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The Writings of
William Faulkner

The aim of every artist is to arrest motion, which is life, by artificial means and hold it fixed so that a hundred years later, when a stranger looks at it, it moves again since it is life. Since man is mortal, the only immortality possible for him is to leave something behind him that is immortal since it will always move. This is the artist’s way of scribbling “Kilroy was here” on the wall of the final and irrevocable oblivion through which he must someday pass.
-----William Faulkner
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William Faulkner wrote a large body of work, but what is more intriguing, and at times frustrating, about this body of work is that he rewrote so much of it, oftentimes incorporating previously written or published material into new works. Sometimes his written works appear in several different contexts simultaneously. Each of the works in Three Famous Short Novels, for example, published in 1961 by Vintage, appears in another work: “Spotted Horses” appears in The Hamlet, “Old Man” appears in If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem [The Wild Palms], and “The Bear” appears in Go Down, Moses. Similarly, Quentin Compson, narrator of the second section of The Sound and the Fury, also appears as a central character and narrator of Absalom, Absalom!, while other characters from The Sound and the Fury are depicted in latter parts of Snopes, the so-called “Snopes trilogy,” which itself is comprised of three novels, The Hamlet, The Town, and The Mansion.

One reason for such interrelatedness in Faulkner’s works is his conception of Yoknapatawpha County, the setting for most of his fiction. After writing his first two novels, Soldiers’ Pay and Mosquitoes, he remembered something Sherwood Anderson had said to him when he was living in New Orleans in 1925. Faulkner recounts it in his essay “A Note on Sherwood Anderson”: 

“You have to have somewhere to start from: then you begin to learn,” he told me. It dont matter where it was, just so you remember it and aint ashamed of it. Because one place to start from is just as important as any other. You’re a country boy; all you know is that little patch up there in Mississippi where you started from.”[1]

Faulkner began exploring his home region in a novel whose working title was Father Abraham; in it, he began telling of a family named Snopes, and especially an individual Snopes named Flem, who epitomized the “cunning, rapacity, and utter amorality” of his clan of poor, tenant-farmer country people. Faulkner abandoned the project, but he would later incorporate the material in The Hamlet. His next project was likewise set in Mississippi, in and around a county seat named Jefferson, and concerned a family named Sartoris, an aristocratic family whose members had fought in — and died— in both the Civil War and World War I. Set in a county here named Yocona, the work was titled Flags in the Dust and it would eventually be published in a severely edited form as Sartoris.

Faulkner’s decision to set his fiction in his native region would in time profoundly affect not only his own literary production but Literature itself; however, its most immediate effect was to spur his imagination and creativity. As Faulkner told Jean Stein in a 1956 interview for the Paris Review,

Beginning with Sartoris I discovered that my own little postage stamp of native soil was worth writing about and that I would never live long enough to exhaust it, and by sublimating the actual into apocryphal I would have complete liberty to use whatever talent I might have to its absolute top. It opened up a gold mine of other peoples, so I created a cosmos of my own. I can move these people around like God, not only in space but in time too.[2]


1. “A Note on Sherwood Anderson.” First published in Atlantic, June 1953, as “Sherwood Anderson: An Appreciation.” Reprinted in Essays, Speeches, & Public Letters, ed. James B. Meriwether (London: Chatto & Windus, 1967), p. 8. Back

2. “Interview with Jean Stein Vanden Heuvel.” First published in The Paris Review (Spring 1956); reprinted in Lion in the Garden: Interviews with William Faulkner, 1926-1962, p. 255. Back

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How to cite this page (MLA style):

Padgett, John B. “The Writings of William Faulkner.” William Faulkner on the Web.

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Copyright © 1995, 2008 John B. Padgett
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