He was an uncompromising modernist, a great chronicler of the American South, and an inspiration—as well as immovable obstacle—for the generations of writers who followed. William Faulkner (1897–1962) stands as one of the greatest, and one of the most problematic figures in American literature.
Faulkner was Mississippi-born—a white man of his time and place who did not always rise above it. Yet his work also provides a burning account of the intersection of race, region, and remembrance: a probing analysis of a past that we have never yet put behind us. He set almost all his work in what he called an “apocryphal” territory, the imaginary Yoknapatawpha County in northern Mississippi. He carried characters and plot lines over from one book to another, as if the land itself were sprouting a story in which everything and everyone was connected.
Michael Gorra, professor of English language and literature at Smith College and author of The Saddest Words; William Faulkner’s Civil War, focuses on three of Faulkner’s greatest novels. (It is suggested you read each book before the class.)
JUL 26 The Sound and the Fury (1929) tells the story of the decline of one of Yoknapatawpha’s white ruling families in four different ways and from different points of view
AUG 23 Light in August (1932) offers one of Faulkner’s most unforgettable characters, a man named Joe Christmas caught at the intersection of the South’s racial and religious turmoil.
SEPT 27 Absalom, Absalom! (1936) stands as Faulkner’s greatest meditation on the burdens of Southern history, and on the persistence of the past in the present.
Photo caption (upper right): William Faulkner in 1954 (Library of Congress)
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