let them [ask] anything. I think that if you try to rehease
the question first, it's not too good. Whether it seems
frivolous to you or not, ask it. We'll take the gloves
Do you have a question about William Faulkner?
Wondering about his war record? Curious about his drinking habits?
Intrigued/Confused/Confounded by his style of writing? The answer
to your question may be here. And if it's not, I invite you to send
me your Faulkner-related question.
STUDENTS CONDUCTING RESEARCH: Please read this
- Was Faulkner’s name really
- Was Faulkner a distinguished aviator in World
- How did the residents of Oxford
- When did Faulkner buy Rowan Oak, and
what does the name mean?
- Was Faulkner an alcoholic?
- Did Faulkner cheat on his wife?
- Did Faulkner fail English?
- What awards did Faulkner receive for his
- Who is Phil Stone, and what role does
he play in Faulkner’s career as a writer?
- How did author Sherwood Anderson
contribute to Faulkner’s writing career?
- Did Faulkner consider Ernest Hemingway
- Is Yoknapatawpha a real word,
or did Faulkner make it up?
- How many novels are set in Yoknapatawpha
- How much of Faulkner’s personal
life did he incorporate into his fiction?
- Of all his novels, which did Faulkner like the best?
- Did Faulkner invent stream of consciousness?
- What are the major themes in Faulkners fiction?
- Is the alcoholic Southern writer depicted
in the Coen Brothers movie Barton Fink based
on Faulkner, and is it an accurate portrayal?
- What are some other major allusions to Faulkner in stage
- How do the “corrected text” editions
of Faulkners fiction differ from other versions?
- I think I might be kin to Faulkner. How can I check that
- What is the relationship of the PEN/Faulkner Awards to William
name really “Falkner,” without the “u”?
When he was born, William Faulkner’s
last name was “Falkner”; at some point, however,
he changed its spelling to “Faulkner.” Several stories
account for the change — one claims that it was a typographical
error on publication of one of his early works, but the more
likely story seems to be that he spelled it “Faulkner” when
he joined the Royal Air Force in Canada during World War I, after
having been rejected from the U.S. Army because of his size.
Faulkner apparently thought the alternate spelling looked more
British. One psychological theory holds that Faulkner added the “u” as
a subtle way of asserting his independence, both creative and
biographical, from his predecessors, in particular his great-grandfather
and namesake, William Clark Falkner, who loomed in the family
as a larger-than-life figure — and who was himself a best-selling
novelist in his day.
Is Yoknapatawpha a
real word, or did Faulkner make it up?
It was once more or less assumed that “Yoknapatawpha” was
a word coined by Faulkner, but more recently, scholars have noted
that the word apparently comes from Chickasaw words meaning “split
land.” According to Faulkner, the word means “slow
water running through the flatland.” The Yocona River — an
actual river in Lafayette County, Mississippi, where Faulkner
lived—is an abridged form of “Yoknapatawpha.” Early
maps of the area called the river “Yockney-Patafa.”
Was Faulkner a
distinguished aviator in World War I?
In a word, no. When he was allegedly turned
away from joining the U.S. Army, he joined the Royal Air Force
in Canada and was in flight training, but the war ended before
Faulkner finished his training. During his period with the RAF,
he never left North America, so obviously, he never flew in combat.
However, throughout his life Faulkner enjoyed assuming various
roles, and so when he returned home to Oxford in December 1918,
wearing a lieutenants uniform and wings to which he was
not militarily entitled, he relished playing the role of disaffected
war veteran. Perhaps as a precursor to the fictions he would
later devote to paper, he also apparently enjoyed spinning yarns
about his “distinguished” flying career, one of which
concerned a mysterious injury which required a plate to be surgically
implanted in his head. Faulkner’s tall tales about his
flying career came back to haunt him later, especially when Malcolm
Cowley was assembling The Portable
Faulkner. When Cowley requested biographical information
about Faulkner’s RAF career, Faulkner wrote, “Youre
going to bugger up a fine dignified distinguished book with that
war business.” Faulkner recommended that Cowley write only
a brief “Whos Who” account: “Was a member
of the RAF in 1918.”
of Faulkner’s personal life did he incorporate into his
A great deal. Much of Faulkner’s own
family history makes its way into the fiction, just as places
and events in his fiction seem patterned on real-life places
and events in Oxford. The characters of Col.
John Sartoris and Thomas
Sutpen, for example, are based in part on Faulkner’s
great-grandfather and namesake, William
Clark Falkner. Like Sutpen, William Clark Falkner ran away
from home at the age of fourteen with the intent of making his
fortune. Like Sartoris, Falkner was a colonel in the Civil War
until his troops voted to remove him; he returned to Mississippi,
raised a local regiment, and continued fighting. After the war,
he started a railroad just as Sartoris did, and like Sartoris
was gunned down by his former
business partner. The Sartoris Bank has its roots in the First
National Bank of Oxford, which was instituted by Faulkner grandfather,
J.W.T. Falkner. In addition to his family history, Faulkner also
relied heavily upon the history, traditions, and landscape of
his region when writing his fiction. His apocryphal Yoknapatawpha
County, the setting for most of his fiction, is based largely
on Lafayette County, Mississippi, where he lived.
the residents of Oxford regard Faulkner?
