Son of the South: William Faulkner

William Faulkner was born September 25, 1897 in New Albany, Mississippi. He moved quickly through school, but dropped out in 11th grade due to a rebellious streak. He joined the Canadian Royal Airforce in 1918, but he never made it into World War I.

Faulkner’s first novel, Soldier’s Pay, was published in 1926, though it received little acclaim. Only with the publication of The Sound and the Fury in 1929 would he receive significant critical and popular recognition. As a truly Modernist novel, The Sound and the Fury broke new ground with its four different narrators, the use of stream of consciousness writing and the use of a mentally handicapped boy as one narrator.

As his writing career progressed, Faulkner continued to play with narration, expanding to 15 narrators in As I Lay Dying, published in 1930, and incorporating stories within stories in Absalom, Absalom!, published in 1936.

Perhaps what made Faulkner’s works so unique was the setting he created and used in the majority of them: Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi. From the abandoned plantation of Thomas Sutpen on the outskirts of Yoknapatawpha to Emily Grierson’s house in Jefferson, the county seat of Yoknapatawpha, Faulkner created a world that typified the South in which he had grown up and in which he continued to live.

In 1942, Faulkner went to California to write screenplays, primarily for the pay, where he worked on adaptations of his own novels as well as those of other authors such as Hemingway and Chandler (To Have and Have Not and The Big Sleep, respectively).

In 1950, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature for his life’s work. At the acceptance ceremony in Sweden, due to nervousness and the fact he was slightly drunk, Falkner’s acceptance speech comes out garbled and nearly unintelligible to listeners. When it was published the following day, however, people raved about it and praised it as one of the best Nobel speeches.

Faulkner continued to publish right up to the year of his death in 1962. Though, his later works were never as critically acclaimed as his early ones. His drinking also continued, but it seemed to have little effect on his work or his success.

William Faulkner died of a heart attack on July 6, 1962. For more information on Faulkner, the William Faulkner on the Web website is an excellent resource.

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