Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Happy Birthday, Wiliam Faulkner

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.

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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. 

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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. 

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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.

Sartoris genealogy
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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
  • Sartoris
  • 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
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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.


  1. I have never read Faulkner, but I love anything set in the south. Especially since we have visited a few times. A Rose for Emily might be my start!

    1. A Rose for Emily is Faulkner at his gruesome best! A book of short stories would be an excellent introduction to Faulkner.

  2. What an informative post. My husband told me that he had to read Sound and the Fury and that he thought it was extremely good and clever. When I set out to reading it I could not make it. Then I googled it, read the plot and went back to reading it. I have to admit that Faulkner appears to be a genius and I also have to admit that he is not easy to read. I have such a hard time with the slang. I would have loved to be fluent in his work.

    I think story telling is a great thing, a great way to learn, and you are right, it is missing! Thank you for your post Sanda.

    1. I thought The Sound and the Fury was a difficult one to read. Wasn't there a movie made starring Joanne Woodward ? I think he is/was a genius and was a somewhat strange person. The slang is easier for me to comprehend because I've heard it, living in the same South he did.

  3. I've only read one Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury. What? Only one of his books/stories? I'd best set about correcting that.

    Thanks for the info and for the good suggestions.


  4. Never read any of his books either. Since I'm a "late starter" at wanting to ready EVERYTHING I hear about, maybe I can get to one of the short stories and give it a try. You are my inspiration at so many things.

    1. I hope the inspiration is a "good thing!" :))) Let me know what you think of A Rose for Emily.


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