William Cuthbert Faulkner (1897– 962) was an American writer and Nobel Prize laureate from Oxford, Mississippi. He is known for his novels, short stories, a play, poetry, essays and screenplays.
He is mostly known and acclaimed for his novels and short stories, many of which are set in the fictional Yoknapatawpha County, based on the county where he spent most of his life.
The thing about Faulkner’s writing is that you either love it or hate it.
Sometimes he’s difficult to read because of his frequent use of “stream of consciousness,” considered at the time an experimental style. This was in contrast to the minimalist understatement of his contemporary Ernest Hemingway.
Faulkner often wrote highly emotional, subtle, cerebral, complex, and sometimes Gothic or grotesque stories with a wide variety of characters including former slaves or descendants of slaves, poor white, agrarian, or working-class Southerners, and Southern aristocrats.
From the early 1920s to the outbreak of World War II, Faulkner published 13 novels and numerous short stories. This body of work formed the basis of his reputation and led to him being awarded the Nobel Prize at age 52.
His prodigious output, mainly driven by an obscure writer's need for money, includes his most celebrated novels such as The Sound and the Fury (1929), As I Lay Dying (1930), Light in August (1932), and Absalom, Absalom! (1936). He also was a prolific writer of short stories.
Back when I was in college and taking a class in Southern Literature, I had a professor who was somewhat of a Faulkner scholar. He provided this list of the order in which to read Faulkner’s saga of the Sartoris family, and I have kept the list all these years:
- The Unvanquished
- There Was a Queen
- Light in August
- The Hamlet
- As I Lay Dying
- The Sound and the Fury
- Absolum, Absolum
Sartoris is the first of Faulkner’s tales set in Yoknapatawpha County, and introduces many of the characters that appear in his later fiction. The Unanquished takes place before that story, and is set during the American Civil War.
Here’s a quote from Faulkner I like:
“The South's the place for a novelist to grow up because the folks there talk so much about the past. Why, when I was a little boy, there'd be sometimes 20 or 30 people in the house, mostly relatives, aunts, uncles, cousins and second cousins, some maybe coming for overnight and staying on for months, swapping stories about the family and about the past, while I sat in a corner and listened. That's where I got my books."
|Faulkner as a young man|
What I find sad these days is that stories from a family’s past are no longer told to the younger generation, or at least it seems that way to me.
I believe it's important to instill in children the stories of their past. Do you agree? Did your family sit around and talk about the past times? Do you do that with your children/grandchildren?
I think it's time I got back to reading Faulkner. If you've never read his work, I think the short stories are a good place to start. I especially like A Rose for Emily. You might try that short story before tackling the Sartoris saga.