Academic journal article The Southern Literary Journal

The Loneliness of William Faulkner

Academic journal article The Southern Literary Journal

The Loneliness of William Faulkner

Article excerpt

We cannot read Joseph Blotner's lengthy, highly detailed, and completely frank biography of William Faulkner without experiencing some feeling of guilt. This is not because we find ourselves to be participating in an expose. Mr. Blotner is an utterly diligent, marvellously patient, and completely responsible biographer. At the cost of much time and the most assiduous labor, he has--with the cooperation of Faulkner's family, including his wife--composed a scholarly, closely documented, and yet eminently readable account of Faulkner's life and career. Save for its concluding portion, in which Mr. Blotner tends to show a sentimental attachment to his subject, his treatment of Faulkner's often troubled life is even handed. If the details of Faulkner's harrowing addiction to alcohol are disturbing, they are no more so than the details of his long bondage to Hollywood. If his one-sided attachment to a college girl when he was in his fifties seems pathetic, the pathos is not greater than that of his relationship with his distraught and alcoholic wife. If his behavior towards others seems at times to be austere, haughty, or downright cruel, this seems at other times to be rebuked by the evidence offered of his courtesies and kindnesses. Above all, if his regard for his talent appears to have been undercut by his destructive impulses, it is made clear how hard--under difficult and complex psychological and cultural adversities--Faulkner struggled to fulfill it. If several hasty and ill-conceived objections were lodged against Mr. Blotner's biography when it first appeared, it has at this remove from publication been generally accorded its due place as the fundamental work on Faulkner--the absolutely necessary biography of Faulkner and the book to which all future books on Faulkner must refer. For Mr. Blotner's sense of responsibility to his subject we must say a prayer of thanksgiving.

Even so, as we turn the two thousand pages of the record Mr. Blotner has amassed, we do not escape the intimation that we are involved in a massive violation of the right to personal privacy which Faulkner tenaciously upheld all his life, and particularly after long delayed fame began to come to him in his native land. Nor do we feel inclined to refer all the guilt involved to Mr. Blotner. He has, we might assume, deliberately assumed the guilt for us, but this hardly extricates us from our implication in it. The issue of personal privacy--and we appear at this particular time to be more aware of its meaning than at any time in American history--is too basic to shift onto the shoulders of someone else. So we find ourselves at once recognizing the necessity and integrity of Mr. Blotner's achievement and questioning whether or not we should regard it as Faulkner himself would have indisputably regarded it: a reprehensible invasion of his privacy.

We must, I think, explore the question. Obviously there is no easy answer; the most diligent searching is unlikely to bring a certain one. Perhaps a place to begin is with the problem of Faulkner's motive to privacy.

One of the fascinations of Mr. Blotner's emphasis on a chronological narrative of the outward events of Faulkner's life is the way in which we become aware of an unending series of events taking place beneath the surface--the events in the drama of a modern literary consciousness seeking its identity, its authentic being, through embodiment in the consciousness of the personal self. It is this drama of the imperative and shaping force in the career of the modern literary artist that eventually became, I suspect, the most private recess of Faulkner's mind; for he came to feel, with all the logic of irrationality, that he had lost, and in a sense perhaps, had betrayed the deep, vital connection between his art and the flesh and blood author who had made the books. It may be that the underlying motive of Faulkner's eloquent lament for the loss of privacy in America ("On Privacy," in Harper's, 1955, the first of a projected but uncompleted series of essays called "The American Dream: What Happened to It? …

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