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William Faulkner

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English Literature

It is impossible to discuss the great writers of the 20th century without mentioning the name William Faulkner. The Nobel-Prize winning Mississippi-native was responsible for writing some of the most enduring American novels of the 20th century, and his modernist writing techniques, such as the use of changing viewpoints, inner monologues, and stream-of-consciousness writing, have influenced writers around the world.

William Faulkner's Biography

William Cuthbert Faulkner was born on September 25th, 1897, in New Albany, Mississippi. He belonged to an upper-middle-class family and was the oldest of four sons. His father, a treasurer for a railroad company, was named Murry Cuthbert Falkner, and his mother was Maud Butler. When William was a young child, the family moved to Oxford, Mississippi, and he would continue to live in the Mississippi town for most of his life.

Growing up in Mississippi, Faulkner was surrounded by stories of the Civil War, the Ku Klux Klan, and family history. These included stories about his great-grandfather, Colonel William Clark Falkner, who had been a Confederate hero. These stories and his Mississippi childhood had a significant influence on his writings.

Mississippi setting, pixabay.com

Another early influence was Faulkner's mother, who loved to read and taught her sons to value education and literature.

Faulkner worked hard in school as a young child, skipping the second grade. However, later in his school career, he was forced to repeat the eleventh and twelfth grades and did not ultimately graduate high school. Despite the lack of academic success, Faulkner remained independently interested in literature and the study of Mississippian history.

Did you notice that the last name Faulkner is spelled Falkner in William's father's name? This is reportedly because of a typesetter's error in 1918, which introduced the extra letter. Unconcerned, William Faulkner adopted this new spelling.

As a young man, Faulkner began writing poetry and short stories. He met Mississippi attorney Phil Stone, a well-educated man who recognized Faulkner's talent and became his mentor. Stone helped Faulkner try unsuccessfully to publish some of his first short stories and introduced the young writer to literature that would become a life-long influence.

In 1918, William Faulkner joined the Royal Canadian Air Force, hoping to realize his dreams of flying. World War I ended before he completed training, however, leaving Faulkner to return to Mississippi full of stories of false combat. That next year, back home in Oxford, Faulkner enrolled in the University of Mississippi, but he dropped out after only three semesters.

The Start of a Literary Career

In 1925, Faulkner spent time in New Orleans, where he began to move away from poetry and focus more explicitly on prose. He published several short stories as well as wrote his first two novels over the next two years.

In 1927, Faulkner wrote his third novel, Flags in the Dust, the heavily edited version of which was published in 1929 as Sartoris. This novel was significant because it was his first set in the fictional Yoknapatawpha County, based on his hometown in Mississippi, where many of his other novels and stories would take place.

Faulkner in Hollywood

In 1929, Faulkner married Estelle Oldham, becoming the stepfather of her two children and having their own daughter in 1933.

Faulkner worked for a time as a writer in Hollywood. Pixabay.com

Working only as a writer, Faulkner struggled to support his family as the Great Depression began. In search of a more stable income, he went to Hollywood to become a screenwriter. From the 1930s to the mid-1950s, he worked on close to fifty films in total and had a memorable affair with a script supervisor named Meta Carpenter.

During these years, he also continued writing and publishing his own novels and short stories.

William Faulkner's Death

In 1962, William Faulkner fell from a horse, suffering an injury that resulted in thrombosis, a life-threatening blood clot. Just a few weeks later, on July 6th, 1962, Faulkner suffered a fatal heart attack. He was 64 years old.

Prizes and Awards

William Faulkner is generally considered one of the greatest American authors of all time and won numerous literary awards, including:

  • Nobel Prize for Literature in 1949
  • National Book Award for Fiction (for Collected Stories of William Faulkner) in 1951.
  • Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the National Book Award for Fiction (The Fable) in 1955.
  • Pulitzer Prize for Fiction (The Reivers) in 1963, the year after Faulkner died.

William Faulkner was the recipient of the 1949 Nobel Prize for Literature; however, he actually received the award in 1950. This was because the committee decided that none of the candidates for 1949's Nobel Prize met the selection criteria, so the prize was deferred until the next year.

William Faulkner's Books

William Faulkner is best known for his Southern gothic, modernist novels and short stories. His writing involves long, detailed sentences, changing viewpoints between characters, and the use of inner monologues and stream-of-consciousness writing. Colloquial language grounds his texts firmly in the American South, and much of his work is set in Yoknapatawpha County, a fictional place in Mississippi.