For a long time, Oxford residents seemed to
regard Faulkner as a kind of harmless eccentric — one nickname
he was known by was “the Count” because of his apparent
haughtiness. Later, the nickname expanded to “Count No-Count,” alluding
to his apparent shiftlessness. When he began writing the great
novels, most Oxford residents barely noticed — but at least one
novel did pique their interest as well as their ire. The best-seller Sanctuary infuriated
Oxford residents, who felt Faulkner was maligning their community
and painting a distorted picture of Oxford.
Faulkner buy Rowan Oak,
and what does the name mean?
Faulkner bought the house in 1930, but the
history of the house dates back to the early history of Oxford,
when it was built by Robert Shegogg around 1848. The architecture
of the house was not unique in Oxford; several houses built from
the same design are in fact still standing in Oxford today. When
Faulkner bought the house, it was virtually dilapidated; Faulkner
continued to renovate the house for years afterward. The name
alludes to the legend of the Rowan tree recorded in Sir James
Frazers The Golden Bough; according to the story,
Scottish peasants placed a cross of Rowan wood over their thresholds
to ward off evil spirits and give the occupants a place of refuge,
privacy, and peace.
It depends on your definition of alcoholism.
He apparently did not have a physical dependence upon it. He
could, and often did, go long periods without drinking, sometimes
for months. Faulkner was, however, a binge drinker; his drinking
binges lasted for days, or sometimes weeks, and his habit was
to continue drinking until he passed out. His drinking did cause
hurt and injury both to himself — such as when he was badly burned
by a radiator while passed out during a binge in New York City — to
those around him. Often, his binges would come after he had finished
a writing project — he seldom drank when he was actually writing.
alcoholic Southern writer depicted in the movie Barton Fink
based on Faulkner, and is it an accurate portrayal?
The Southern writer in the movie Barton
Fink (played by John Mahoney, who went on to play Martin
Crane on the NBC television show Frasier) does bear
some relationship to the real-life Faulkner, who did “whore” himself
by going to Hollywood and writing screenplays
to earn enough money to live. Like Faulkner, the movie character
drinks a great deal and has an affair while in Hollywood — but
ultimately, the movie version is a caricature of Faulkner.
The title character in Barton Fink also shares some
characteristics with Faulkner: like Faulkner upon his first
trip to Hollywood, Finks first assignment was to write
a “wrestling picture” starring Wallace Beery.
The Coen Brothers, who wrote and directed Barton
Fink, seem to like to inject Faulkner references in their
films. In Raising Arizona, the escaped convicts (played
by John Goodman and XXX) are the Snopes brothers, and in O
Brother, Where Art Thou?, Pennys fiancee, Vernon
T. Waldrip, is the name of a character referred to in The
Wild Palms [If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem]. And some viewers
have even noted a Faulkner reference in the Coen Brothers bowling
movie, The Big Lebowski: as in the short story “Barn
Burning,” a key plot point centers on the issue of a
cheat on his wife?
In a word, yes. While in Hollywood, Faulkner
started a relationship with Meta Carpenter, a secretary for his
friend and colleague Howard Hawks, with whom Faulkner usually
worked. She was a native of Mississippi, and in fact she had
met Faulkner many years before while passing through Oxford.
Their relationship lasted for nearly twenty years. Later, Faulkner
also had an affair with Joan Williams, a young writer whom he
considered a protégé.
did Faulkner receive for his writing?
The most prestigious awards, of course, are
the Nobel Prize for Literature, which he received for the year
1949 (but which he did not actually receive until 1950), and
the two Pulitzer Prizes for A Fable and The
Reivers. In addition, he won numerous other awards, especially
late in his career. Several of his short stories won awards,
such as the O. Henry Short Story Prize.
novels are set in Yoknapatawpha
Of the nineteen novels published during Faulkner’s
lifetime, all but five are set in Yoknapatawpha County. The five
and their settings are
In addition to the novels, most of his short stories are also set
in Yoknapatawpha County.
It has become something of a trend to discover
some ironic fault or failing among geniuses, perhaps the most
common of which is Albert Einstein's trouble with algebra. Faulkner,
too, exhibits a few such ironic shortcomings. For instance, he
never graduated high school — his final months of high school
were mainly for athletics (he was quarterback of his high school
football team). To my knowledge, however, he never "failed" English.
Perhaps the source of this particular legend is from Faulkner’s
brief stint as a "special student" at Ole Miss — following
World War I, veterans were being allowed to enroll at the university
even without the required high school units. In all he was enrolled
for only three semesters, from September 1919 to November 1920,
and after his first semester, his grades were an A in French,
a B in Spanish, and a D in English. However, it is possible that
the D was undeserved — according to Faulkner’s uncle, he
once received a 99 on an English test which had in error been
recorded to Faulkner’s brother Jack, who like Faulkner
was enrolled as a returning war veteran. If it was an error,
however, Faulkner never bothered having it changed, saying the
real benefit from the class was not in the test grade but in
Phil Stone, and what role does he play in Faulkner’s
career as a writer?
Phil Stone, four years older than Faulkner,
can rightly be considered Faulkner’s first literary mentor.
Educated at Ole Miss and Harvard, and pursuing a law degree from
Yale University, Stone took the young poetry writer under his
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