Study Guide

William Faulkner

William Faulkner Introduction

War. Incest. Racism. Necrophilia. Mental illness. Suicide. In his collection of books, short stories, and poems, William Faulkner tackled nearly every aspect of life—from the mundane to the sensational—in the American South. One of the most highly regarded novelists of the twentieth century, Faulkner was a brilliant, innovative, and notably eccentric man with a taste for whiskey (Faulkner began to drink heavily at the age of seventeen) and fragmented narratives. Throughout his life, Faulkner was something of a misfit, notorious for his haughtiness and his tendency to invent stories about himself.

In his writing career, however, Faulkner's unorthodoxy led to great success: by pioneering new techniques in form and style, Faulkner helped revolutionize the notion of the "narrative" and, in the process, produced some of the greatest works of American literature. His story is all the more compelling considering that he never even graduated from high school! Although Faulkner received many awards and accolades, he lived most of his life in obscurity; he was not regarded as an author of any real importance until he was nearly fifty years old. In addition, his personal life was a mess—he continually struggled with alcoholism, debt, and repeated bouts of infidelity. The story of William Faulkner's life is thus a tale of perseverance, failure, creativity, and success.

In his work, William Faulkner created some of the most enduring and detailed portraits of life in the American South. His novels, which explore family dynamics, race, gender, and social class, have riveted—and challenged—readers for over sixty years with their iconic characters, intricate plotlines, and myriad shifts in time. Some of the greatest authors of the twentieth century, including Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Joyce Carol Oates, Albert Camus, Jose Luis Borges, Toni Morrison, and Cormac McCarthy, cite Faulkner as a major influence on their work. If you've ever read a book that doesn't move from point A to point B but, instead, from point A to point Z to point T and back, you should keep reading. Faulkner is one of the guys who did it first.

William Faulkner Trivia

Writing apparently ran in the Falkner family. William's great-grandfather, William Clark Falkner, wrote a novel in 1881 entitled, The White Rose of Memphis, which sold 160,000 copies.

Faulkner was only 5'5" tall.

Faulkner proposed that the first section of The Sound and the Fury, written from the perspective of Benjy Compson, be printed with colored ink in order to indicate shifts in time.

William Faulkner Resources

Books

Joseph Blotner, William Faulkner: A Biography (1974)
This definitive (and lengthy) biography makes terrific use of primary sources to map out the details of Faulkner's life and legacy. The author, Joseph Blotner, knew Faulkner personally and includes excerpts from their interviews and conversations. For any Faulkner expert, this is a must-read.

Jay Parini, One Matchless Time: A Biography of William Faulkner (2004)
Parini delivers a highly readable and well-researched biography that discusses Faulkner's life as it relates to his various works. The book integrates literary analysis and biographical background, and includes lots of primary source material from Faulkner's personal papers.

William Faulkner, Absalom, Absalom! (1936)
Considered to be Faulkner's greatest achievement as a writer, Absalom, Absalom! follows the stories of the Sutpen and Compson families in their quest for power and truth.

The Cambridge Companion to William Faulkner (1995)
In this collection of essays, ten scholars discuss the impact of Faulkner's work on the literary world. This is an ideal book for students interested in the thematic content of Faulkner's writing.

A. Nicholas Fargnoli & Michael Golay, William Faulkner A to Z (2002)
This quick-reference guide is organized alphabetically and contains information on Faulkner's life, as well as all of his books and characters.

William Faulkner, Essays, Speeches, & Public Letters (2004)
Faulkner was an elegant—and highly quotable—writer and speaker. This collection offers insights into Faulkner's perspectives on life, relationships, and writing.

Images

The "Veteran"
William Faulkner in his Royal Air Force uniform (with a cane, for added storytelling effect) after returning from military training in Toronto, 1918.

Screenwriter
William Faulkner in Hollywood, in 1942.

Nobel Laureate
William Faulkner, 1949.

Accomplished Author
Portrait of Faulkner, 1954.

Movies & TV

Famous Authors—William Faulkner (1996)
This 30-minute documentary covers the basics of Faulkner's life—an ideal refresher before reading any of his novels.

To Have and Have Not (1945)
Faulkner helped write the screenplay for this popular love story starring Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall. Ironically, the film was adapted from the novel of the same name by Faulkner's literary rival, Ernest Hemingway.

The Long, Hot Summer (1958)
This is the film adaptation of Faulkner's novel, The Hamlet, starring Paul Newman.

The Reivers (1969)
Film adaptation of Faulkner's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Reivers.

Websites

William Faulkner on the Web
This comprehensive Faulkner site is maintained by Ole Miss, where Faulkner studied and occasionlly worked. It provides not only biographical information about the author, but also a wealth of commentary on all of Faulkner's novels and links to many of his essays and speeches.

William Faulkner Special Collection
Hosted by the Special Collections Library at the University of Michigan, this site contains information on Faulkner's life and work.

Video & Audio

Prophets and Poets
PBS video on Faulkner's later career and on the exploration of race in his novels.

Banquet Speech, 1950
Audio and text of Faulkner's 1950 Nobel Prize acceptance speech.

William Faulkner at the University of Virginia
Short documentary on Faulkner's time as a writer-in-residence at the University of Virginia. Contains an interview with one of his former students.