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BACKGROUND INFORMATION - BIOGRAPHY
William Faulkner is a product of the rural Southern state of Mississippi, and his family roots go deeply into the Mississippi soil. His great-grandfather was Colonel William Faulkner of the Confederate Army, a wealthy man who became a distinguished soldier and writer. He appears in Faulkner's novels as Colonel John Sartoris. After Colonel Faulkner's death, the family's fortunes declined. Faulkner's father, Murry, ran a stable and store. He eloped with Maud Butler in 1896, and William Faulkner was born on September 25, 1897, in New Albany, Mississippi. The family moved to Oxford, Mississippi in 1902.
Faulkner's childhood was, for the most part, unpleasant. The eldest of four brothers, Faulkner did not get along well with his siblings. Faulkner's relationship with his father was also troubled; the son disapproved of his father's drinking and felt that the elder Faulkner bore some hostility towards him. His mother, on the other hand, was a kind and pious woman; as a great reader herself, she introduced her son to Dickens, Twain, and Shakespeare.
Faulkner began to write at an early age. In 1914, at the age of seventeen, Faulkner brought his poems to a local lawyer, Phil Stone, who encouraged his writing and became his friend and mentor. Faulkner soon began publishing his poems in magazines and literary journals. His first commercially-published book of poetry, The Marble Faun, was published in 1924, and his first novel, Soldier's Pay, was published in 1925. By his third novel, Sartoris, published in 1929, Faulkner had created the mythological Yoknapatawpha County and had begun to explore in depth the history and peoples of the American South.
The publication of Sartoris marked the start of an extremely productive period of writing for Faulkner, in which he continued to develop the Yoknapatawpha saga. Sartoris is followed by The Sound and the Fury in 1929, As I Lay Dying in 1930, Sanctuary in 1931, Light in August in 1932, and Absalom, Absalom! in 1936. This period was also significant in his personal life. In 1929, the year that Sartoris was published, Faulkner married Estelle Oldham, his first love. Their marriage was somewhat tempestuous, marked by Faulkner's tendency toward drinking and self-destructive behavior. In spite of their difficulties, they had two daughters, Alabama, who died in infancy, and Jill.
In 1932, Faulkner took the first of what would be many trips to Hollywood to work as a screenwriter; he would always return to California when he needed money. He published and sold the screen rights to The Unvanquished in 1938. A year later, in 1939, he was elected to the National Institute of Arts and Letters. The Hamlet was published in 1940 and Go Down Moses in 1942. By this time, sales of his novels had slowed, and in financial straits, he signed a seven-year contract with MGM. Ironically, by the time of his greatest film achievements, the screenplays for Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep and Ernest Hemingway's To Have and Have Not, most of his own work was out of print. Faulkner credited Viking's The Portable Faulkner, edited by Malcolm Cowley and published in 1946, with revitalizing interest in his novels.
In 1950, Faulkner was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. In his acceptance speech he said, "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." Faulkner continued writing and earning commendations. In 1951, he received a National Book Award for Collected Stories, published in 1950; in1955 he won both a National Book Award and a Pulitzer Prize for A Fable. His final book, The Reivers, was published in June 1962. A month later, Faulkner died of a heart attack on July 6. Modern day critics still consider him to be the greatest voice of the American South.
William Faulkner was an inventive genius with a gifted imagination. In his novels, he analyzes the culture and character conflicts of Southern society. Faulkner felt that the South had been blessed by a bountiful and beautiful natural world, but that its ill- treatment of blacks had left it cursed with misfortunes, many caused by the Civil War. This war, which ended slavery in 1865, is the background for many of William Faulkner's novels. The fictional county he created as the primary setting for his writing, Yoknapatawpha and it county seat of Jefferson, is a microcosm of the South, and Faulkner once called it "my own little postage stamp of native soil."
William Faulkner was an experimenter and a master in the use of the stream of consciousness technique, in which he was influenced by Virginia Woolf and James Joyce. In stream of consciousness writing, the writer attempts to get the reader inside a character's mind by presenting all of his or her changing thoughts, feelings, associations, and moods in rapid succession. In Faulkner's novels, the stream of consciousness is usually not chronological; the timing of events take a backseat to the feelings and memories associated with these events as they are narrated by various characters. The Sound and the Fury and As I Lay Dying are notable examples of his stream of consciousness technique. Absalom, Absalom!, published in 1936, is perhaps Faulkner's most difficult and greatest novel, using stream of consciousness and multiple narrative perspectives to tell a brilliant story of the tragedies that affect the lives of several Southern families.
The title of Absalom, Absalom! is from the Old Testament story of King David and his son, Absalom (II Samuel, chapters 13-18). Absalom slays his half-brother, Amnon, for committing incest with his sister, Tamar. He also rebels against David and is mourned by him when he is killed by his army in battle. The novel loosely follows this story of Absalom, with Henry killing his half-brother, Charles Bon, over his sister, Judith, and with Sutpen mourning the tragic loss of his heirs.