William Faulkner: A Life through Novels

William Faulkner: A Life through Novels

William Faulkner: A Life through Novels

William Faulkner: A Life through Novels

Synopsis

Writing to American poet Malcolm Cowley in 1949, William Faulkner expressed his wish to be known only through his books. He would go on to win the Nobel Prize for literature several months later, and when he died famous in 1962, his biographers immediately began to unveil and dissect the unhappy life of "the little man from Mississippi." Despite the many works published about Faulkner, his life and career, it still remains a mystery how a poet of minor symbolist poems rooted in the history of the Deep South became one of the greatest novelists of the twentieth century. Here, renowned critic Andre Bleikasten revisits Faulkner's biography through the author's literary imagination. Weaving together correspondence and archival research with the graceful literary analysis for which he is known, Bleikasten presents a multi-strand account of Faulkner's life in writing. By carefully keeping both the biographical and imaginative lives in hand, Bleikasten teases out threads that carry the reader through the major events in Faulkner's life, emphasizing those circumstances that mattered most to his writing: the weight of his multi-generational family history in the South; the formation of his oppositional temperament provoked by a resistance to Southern bourgeois propriety; his creative and sexual restlessness and uncertainty; his lifelong struggle with finances and alcohol; his paradoxical escape to the bondages of Hollywood; and his final bent toward self-destruction. This is the story of the man who wrote timeless works and lived in and through his novels.

Excerpt

The great nineteenth-century French romantic Chateaubriand titled his last work Mémoires d’outre tombe. in English this is rendered as Memoirs from Beyond the Grave, but the title’s deeper resonance suggests memories clarified, sifted, accessed by way of some ultimate light. André Bleikasten’s William Faulkner: a Life through Novels recalls Chateaubriand’s work in a couple of ways. It is appearing in English seven years after Bleikasten’s death. More pertinently, it bears (page after page) the overwhelming impress of Bleikasten’s authority. Over the course of his thirty-five years of publication devoted to Faulkner, Bleikasten, though French, became the most distinguished interpreter of America’s greatest twentieth-century novelist. His William Faulkner: une vie en romans—which was handsomely recognized by the Académie française when it first appeared in France (2007)—is Bleikasten’s magnum opus.

The word “overwhelming” is not an adjective normally bestowed on commentary on fiction. With respect to Faulkner, we aench. Malraux, Camus, and especially Sartre were the philosophical thinkers who recognized—as early as the 1930s—the extraordinary provocations wrought into Faulkner’s art. They saw in him not a Southern writer, and even less a race writer, but rather a metaphysical novelist, a supremely modern writer.

Faulkner’s American critics (from George Marion O’Donnell in the 1930s through Cleanth Brooks in the 1960s) were mainly concerned with interpreting him as a regional figure. Not until John Irwin’s Doubling and Incest / Repetition and Revenge (1976) and John Matthews’s The Play of Faulkner’s Language (1982) did Faulkner’s investment in the philosophical conundrums of his century begin to receive the attention they deserved.

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