Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Happy birthday, William Faulkner

William Faulkner
It is the  birthday of writer William Faulkner (1897), who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1949 for work that included The Sound and the Fury (1929), As I Lay Dying (1930), and Light in August (1932); and the Pulitzer Prize for fiction twice, first for A Fable (1954) and then for The Reivers (1962).

The Sound and the Fury, As I Lay Dying and Light in August are considered among the best 20th century novels in the English language. Faulkner is regarded among the most important writers in Southern literature, including Truman Capote, Harper Lee, Flannery O'Connor, Robert Penn Warren, Eudora Welty, Tennessee Williams, Thomas Wolfe, and Mark Twain.

Faulkner (originally spelled Falkner) grew up in Oxford, Mississippi, the great-grandson of a Confederate colonel who'd excelled at business, law, agriculture, railroading, and writing. After a childhood sweetheart married someone else, Faulkner went to stay with a lawyer friend in Connecticut, where he worked briefly in a firearms factory.

Faulkner tried to join the U.S. Army Air Force during World War I, but was rejected because he was too short. Instead, he lied his way into the Royal Air Force in Canada, claiming to be British. He changed the spelling of his name to Faulkner because he thought it seemed more British. Faulkner went through training in Toronto, but World War I ended before he ever saw duty at the front.

This didn't keep him from obtaining an officer's uniform and returning home to Oxford in December 1918 to a hero's welcome, regaling friends with his wartime adventures, most of them completely untrue. He even invented injuries he did not have, including a plate in his head.

Faulkner's penchant for telling a good story regardless of the facts was evident in his first published novel, Soldiers' Pay (1926), the tale of a wounded flyer who returns home to a small Georgia town after World War I, escorted by a war widow and a war veteran. The aviator's injury has left him blind and dying, and his fiance had been unfaithful. The drama includes the widow's desire to marry him. Some characters in the novel, through circumstance, were robbed of the opportunity to see combat, just as with Faulkner.

The book received mixed reviews, some writers calling it mediocre and full of uneven characters. Nevertheless, most critics found it worthy of praise. A critic wrote in The New Statesman: "I can remember no first novel of such magnificent achievement in the last thirty years."

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