William Faulkner: The Life of a U.S. Novelist
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William Faulkner: The Life of a U.S. Novelist
William Faulkner, born September 25, 1897, was the oldest of four brothers born in New Albany, Mississippi. His parents were Murry C. and Maud Butler Falkner; it was William himself who later added a “u” to the name. Soon the Falkners moved to Ripley, in the adjoining county, and then 50 miles southwestward to Oxford, where William was to spend most of his life. In Oxford his father owned and lost a livery stable and a hardware store before he became business manager of the State University. Later, besides building a railroad from Ripley into Tennessee, he had written a romantic novel, The White Rose of Memphis, popular enough to be reprinted 36 times.
Billy, or “Memmie”-as he was called by the family-was an imaginative boy, always leading his brothers into fights. His imagination was fed by haphazard reading. There was no public library in Oxford then, but his household was full of books, including Dickens and many other English classics, that he would read. He dropped out of high school after his second year. At the time he was in love with a neighbor girl, Estelle Oldham. Dreaming of marriage, he went to work in his grandfather’s bank. Meanwhile, another neighbor, Philip Stone, took charge of his reading and provided him with books unknown in Oxford, many of which were in the Symbolist or Modernist tradition.
Estelle ended up marrying another man and went to live in the Orient. Faulkner enlisted in the Royal Air Force of Canada and was sent to Toronto as a cadet pilot in 1918, but the war ended before he had finished his basic training. He returned home to
Oxford where he was admitted to the University of Mississippi. He stayed there only long enough to join a fraternity and contribute poems to the literary magazine. During the years that followed, he engaged in a series of occupations to earn enough for “paper, tobacco, food, and a little whiskey” while he was learning to write. In the fall of 1921 he worked as a clerk in a New York City bookstore. For the next three years he was the postmaster of the university station just outside Oxford.
He spent the first half of 1925 in New Orleans. He wrote his fist novel, Soldier’s Pay, about the return to Georgia of a fatally wounded aviator. In July he sailed for Italy on a slow freighter; soon he made his way to Paris, partly on foot. He was living there alone, on the Left Bank, when he heard that the novel had been accepted for publication the following spring. The advance against royalties of $200 paid for most of his passage to New York and his railroad ticket to Oxford, where he arrived before Christmas. In Oxford he continued for several years to support himself by odd jobs: by working as a house painter, carpenter, golf professional, deckhand on a shrimp trawler, and , by his own account, rum smuggler on a speedboat that dodged through the Louisiana bayous. Meanwhile he was writing furiously, mostly at night.
He wrote his second novel and third novels, Mosquitoes and Flags in the Dust, in 1927. His stories, including Flags in the Dust, started getting rejected by publishers. Faulkner began writing The Sound and the Fury. Flags in the Dust was given a new title, Sartoris, and was finally accepted by another publisher. It appeared in June of 1929. It was Faulkner’s fist story to deal with his made-up community of Yoknapatawpha
County. The Sound and the Fury, accepted by yet another publisher, appeared in October of the same year.
Estelle Oldham came back from China after the failure of her first marriage, and she and Faulkner were married in June 1929. During that spring he wrote Sanctuary and during the late autumn he wrote As I Lay Dying. The Sound and the Fury received impressive reviews that persuaded editors to take a second look at his short stories. “A Rose for Emily” was the first to appear in a national magazine (April 1930), and was soon followed by others.
Faulkner was at this time well along in what would later become known as his major phase. He was writing books at an incredible pace. In the years from 1930 to
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Modernist literature, William Faulkner, Sartoris, Flags in the Dust, Yoknapatawpha County, The Sound and the Fury, Sanctuary, Light in August, Intruder in the Dust, If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem, Absalom, Absalom!, Oxford, Mississippi
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