THE LIFE AND LITERARY ACTIVITY OF WILLIAM FAULKNER
William Faulkner belongs to that group of writers who were least embarrassed by established conventions, he was the writer who made the modern American literature richer by daring to use an excessive refinement of perception, being completely devoted to the Southern social, cultural, ethical and economic tradition. Faulkner was “simultaneously the most original and the most assimilative writer of his day.’’
Falkner was born on September 25, 1897 in
Thus, Faulkner was the descendant of a family of heroes and
soldiers who, in their turn had their roots in a group on Scottish immigrants
who fled to
There are few details concerning Faulkner’s early years. It
is however known that he was not a passionate pupil, never showing much
interest in school he never managed to graduate from high school, although,
rather strange, in1918 he enrolled at the
In 1920, Faulkner went
The Southern writer’s career began in 1924 when his first book was published The Marble Faun, a collection of poems which was unsuccessful being poorly received by the buyers and the literary world who categorized them as amateurish; critics suggesting that his poetry is a mélange of Shakespearean, pastoral, Victorian and Edwardian modes with a large influence of French symbolism.
In 1925, Faulkner moved to
The major works of the time of genius began in 1929. The year 1929 was an important year in the writer’s career and life, namely Sartoris and The Sound and the Fury were published and he married Estelle Oldham. These were soon followed by As I Lay Dying in 1930. Despite the fact that he had already had four novels on the market, Faulkner’s financial situation was not good at all, earning little money from the sale of his books, and this crisis lasted several years until 1931 when Sanctuary was published, being sordid enough to attract attention and make some money for him.
The Hollywoodian producers became interested in Faulkner
after the publication of Sanctuary and
he moved there to earn more money and indeed, money began to flow in. He worked
well with the director Howard Hawks and wrote the scripts for two famous
movies, an adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s To
Have and Have Not and an adaptation of Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep. The Hollywoodian
atmosphere was not in accordance with his character as he was a shy man. The
following thirty years of his life were spent in the small city of
William Faulkner continued to produce brilliant and inventive work, in 1932 Salmagundi was published, a collection of poems and essays which evokes the atmosphere of the South and contributes to the development of a human personality willing to find answers to the essential problems of life. Two important novels appeared during this decade, Light in August, a comic pastoral with a double meaning referring to both the magnificent light that covers the South in August, as well as to the word light used as a slang term for pregnancy. In 1936 Absalom, Absalom! appeared, soon being ranked as Faulkner’s masterpiece. Light in August and Absalom, Absalom! were statements against a life lived according to a design. The Southern rage against abstraction was well-established before Faulkner began to write; ante-bellum Southerners had complained of the penchant for abstraction on the part of the New England transcendentalists and various other social reformers and exactly at the beginning of Faulkner’s start of writing the Nashville Fugitive-Agrarians were issuing indictments of abstraction and of those, for example social scientists, whose premises, as they said were based not on observable truth far more important, but on abstraction.
The last six novels represent the core of Faulkner’s major
achievement as they introduce the reader to the special world of
The history begins in 1800 with the same inhabitants that appear over and over again. It is to be noticed that the readers did not experiment the development of this mythical town and county, on the contrary, they found it fully peopled, with characters that drawn from three social levels: the aristocrats, the country people and the Negroes. There are indeed other categories of social people, but they do not appear face-front in Faulkner’s saga of the South, they are merely background.
The above mentioned six major works are “a brilliant beginning of Faulkner’s profound analyses of the human moral condition, for which he is now justly known and admired. In range of style and structure, in the power of analysis of character, and in the sheer brilliance and versatility of literary accomplishment, they are not equaled anywhere in modern American literature.”
Between 1936 and 1940 there were published relatively minor works such as the novel Pylon in 1935 and The Unvanquished in 1938 which is labeled as an easy reading of Faulkner and it is made up of a series of stories concerning Bayard Sartoris and his growth to maturity.
From the late 1920s to about 1940, Faulkner had produced a body of fiction unparalleled in its richness and variety by that of any either writer. He had achieved for the American South what Nathaniel Hawthorne, nearly a century earlier, had achieved for New England, he had confronted its past, its historical burden, had dealt with the sin and guilt, the pride and shame of men like his own ancestors and out of his own imagination had made Gothic romance, historical chronicle and tragedy.
With the approach and outbreak of the World War II, Faulkner’s style changed writing in a more accessible way and in a traditional manner. Beginning with 1940 a new period was being born, that is of consolidation with the publication of The Hamlet, then much later came The Town (1957) and The Mansion (1959) which constitute the Snopes saga; Faulkner also dealt with the Negro as a race and especially a moral problem in Go Down, Moses (1942) and Intruder in Dust (1948).
By 1946, both his national and international reputation had
soared. In 1950 he won the Nobel Prize for Literature. A story concerning this
event involves his strange refusal to go to
In 1948 he printed the antiracist Intruder in the Dust which draws the conclusion that the ethical value is pointed out irrespective of the race and class differences. It mainly attracted attention because of the dissociation from tradition.
After the last honor received, that is the Nobel Prize,
William Faulkner shied away from public appearances, and he frequently refused
interviews. Consequently, there are few biographical details about the last
years of his life. In the 1950’s he spent time away from
During the last months of his life, he spoke in
Faulkner’s writing was greatly and undoubtedly influenced by the history of his grandfather who represented the South in its deepest traditions and codes. He became aware of the southern potential that was yet to be explored; therefore he put down one of the things he knew best, Southern history, climate, geography, society, traditions, ideologies, speech patterns. Faulkner’s obsession has been “the agony of a culture; but it has been even more the agony of his relation to this culture, the disproportion between his immersion in the south and his tumultuous efforts to project it. It has been the agony inherent in any effort to transcend some basic confusion by force of will alone.”
In his novels, Faulkner was deeply connected to the past; he would always justify his characters’ actions and reactions by making reference to the past of the South and its history. He continued to develop the idea that the South was deprived of freedom since 1863, when the first defeat of the southerners took place.
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