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The Life of William Faulkner

I’m old fashioned and probably a little mad too; I don't like having my private life and affairs available to just any and everyone who has the price of the vehicle it's printed in, or a friend who bought it and will lend it to him.
-----William Faulkner
In “Sole Owner & Proprietor”
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Faulkner’s Home: Rowan Oak

William Faulkner was an intensely private man, and for the early years of his writing career, he was able to maintain a quiet, relatively untroubled life at his home, Rowan Oak, out of the public eye. As his fame grew, however, Faulkner began to find himself the target of unwelcome scrutiny from the public. Returning home to Rowan Oak in August 1937, after having spent thirteen months in Hollywood, two articles within a week in the Oxford Eagle attested to his growing fame and his status as an unwilling tourist attraction. In recent years, strangers had begun coming to Oxford to catch a glimpse of the author of the best-seller Sanctuary.

Two events, however, were tantamount in impinging upon his cherished seclusion: the publication of The Portable Faulkner in 1946, and his being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1950. As a result, Faulkner became very much a public figure, eventually even being offered (and accepting) an invitation by the U.S. State Department to go on goodwill tours throughout the world.

Faulkner struggled throughout to maintain his privacy, but ultimately it was a vain attempt; he was simply too famous and the public too interested in finding out more about the acclaimed Southern writer. In September and October 1953, Life magazine published a two-part essay on Faulkner, against his wishes. The articles — “The Private World of William Faulkner” in September, and “The Man Behind the Faulkner Myth” in October — were written by Robert Coughlan, who had met Faulkner two years earlier trying to gather information for a Life magazine article that never materialized. The 1953 articles were written out of Coughlan’s admiration of Faulkner’s work, but the knowledge that millions of people would be reading the personal details of his life upset Faulkner so badly that it may have played a part in his stay that autumn in Wright’s Sanitarium, a small private hospital fifty miles north of Oxford which Faulkner often frequented when he was recovering from alcoholic drinking binges.

It is perhaps ironic that Faulkner was so deeply private, for details from his private life, and even his prehistory, figure so prominently in his fiction. His great-grandfather, for instance, William Clark Falkner — the “Old Colonel” (an acknowledgment of his military service during the Civil War) — was the model for Colonel Sartoris in Sartoris (later published in its original form as Flags in the Dust) and other Yoknapatawpha novels. Indeed, his mythical Yoknapatawpha County with its county seat of Jefferson bears a strong resemblance to his own real-life home in Lafayette County and the city of Oxford.

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How to cite this page (MLA style):

Padgett, John B. “Sole Owner & Proprietor: The Life of William Faulkner.” William Faulkner on the Web. 17 August 2006. 22 August 2019 <http://www.mcsr.olemiss.edu/~egjbp/faulkner/owner.html>.

This page was last modified on Thursday, August 17, 2006 at 03:19 PM CDT.
Copyright © 1995, 2006 John B. Padgett
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