The following are some of William Faulkner's published works, including novels, poems, and short stories:

William Faulkner's Novels

  • The Sound and the Fury (1929): Faulkner's fourth novel takes place in Jefferson, Mississippi, and tells the decades-long story of the Compson family. Although it was not immediately successful, the novel is now considered an American classic. It was compared to James Joyce's Ulysses for its Modernist writing techniques, including stream-of-consciousness narration and shifts in points of view.
  • As I Lay Dying (1930): Perhaps Faulkner's best-known novel, As I Lay Dying is also considered a classic of American literature. It tells the story of the Burden family as they journey across Mississippi to bury their wife and mother, Addie. The novel is notable for the shifting points of view between many different narrators and Faulkner's use of stream-of-consciousness writing.
  • Light in August (1932): Light in August is a novel that also takes place in Jefferson, Mississippi. It interweaves the stories of several key characters, including Lena Grove, a pregnant woman searching for the father of her baby, the baby's father, Joe Brown, and Brown's partner in a bootleg whiskey operation, Joe Christmas.
  • Faulkner's other novels include Soldiers Pay (1926), Mosquitoes (1927), Flags in the Dust/Sartoris (1929), Sanctuary (1931), Absalom, Absalom! (1936), The Unvanquished (1938), The Wild Palms (If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem) (1939), The Hamlet (1940), Intruder in the Dust (1948), Requiem for a Nun (1951), A Fable (1954), The Town (1957), The Mansion (1960), and The Reivers (1962).

William Faulkner's Short Stories

William Faulkner was also famous for publishing well over 100 short stories.

Some of his short story collections include These 13 (1931), Go Down, Moses (1942), Knight's Gambit (1949), and Collected Stories of William Faulkner (1950).

William Faulkner's Poems

I'm a failed poet. Maybe every novelist wants to write poetry first, finds he can't, and then tries the short story, which is the most demanding form after poetry. And, failing at that, only then does he take up novel writing." —Faulkner1

William Faulkner's first forays into writing were romantic poems influenced by British poets. However, as he aged, Faulkner left poetry behind to focus on his prose. One critic argued that Faulkner would never have been well known as a poet, but rather "the fact that he is a great novelist gives his verse importance."2

Faulkner wrote two collections of poetry, The Marble Faun (1924) and A Green Bough (1933), and many individual poems that were published in various publications.

William Faulkner Quotes

Memory believes before knowing remembers. Believes longer than recollects, longer than knowing even wonders." —Light in August (1932)

This quote is the first line of Chapter 6 in Light in August. Here, the novel goes back in time to tell the story of five-year-old Joe Christmas growing up in an orphanage. It refers to the importance of memory and history in shaping Faulkner's characters. He writes about memories and impressions that are formed without conscious thought but have significant ramifications for an individual's core beliefs, influencing their character and actions for years to come. This phrase also highlights Faulkner's writing style, bending prose almost to the point of poetry.

He had a word, too. Love, he called it. But I had been used to words for a long time. I knew that that word was like the others: just a shape to fill a lack; that when the right time came, you wouldn't need a word for that any more than for pride or fear." —As I Lay Dying (1930)

This quote comes from Addie, the dead wife and mother in Faulkner's As I Lay Dying. Addie expresses the belief that words are inadequate or unnecessary because they are created by someone who has never experienced the thing that the word conveys. The person who experiences pride or fear or love doesn't need a word for it. Here, Addie refers to her husband, Anse, a man she was never able to love and to whose love she was indifferent.

Because Father said clocks slay time. He said time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels; only when the clock stops does time come to life." —The Sound and the Fury (1929)

This quote comes from the second chapter of The Sound and the Fury, narrated by Quentin, one of the Compson children. In the novel, Faulkner repeatedly questions our use and perception of time with the non-linear structure of his writing and also with the story itself. For example, the character Benjy has a mental disability and therefore has no concept of time. Quentin, on the other hand, is obsessed with the passage of time and continually wishes to stop time or live in the past.

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." —Nobel Prize banquet speech (1950)

This quote comes from Faulkner's speech after being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. Faulkner gave the speech during the start of the Cold War, and he spoke to the writer's role in society. The writer, and in particular the poet, does not exist solely to record the human experience but to contribute to it. Literature can uplift humanity by reflecting and reminding us of our merits.

William Faulkner - Key takeaways

  • William Cuthbert Faulkner was born on September 25, 1897, in New Albany, Mississippi.

  • Oxford, Mississippi, would become the inspiration for the fictional Yoknapatawpha County, where many of Faulkner's novels and short stories are set.

  • Faulkner worked on films as a scriptwriter in Hollywood during the 30s, 40s, and 50s.

