William Faulkner was one of the most admired, quoted and celebrated American authors of the 20th century. He was born William Cuthbert Falkner in 1897 in Mississippi and remained true to the old south all his life, always returning to Mississippi after stints and travels around the world. During his career, he wrote 20 novels, countless short stories and even a few collections of poetry. His most famous works include As I Lay Dying, The Sound and the Fury and Sartoris. William Faulkner books are known for their Southern American sensibilities, both in setting and in manner, and to be frank, for being devastating. There is a William Faulkner quote that synopsises his approach to the characters he created, detailed and brought to life so thoroughly:
"In writing, you must kill all your darlings."
Nowhere is that sentiment so fully realised as in the William Faulker story A Rose for Emily. Published in 1930, it is the first story Faulker had published in a national magazine. One of Faulkner's most famous and often-referenced stories, it is also one of the most grim and devastating, depicting the social fall and descent into madness of one Mississippi woman. It is likely Faulkner's most famous short story, alongside Barn Burning.
It's no surprise that Faulkner wrote fiction, as he apparently took frequent creative liberties in his own life, as well. Having been rejected by the U.S. Army because of his height (he was only 5'6"), Faulkner added the 'U' to his last name, believing it seemed "more British" that way, and in WWI, after lying about several facts including his place and date of birth, affected a British accent, and was accepted into the Royal Air Force...just in time for the war to end.
Undaunted by not seeing action, however, Faulkner purchased a set of officer's dress uniforms, complete with wings for the lapel, and returned to Mississippi as a war veteran. He even wrangled a spot at college (University of Mississippi), using a special war veteran's application, despite having never finished high school.
Throughout his life, he enjoyed positions at a New York bookstore, and a New Orleans newspaper. Less successful were his bouts with the mail and the boy scouts. He was asked to resign both from his job as postmaster at a university post office, and as the Scoutmaster for a Boy Scout troop, as he preferred socialising to sorting letters, and also drank quite heavily, which was deemed inappropriate in scouting.
Faulkner struggled with heavy drinking throughout much of his life in fact, and was often heard to remark that alcohol helped fuel the creativity he needed to write. Despite the alcohol abuse, Faulkner was very successful as a writer, and won two Pulitzer Prizes (in 1955 for A Fable and posthumously in 1962 for The Reivers) and the 1949 Nobel Prize for Literature. Perhaps his best-known novel, The Sound and the Fury was ranked sixth on the list of 100 Best English-Language Novels of the 20th Century by the Modern Library in 1988.
Faulkner died of a heart attack in 1962 at 64 years old.
From the famous to the forgotten, explore this selection of William Faulkner novels followed by a selection of biographies about the literary legend.
by Carolyn Porter
by David Minter
by Philp Weinstein
by Joseph Blonter
by Jay Parini