and relaxed humor, and the wild exaggeration of the tall tales included in the narrative, contributed to its positive reception. Although a few contemporary critics condemned the book for moralistic reasons, most were either mildly bewildered or intrigued by this book that is not really a novel but reads like one and thus represents something new.
The trilogy has invariably been read and studied as a trilogy, with less emphasis on the values of the individual volumes. The Hamlet easily stands alone as an autonomous work, whereas The Town is a much weaker book, relying to a large degree on retelling parts of past events in the history of the Snopeses and thus becoming repetitive and tedious. But Faulkner also brings in new characters and additional perspectives in the second Snopes novel, by using different narrators and by letting his knight of good intentions, the lawyer Gavin Stevens, compete with Manfred de Spain, the mayor, for Eula’s attention. Flem is of course able to exploit even Eula’s affair with de Spain, to the extent that he becomes president of the bank and hardly reacts when Eula commits suicide. Gavin also protects Eula’s daughter, Linda, closely, and in The Mansion, when she has returned home from New York after her husband was killed in Spain during the civil war, Linda is given a more prominent role. She is instrumental in getting Mink Snopes released from prison (after thirty-eight years), so that her stepfather, Flem, can be brought down. As is often the case, the middle volume in the trilogy is the weakest one; however, The Mansion in almost all respects is a better book than Faulkner criticism and scholarship seems to indicate.
The next book to be published after The Hamlet was Go Down, Moses, which offers Faulkner’s fullest treatment of the lives of African Americans in the South. Not only their endurance is praised; the black characters simply come forth as more stable, more reliable, more just. The stories that in revised form made up Go Down, Moses were all written over a relatively short span of time, with almost no other short-story activity intervening. One may thus say that this continuous process resembles the writing of a novel, and it is now commonplace to consider Go Down, Moses as a novel and not a collection, although by some editorial mistake it was originally published as Go Down, Moses and Other Stories.
Critics consider Go Down, Moses one of Faulkner’s most convincing artistic creations, a unified volume with tremendous emotional impact, far greater than that of any of the individual stories. The first part of the book centers on the scheming and cheating Lucas Beauchamp and is a light, comic collection of anecdotes, including those about moonshining and “planted” gold coins. Lucas and his wife, Molly, appear as stereotypical blacks, but slowly both people and tone are modified and softened. Faulkner barely avoids melancholy and pathos in the description of the old woman’s plight, but Molly becomes the embodiment of all the virtues cherished in her society. After the more loosely integrated story “Pantaloon in Black” come the stories or chapters that center on Isaac McCaslin—”The Old People,” “The Bear,” and “Delta Autumn.”
Important links with the past of Yoknapatawpha are established in Go Down, Moses, as readers learn about Ike’s formative years and come to understand where he got his knowledge of “the old people” and his deep respect for the untamed wilderness. Sam Fathers, an Indian of mixed ancestry, has been Ike’s substitute father and mentor. Ike’s renunciation of his inheritance later in life and most of his subsequent behavior may be considered as acts of sacrifice and expiation, but they may also be viewed as acts of weakness and escape.
Ike’s three-part saga ends with “Delta Autumn” (first published in Story, May-June 1942), set in a wilderness that is slowly being destroyed by civilization. Human beings in conflict with nature and with themselves are presented in a web of ideas and thoughts about race, history, morality, and love. The story provides the last view of Ike McCaslin, “uncle to half a country and father to no one,” before the novel is brought to an end with the story of Molly Beauchamp’s struggle to get her dead grandson back home to be buried where he belongs. It opens onto a larger world beyond the plantation, beyond Yoknapatawpha, and is thus a fitting conclusion to Go Down, Moses as a novel.
Faulkner wrote a whole series of short stories in 1942 in an attempt to avoid having to return to Hollywood, but the stories did not bring in much money, so he spent most of his time between 1942 and 1945 in California. This period resulted in the 1944 movie version of Ernest Hemingway’s 1937 novel, To Have and Have Not, which Faulkner changed drastically, and in 1946 he wrote the screenplay for Raymond Chandler’s 1939 novel, The Big Sleep, most likely Faulkner’s best movie work ever.
It is possible to maintain that Go Down, Moses was Faulkner’s last “great” book, and also that his career reached a record low in the years afterward. Most of his books were out of print. The publication of The Portable Faulkner in 1946 changed this situation considerably, and with the returning soldiers who now went to colleges and universities, Faulkner’s books were suddenly in demand. Abroad, particularly in France, Faulkner was translated and read and commented on by famous writers such as Andre Malraux, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Albert Camus. And even if his creative powers were not what they had been, he had enough material in a wide range of published and unpublished short stories and new ideas and possibilities with the Snopes material. First he returned to Lucas Beauchamp and made him the major character in a novel of detection and race- Intruder in the Dust (1948). Told in the third person, the events of the book are transmitted through Charles Mallison’s experiences with Lucas. Gavin Stevens is Charles’s uncle, and Faulkner had used these characters in the 1930s and 1940s in several detective stories, which he collected in Knight’s Gambit (1949). They also figured decisively as actors and narrators in the later Snopes volumes. Faulkner sold the movie rights to Intruder in the Dust for $50,000 in July 1948, and his financial worries finally came to an end.