  • Some of William Faulkner's most important novels include The Sound and the Fury (1929), As I Lay Dying (1930), and Light in August (1932).

  • Faulkner was awarded the 1949 Nobel Prize for Literature.

  • William Faulkner died of a heart attack on July 6, 1962, when he was 64 years old.

1Garrett, Jr., George P. "An Examination of the Poetry of William Faulkner." The Princeton University Library Chronicle, vol. 18, no. 3, 1957.

2Faulkner, William. "The Art of Fiction." The Paris Review, issue 12, 1956.

William Faulkner

William Faulkner is best known for his contribution to American literature in the form of novels and short stories. Some of his best-known novels include As I Lay Dying and The Sound and the Fury. The majority of his work takes place in the American South, specifically the fictional county of Yoknapatawpha in Mississippi.

William Faulkner's writing style included long, complex sentences. He also used many Modernist writing techniques, including changing narrators and points of view and relying on inner monologues and stream of consciousness writing.

William Faulkner died of a heart attack on July 6, 1962.

William Faulkner was a Nobel Prize-winning American novelist, poet, and short-story writer.

William Faulkner was important because of his enormous contribution to American literature. His novels, including As I Lay Dying, Light in August, and The Sound and the Fury, are considered among the greatest American novels of all time. Faulkner was also important because he used writing techniques that were unconventional at the time, such as non-linear narratives and stream-of-consciousness writing.

Final William Faulkner Quiz

Question

What are some important themes in Light in August?

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Answer

Race, gender and sexuality, religion, identity, and alienation

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What happens to Joe Christmas at the end of Light in August?

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Answer

He is shot, castrated, and killed.

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What name does Lucas Burch go by in Jefferson?

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Answer

Joe Brown

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Why does Lena Grove leave Alabama?

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Answer

She is searching for the father of her unborn baby.

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What is the name of Jefferson's disgraced reverend?

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Answer

Gail Hightower

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When was Light in August published?

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Answer

1932

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What genre is Light in August?

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Answer

Southern gothic, modernist

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Is Yoknapatawpha county a real place?

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Answer

No

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Where does Light in August take place?

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Answer

Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi

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Who wrote Light in August?

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William Faulkner

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When was William Faulkner born?

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25 September 1897

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In which state did Faulkner live for most of his life?

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Mississippi

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With which literary movement is Faulkner associated?

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Modernism

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When did Faulkner die?

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6 July 1962

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Which literary award did Faulkner NOT win?

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The Man Booker Prize

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In what year was As I Lay Dying published?

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1930

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What was the name of William Faulkner’s wife?

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Estelle Oldham

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What was Faulkner’s middle name?

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Cuthbert

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Faulkner was most famous for his ______.

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Novels and short stories

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Which of Faulkner’s books earned the National Book Award for Fiction in 1951?

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Answer

Collected Stories of William Faulkner

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Who wrote As I Lay Dying?

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William Faulkner

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What genre is As I Lay Dying?

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Modernist, Southern Gothic

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When was As I Lay Dying published?

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1930

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How many narrators does As I Lay Dying have?

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Fifteen

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Who builds Addie Bundren’s coffin?


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Cash Bundren

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Who is Jewel’s father?

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Minister Whitfield

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Which is NOT an important theme in As I Lay Dying?

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Love

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How many days does it take the Bundren family to reach Jefferson?


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Nine

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What is the name of the youngest Bundren child?


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Vardaman

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Why does Dewey Dell have trouble mourning the death of her mother?


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She is preoccupied with her unwanted pregnancy.

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Who wrote The Sound and the Fury?

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William Faulkner

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What is NOT an important theme in The Sound and the Fury?

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Love

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Where and when does The Sound and the Fury take place?


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In Jefferson, Mississippi, in the early 20th century. 

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How many parts are there in The Sound and the Fury?


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Four

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Who is NOT one of the narrators in The Sound and the Fury?


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Caddy

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What does Quinten do when he learns his sister, Caddy, is pregnant?

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He tries to claim that he is the father of her child.

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When was The Sound and the Fury published?

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1929

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True or false? Jefferson, Mississippi, is a real place.


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False

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What university does Quinten attend?

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Harvard University

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What is the name of the Compsons’ longtime servant who practically raises the Compson children?


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Dilsey Gibson

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Where does the name The Sound and the Fury come from?


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A line from the play Macbeth

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The Sound and the Fury is an example of what kind of writing?


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Stream-of-consciousness writing

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In what year did Faulkner add an appendix to The Sound and the Fury?

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1946

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