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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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5. Masculine Heroes   

13. Southern Renaissance

•  Unit Overview
•  Using the Video
•  Authors
- William Faulkner
- Zora Neale Hurston
- Flannery O'Connor
- Katherine Anne Porter
- John Crowe Ransom
- Robert Penn Warren
- Eudora Welty
- Tennessee Williams
- Thomas Wolfe
- Richard Wright
- Suggested
•  Timeline
•  Activities

Authors: William Faulkner (1897-1962)

William Faulkner's old house
[6948] Jack E. Boucher, South front and west side, Rowan Oak, Old Taylor Rd., Oxford, Lafayette County, MS [William Faulkner's old house] (1975), courtesy of the Library of Congress [HABS, MISS, 36-OXFO, 9-4].

William Faulkner Activities
This link leads to artifacts, teaching tips and discussion questions for this author.
The man who would become one of twentieth-century American literature's best-known figures, William Cuthbert Falkner (he added the "u" to his last name later in life) was born in Albany, Mississippi. Four years later, the Falkners moved to nearby Oxford, which William would call home for the rest of his life. Faulkner's childhood was fairly average for a young middle-class white boy of the period: he grew up surrounded by romantic and glorious tales of the Old South, many of them handed down from his grandfather, William Clark Falkner, a somewhat legendary figure who managed to become a colonel in the Civil War and went on to become a planter, lawyer, novelist, and builder of railroads before being shot dead by a former business partner in 1889. However, by the time Faulkner reached his late teens he began showing signs that his was not to be an average life. After dropping out of high school, he tried working in his grandfather's bank, but quickly gave that up and, in the face of his father's and the rest of his community's disapproval, decided to pursue a career as a poet. During this time, Faulkner was courting a local belle, Estelle Oldham, but when her family refused to approve of his unconventional behavior, Estelle married someone else, and Faulkner promptly left for Canada to join the RAF (Royal Air Force). (She later divorced her husband and married Faulkner in 1929.) Faulkner saw no action in World War I, and once it was over he returned to Oxford, where he briefly attended classes at the University of Mississippi. He continued to write poetry, publishing his first collection of poems, The Marble Faun, near the end of 1924 (the title consciously echoed that of Nathaniel Hawthorne's romantic novel about the conflict between American and Old World values). Despite this small success, Faulkner's writing life did not truly begin until he met another writer, Sherwood Anderson, who advised him to develop his prose and to concentrate on what he knew best--the Mississippi of his youth. It took three novels--Soldier's Pay (1926), Mosquitos (1927), and Sartoris (1929)--for Faulkner to develop his prose skills into their early greatness, but with the October 1929 publication of The Sound and the Fury, Faulkner's writing life had truly begun.

Like Sartoris and The Sound and the Fury, Faulkner's next novel, As I Lay Dying (1930), was set in Yoknapatawpha County, the fictional representation of the Oxford area that Faulkner would continue to develop in subsequent novels. Also like its predecessor, As I Lay Dying was written in a stream of consciousness style, using fifteen different narrators who deliver fifty-nine interior monologues from which readers must assemble the story, as if putting together a puzzle. The fragmented nature of Faulkner's narratives marks them as examples of literary modernism, a movement which sought to challenge artistic conventions and provide its audience with new ways of seeing the world. More recently, critics have explored the ways in which Faulkner's use of pastiche and multiple, often contradictory voices within a single work may have been a forerunner of what later came to be called postmodern fiction.

Although he continued to write throughout his life, critics generally agree that Faulkner produced his best work in the 1930s and early 1940s, including Light in August (1932) and Absalom, Absalom! (1936)--which many believe to be his masterpiece. Faulkner received the Nobel Prize in 1950.

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