William Faulkner Biography


William Faulkner was born in New Albany, Mississippi, but his family soon moved to Oxford, Mississippi. Almost all of his novels take place in and around Oxford, which he renames Jefferson, Mississippi. Even though Faulkner is a contemporary American author, he is already considered to be one of the world's greatest novelists. In 1949, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for literature, the highest prize that can be awarded to a writer.

Faulkner came from a rather distinguished Mississippi family. His great-grandfather, Colonel William Cuthbert Falkner (the "u" was added to Faulkner's name by mistake when his first novel was published and Faulkner retained this spelling), came to Mississippi from South Carolina during the first part of the nineteenth century. The Colonel appears in many of Faulkner's novels under the name of Colonel John Sartoris. Colonel William Falkner had a fairly notable career as a soldier both in the Mexican War and in the American Civil War. During the Civil War, Falkner's hot temper was responsible for his demotion from full colonel to lieutenant colonel. After the Civil War, Colonel Falkner was deeply involved in the problems of the reconstruction period. He killed several men during this time and became a rather notorious figure. He also built a railroad and ran for public office. During all of these fascinating activities, he took out time to write one of the nation's bestsellers, The White Rose of Memphis, which appeared in 1880. He also wrote two other books, but only his first was an outstanding success. He was finally killed by one of his rivals. The later members of the Falkner family were not quite so distinguished as was the great-grandfather.

With the publication of his third novel, Sartoris, William Faulkner placed his novels in a mythological county that he called Yoknapatawpha County. Most of the rest of his novels and short stories are set in this county. The Compsons, who are the central characters in this novel, also appear in later works. One of Faulkner's great achievements is the creation of this imaginary county. He worked out his plan so carefully that many characters who are minor characters in one novel become central characters in a later work. He also drew a map of this county to show where certain events take place; it appears at the end of a later novel, Absalom, Absalom!

In all of his work, Faulkner has used new techniques to express his views of man's position in the modern world. In his earlier works, Faulkner viewed man's position in the universe with despair. He saw man as a weak creature incapable of rising above his selfish needs. Later, Faulkner's view changed. In his more recent works, he sees man as potentially great, or, in Faulkner's own words, "Man will not merely endure: he will prevail." In almost all of his novels, Faulkner penetrates deeply into the psychological motivations for man's actions and investigates man's dilemma in the modern world. Of all his achievements, The Sound and the Fury is considered to be one of his greatest novels.