In the late 1940s Faulkner made plans for a collection of his short stories that would include the stories of detection. When Knight’s Gambit was published as a separate volume, he had an easier task of selecting what finally became forty-two stories. Collected Stories as a title is slightly misleading; the author selected the stories he wanted to represent him for posterity. The volume was published in 1950 and received the 1951 National Book Award for fiction.
In November 1950 it was announced that Faulkner had won the 1949 Nobel Prize in Literature. He had known about the possibility of his nomination, and in a 22 February 1950 letter to Joan Williams he had stated that he would rather be a member of the group of American writers who had not been awarded the Nobel Prize, such as Sherwood Anderson and Theodore Dreiser, than join a club that included Sinclair Lewis and “Mrs. Chinahand [Pearl S.] Buck.” Yet, he had no problem accepting the prize when it came, although he did not want to travel to Stockholm to receive it. He was persuaded by friends and publishers, and he had an enjoyable stay with his daughter, Jill, in the snow and winter of the Swedish capital. He delivered his acceptance speech so rapidly and in such a low voice that few present knew that they had listened to one of the most memorable of such speeches until they could read it in print.
So far Faulkner had voiced opinions about social and political matters through characters in his books, and he had seldom let his voice be heard outside of his fiction. Following the prize, podiums and lecterns were offered from everywhere, and even though he still carefully guarded his private life and resented the intrusions of journalists, he took his obligations as a Nobel Prize-winning author and public figure seriously. He established a Nobel Prize fund with the money. Now his books sold more than ever before and were translated into more languages, even in countries where he had not been discovered before the Nobel Prize.
Even if he now could afford to slow down, he had unfinished work that needed to be completed. He returned to the Temple Drake story and wrote Requiem for a Nun (1951), and he worked with Ruth Ford and others to adapt the story for the stage. It was not produced until 1957 in London and 1959 in New York, whereas Camus’s adaptation was produced with success in Paris in 1956.
Another project on Faulkner’s mind-and on the roof and walls of his study at Rowan Oak-was A Fable (1954), for which Faulkner had high hopes. It won both a National Book Award and a Pulitzer Prize in 1955 but was not well received by critics. The long story of World War I in France was meant to be an affirmative book, and it claims that man must hope and must “believe in belief.” Faulkner scholars still disagree about the merits of this novel, although it is generally regarded as one of his less splendid failures.
Much of what Faulkner wrote after the Nobel Prize may be seen as echoes and reminiscences of what he had done before; but he wrote enough good books to refute those critics who think that his career was destroyed by the prize and the fame that followed. Nevertheless, he might have displayed more of his creative genius in the last decade of his life had it not been for the public demands upon his person and his time. All of his major works were written before he became a Nobel laureate and a public figure who was too proud not to carry out what he saw as his duty, even when he hated it.
As a Nobel laureate, Faulkner traveled widely on State Department missions. He spoke to his fellow Southerners on racial issues, for the first time in his career publishing articles and essays more often than he published stories, and he responded to an incredible popularity in Japan by visiting there in 1955. Starting in 1957 he was writer-in-residence at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, where he purchased a house and settled with his wife (their daughter Jill had married in 1954).
Faulkner wrote commissioned essays and sketches in the 1950s, and one about his own state, “Mississippi” (first published in Holiday, April 1954), may well show his best prose of the decade. A volume of Faulkner’s hunting stories, Big Woods, was brought out in 1955. A collection of mostly earlier material, it also includes one new story, “Race at Morning.” Excerpts from forthcoming novels were also printed in magazines and provided extra income. He struggled with the sequels to The Hamlet and concluded his long career with The Reivers, which appeared only a month before his death.
The Reivers, published on 4 June 1962, is a last nostalgic, optimistic, and good-humored glance at Yoknapatawpha. It is set in 1905 and is a reminiscence of the old days, when cars were scarce and moral standards high. The book includes some of the wildest tall tales and comic episodes Faulkner ever wrote. The simple fictions are woven into a strong and insistent lesson in honor, and the message is that nothing is forgotten and a man can live through anything. The book renders what “grandfather said,” and many of the characters are old acquaintances who now appear on the stage for the last time.
In Charlottesville, Faulkner took up horseback riding on a regular basis and was injured in several falls. His final accident came in Oxford, Mississippi, on 17 June 1962; the connection between his injuries and the heart attack from which he died is unclear, but he was taken to a sanatorium on 5 July and died the following day. He was buried in St. Peter’s Cemetery, Oxford, near the graves of most of the Falkners.
The biographical facts of a writer’s life and career cannot explain how the works were written or what made it possible to write them. William Faulkner’s craftsmanship came slowly, and he learned it through practice and stubborn dedication. He was willing to sacrifice most things to get his work done, and he was never in doubt as to the importance of the artist and his work.
