Tuesday, July 10, 2007

William Faulkner

I have long been an admirer of the great writer, William Faulkner (1897-1962). I've just finished reading his biography, and I can't believe how much I did not know about one of my favorite writers.

Faulkner was noted for the eloquent richness of his writing style and the unique blend of tragedy and humor in his works (especially in "As I Lay Dying," one of my favorites). His prose style and complicated plots made some of his works difficult to read, but it is well worth the effort. He accomplished more in a decade than most writers accomplish in a lifetime of writing, and he won both the Nobel and Pulitzer Prizes for literature.

Although Faulkner dabbled in drawing and writing poetry at a young age, he wasn't a good student and dropped out of high school after a short time. He also dropped out of the University of Mississippi after only three semesters. He held many odd jobs, one as Old Miss University postmaster, where he spent most of his time reading or playing cards with friends, misplacing or losing mail, and failing to serve customers. When a postal inspector came to investigate, he agreed to resign.

Faulkner was an alcoholic. He wasn't an every-day drunk; he sometimes went for months without having a drink, but when he did drink, he drank until he passed out. When he awakened, he drank until he passed out again. This usually went on for about a week, when his wife, friends, (or his agent, if he was away from home on a book promotion) put him to bed and nursed him back to health. Once, when he had been on a binge and a friend had taken him to his home to dry out, Faulkner told the friend's wife, "Dorothy, I've misbehaved." (I thought that was hilarious!) As he grew older and his health deteriorated, he was taken to a sanitarium to dry out. He was usually up and about in a week or so, getting back to his writing and looking after his farm. He was in a much better mood after one of his drinking "spells;" it apparently served as a catalyst for him. This went on all of his life.

He stayed in a loveless marriage, mostly for the sake of their daughter, Jill. His wife, Estelle, wasn't very interested in his writing, and rarely accompanied him to New York, Paris, Italy, or other exciting places, preferring to stay home in Oxford, Mississippi. She was a spendthrift, and he was often forced to go to Hollywood and write movie scripts (which he hated) to pay their bills.

Faulkner did not, however, lack for female companionship. He had several long-term affairs with much younger women, continuing to be friends with all of them and writing them letters long after the relationships ended. Early on, Estelle was jealous, but she later accepted it and told a friend, "I guess Bill just needs younger women."

At least two of his books were made into movies, "The Reivers" and "The Hamlet," the title of which was changed to "The Long Hot Summer," starring Joanne Woodward and Paul Newman. (That one really made my blood boil; I saw it when I was 17!)

In later years, Faulkner was a writer in residence and lecturer in American literature at the University of Virginia. He also lectured at Princeton.

Since I’ve been writing most of my life, I'm always interested in what well-known writers have to say about their craft.

"Keep it amateur,” Faulkner said, “Remember, you're writing about people, not about a city or some other place, but about people; about man as he faces the eternal truths of love, compassion, cowardice, protection of the weak. Not facts, but truths. You're going to write about truth: man as he comes into conflict with his heart."

He also said he had never met anyone who could not find the time to write if he really wanted to write. "Don't be a writer," he said, "Be writing!"

Think I'll take Faulkner's advice and get back to my writing!

1 comment:

Bizzy said...

Great post and just another reason that you've been tagged as a Rockin' Blogger Girl in this post: http://bizzyblogging.blogspot.com/2007/07/you-like-me-you-really-like-me.html

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