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William Faulkner

Faulkner, William, 1897–1962, American novelist, b. New Albany, Miss., one of the great American writers of the 20th cent. Born into an old Southern family named Falkner, he changed the spelling of his last name to Faulkner when he published his first book, a collection of poems entitled The Marble Faun, in 1924. Faulkner trained in Canada as a cadet pilot in the Royal Air Force in 1918, attended the Univ. of Mississippi in 1919–20, and lived in Paris briefly in 1925. In 1931 he bought a pre–Civil War mansion, "Rowanoak," in Oxford, Miss., where he lived, a virtual recluse, for the rest of his life. As a writer Faulkner's primary concern was to probe his own region, the deep South. Most of his novels are set in Yoknapatawpha county, an imaginary area in Mississippi with a colorful history and a richly varied population. The county is a microcosm of the South as a whole, and Faulkner's novels examine the effects of the dissolution of traditional values and authority on all levels of Southern society. One of his primary themes is the abuse of blacks by the Southern whites. Because Faulkner's novels treat the decay and anguish of the South since the Civil War, they abound in violent and sordid events. But they are grounded in a profound and compassionate humanism that celebrates the tragedy, energy, and humor of ordinary human life. The master of a rhetorical, highly symbolic style, Faulkner was also a brilliant literary technician, making frequent use of convoluted time sequences and of the stream of consciousness technique. He was awarded the 1949 Nobel Prize in Literature. His best-known novels are The Sound and the Fury (1929), As I Lay Dying (1930), Sanctuary (1931), Light in August (1932), Absalom, Absalom! (1936), The Unvanquished (1938), The Hamlet (1940), Intruder in the Dust (1948), Requiem for a Nun (1951), A Fable (1954; Pulitzer Prize), The Town (1957), The Mansion (1959), and The Reivers (1962; Pulitzer Prize). In addition to novels Faulkner published several volumes of short stories including These 13 (1931), Go Down, Moses (1942), Knight's Gambit (1949), and Big Woods (1955); and collections of essays and poems.

See the reminiscences of his brother, John (1963); biographies by H. H. Waggoner (1959), J. Blotner (2 vol., 1974, repr. 1984), and P. Weinstein (2009); studies by R. P. Adams (1968), L. G. Leary (1973), and J. W. Reed, Jr. (1973); F. J. Hoffman and O. W. Vickery, ed., William Faulkner: Three Decades of Criticism (1960); J. N. Duvall, ed., Faulkner and His Critics (2010).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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