The Faulkner-Cowley File: Letters and Memories, 1944–1962, edited by Malcolm Cowley (New York: Viking, 1966);
Selected Letters of William Faulkner, edited by Joseph L. Blotner (New York: Random House, 1976);
The Letters, volume 2 of Faulkner: A Comprehensive Guide to the Brodsky Collection, edited by Louis Daniel Brod-sky and Robert W. Hamblin (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1984);
Thinking of Home: William Faulkner’s Letters to his Mother and Father, 1918–1925, edited by James G. Watson (New York: Norton, 1992).
Faulkner in the University: Class Conferences at the University of Virginia, 1957–58, edited by Frederick L. Gwynn and Joseph L. Blotner (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 1959);
Lion in the Garden: Interviews with William Faulkner, 1926–1962, edited by James B. Meriwether and Michael Millgate (New York: Random House, 1968);
Conversations with William Faulkner, edited by M. Thomas Inge (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1999).
Linton R. Massey, William Faulkner: “Man Working,” 1919–1962, A Catalogue of the William Faulkner Collections at the University of Virginia (Charlottesville: Bibliographical Society, University of Virginia, 1968);
Meriwether, “The Short Fiction of William Faulkner: A Bibliography,” Proof, 1 (1971);
John E. Bassett, William Faulkner: An Annotated Checklist of Criticism (New York: Lewis, 1972);
Carl Petersen, Each in Its Ordered Place: A Faulkner Collector’s Notebook (Ann Arbor, Mich.: Ardis, 1975);
Thomas L. McHaney, William Faulkner: A Reference Guide (Boston: G. K. Hall, 1975);
Louis Daniel Brodsky, The Bibliography, volume 1 of Faulkner: A Comprehensive Guide to the Brodsky Collection (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1982);
John E. Bassett, Faulkner in the Eighties: An Annotated Critical Bibliography (Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1991).
Joseph L. Blotner, Faulkner: A Biography, 2 volumes (New York: Random House, 1974);
David Minter, William Faulkner: His Life and Work (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1980);
Michel Gresset, A Faulkner Chronology, translated by Arthur B. Scharff (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1985);
Frederick R. Karl, William Faulkner: American Writer (New York: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1989);
Richard J. Gray, The Life of William Faulkner: A Critical Biography (Oxford: Blackwell, 1994).
James B. Carothers, William Faulkner’s Short Stories (Ann Arbor, Mich.: UMI Research Press, 1985);
Deborah Clarke, Robbing the Mother: Women in Faulkner (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1994);
Leland H. Cox, ed., William Faulkner, Critical Collection (Detroit: Gale Research, 1982);
Joanne V. Creighton, William Faulkner’s Craft of Revision: The Snopes Trilogy, “The Unvanquished” and “Go Down, Moses" (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1977);
Thomas E. Dasher, William Faulkner’s Characters: An Index to the Published and Unpublished Fiction (New York: Garland, 1981);
Thadious M. Davis, Faulkner’s “Negro”: Art and the Southern Context (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1983);
James Ferguson, Faulkner’s Short Fiction (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 1991);
Evans Harrington and Ann J. Abadie, eds., Faulkner and the Short Story: Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha, 1990 (Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 1992);
Irving Howe, William Faulkner: A Critical Study, third edition, revised and enlarged (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1975);
M. Thomas Inge, ed., William Faulkner-The Contemporary Reviews (Cambridge & New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995);
Richard Marius, Reading Faulkner: Introductions to the First Thirteen Novels, edited by Nancy Grisham Anderson (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2006);
John Matthews, The Play of Faulkner’s Language (Ithaca, N.Y: Cornell University Press, 1982);
Stephen Ross, Fiction’s Inexhaustible Voice: Speech and Writing in Faulkner (Athens: University of Georgia Press, 1989);
Hans H. Skei, William Faulkner: The Novelist as Short Story Writer (Oslo: Universitetsforlaget, 1985);
Skei, William Faulkner: The Short Story Career (Oslo: Universitetsforlaget, 1981);
Theresa M. Towner and James B. Carothers, eds., Reading Faulkner: Collected Stories: Glossary and Commentary (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2006);
Edmond L. Volpe, A Reader’s Guide to William Faulkner (New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1964);
Linda Wagner-Martin, ed., William Faulkner: Six Decades of Criticism (East Lansing: Michigan State University Press, 2002);
Philip M. Weinstein, ed., The Cambridge Companion to William Faulkner (Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1995);
Eudora Welty, On William Faulkner (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2003);
Joel Williamson, William Faulkner and Southern History (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993);
Sally Wolff and Floyd C. Watkins, Talking about William Faulkner: Interviews with Jimmy Faulkner, and Others (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1996).
The William Faulkner Collection at the University of Virginia Library, Charlottesville, is the most important repository of his manuscripts and typescripts. Material related to Faulkner’s short stories can also be found in the Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection, New York Public Library; the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center, University of Texas at Austin; and the William Wisdom Collection, Tulane University.