William Faulkner (1897–1962) stands as one of the most noteworthy, high-spirited and bright American writers of the twentieth century. He bequeathed 19 novels, about 70 short stories, the number of essays and a great deal of screenplays to the literature lovers. Yet Faulkner was not publicly acclaimed before being awarded the 1949 Noble Prize in Literature. Later he hit the big time winning the Pulitzer Prize for his fictions A Fable (1954) and The Reivers (1962). Faulkner created an appreciable myriad of works that include a number of critically recognized masterpieces. According to the Modern Library “The Sound and The Fury” (1929), Faulkner’s most praised novel, was ranked number six on the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century list.
William Faulkner was born in September 25, 1897 in New Albany, Mississippi. His parents belonged to the old Aristocracy which was ruined as a result of the civil war between the south and the north. He spent his childhood and much of his life here in the little district Oxford, state Mississippi.
The complexity, internal contradictions are marked as the aesthetic position of Faulkner. The writer repeatedly declared his deep respect for the traditions of world realistic literature (from Shakespeare and Cervantes to Leo Tolstoy and Dostoevsky), and his constant interest in the aesthetic systems of the «fathers» of new modernism — Joyce, Kafka, and Proust, which had undoubted influence on him. Faulkner himself believed that each novel requires its own form, that «the theme itself, the narrative itself brings to life its own style»
He started his literary career in the 1920s. Like Hemingway, Dos Passos, and Steinbeck, in search of his method Faulkner turned his attention to various philosophical and aesthetic theories which led him away from realism. In this regard we must first of all mention Sigmund Freud and his numerous adherents, with their concept of man as a receptacle of animal instincts and passions, and the founder of the theory of “stream of consciousness”, the American psychologist William James.
Modernist tendencies prevail in Faulkner's work of the 1920s-1930s. And yet, even in this most difficult period of his work Faulkner does not fit into the framework of modernism.
Russian literary critic N. I. Samoxvalova distinguishes Faulkner’s novels as “early” and “black” . To “early” novels she refers: “Soldier's Pay”, “The Mosquitoes” «Sartoris», “The Sound and the Fury”. “As I Lay Dying” (1930), “Sanctuary” (1931), “Light in August” (1932), “Absalom, Absalom!”(1936) — she infers to “black”. Arranging the novels in this way may have some reason. The former is clear why Samoxvalova has named them as “early novels” for they were written during the first years of Faulkner’s creativity. But why the latter group of novels was named “black”? Probably, she considered the themes which Faulkner began to raise in his later works. In his early works he often addressed to the theme of southern sensibility, humanity. Later he went deeper discovering the hidden sides of human soul and mind. Pessimistic mood dominated in the later works. Morality, vice and virtue, good and bad became focal themes for these works. Yet, Faulkner’s all works are known as humanitarian and Faulkner mainly looks into the inner world of heroes assisting them to express their emotions and feelings. Majority of Faulkner’s novels and short stories are dedicated to people of little county, Yoknapatawpha, created with writer’s magical creative imagination and situated by his will in South America, state Mississippi, not far from the place where Faulkner was born and spent almost his whole life. Yoknapatawpha has given its name to a cycle of interconnected major novels (and some minor works) set there, beginning with Sartoris(1929) and continuing through The Sound and The Fury (1929), As I Lie Dying(1930), Light In August(1932), Absalom, Absalom!(1936), The Hamlet(1940), Go Down Moses(1942), The Town(1957), The Mansion(1959), and The Reivers(1962) . Although Faulkner asserted that he was not going to write an historical saga, however, if all his creations, dedicated to Yoknapatawpha county, were put in chronological order by portrayed events, impressive perspectives will emerge in the readers’ minds, embracing about 150 years of history of these lands, beginning from 30th of XIX century and ending in 50th of XX century, after the second World War.
In 1926, Sherwood Anderson helped Faulkner publish the first major work — the novel «Soldier's Pay». From certain aspects of his work Faulkner in these years is close to the writers of the «lost generation». The author focuses on the tragedy of the human soul. The rejection of modern postwar America was even more pronounced in Faulkner's next novel, “The Mosquitoes”, published in 1927. Here the denial of reality acquires a universal character.
The first books did not give the author proper satisfaction. He painfully looked for himself, his theme. The theme of the plantation South became the theme that defined the creative face of the writer since the end of the 1920s.
An original exploration of this topic in 1929 was the novel «Sartoris». “Beginning with Sartoris,” the novelist told Jean Stein in a Paris Review interview in the 1950s, “I discovered that my own little postage stamp of native soil was worth writing about and that I would never live long enough to exhaust it.... so I created a cosmos of my own.” Elsewhere, Faulkner advises readers to go to Sartoris first, because the novel “has the germ of my apocrypha in it.” .
Almost simultaneously with “Sartoris”, during the 20’s — 1st half of the 30’s of his creativity, Faulkner published his leading novel “The Sound and the Fury”. Along with Joyce’s “Ulysses”, critiques declare that this novel is a classic example of modernist literature and the pinnacle of the writer’s creativity.
In 30’s Faulkner writes the novels: “As I Lay Dying” (1930), “Sanctuary”(1931), “Light in August”(1932), “Absalom, Absalom!”(1936), — in which development and deepening of those tendencies which appeared in “The Sound and the Fury” can also be met.
As in the novel «The Sound and the Fury», in the novels of the 1930s, too much attention is paid to the study of pathological consciousness. The farmer Bandren’s («As I Lay Dying») one son is mentally retarded, the other is a schizophrenic. In Temple Drake («Sanctuary»), stupidity is combined with animal lust. The heroine of the novel «Absalom, Absalom!" Judith wants to become the wife of his step-brother.
In the novel “Absalom, Absalom!” Faulkner again refers to the theme of the American South. This novel on its problems adjoins the trilogy of Snopeses. One of its central themes — the theme of the rise of the white poor man Thomas Sutpen, turning due to questionable machinations into a rich slave-planter, — anticipates the story of the protagonist of the trilogy of Flem Snopes.
The changes brought to humanity by the Second World War and its results, found a kind of refraction in the world outlook and creativity of the writer. It was in the post-war years that Faulkner's transition took place in the position of critical realism. Reflection of this new stage in the creative development of Faulkner-artist was his trilogy The Hamlet (1940), The Town (1957), The Mansion (1954).
In most of Faulkner’s works the main theme to be discussed is humanity. The pain for the mankind, for distress, for unfairness and evil create the main paphos of his works. Not for granted Faulkner, answering to the question given by the students of the japan university, to which school he considers himself to belong, said: “ The only school which I belong, which I want to belong is — the school of humanists”.
- A. Nicholas Fargnoli, Michael Golay, and Robert W. Hamblin “Critical companion to William FaulknerA Literary Reference to His Life and Work”Facts On File Publishing.NY.2008. P. 49.
- A. Nicholas Fargnoli, Michael Golay, and Robert W. Hamblin “Critical Companion to William Faulkner: A Literary Reference to His Life and Work” New york. An imprint of Infobase Publishing.2008. P. 59.
- Н. И. Самохвалова «История американской литературы» часть II. Москва 1971. «Просвещение».