Oprah's Book Club Summer 2005
A Summer of Faulkner: Three Novels: As I Lay Dying, The Sound and the Fury, Light in August
By William Faulkner
(Vintage, Boxed Set, 9780307275325)
Publication Date: June 3, 2005
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The 2005 Summer Selection is available in an exclusive three volume boxed edition that includes a special reader’s guide with an introduction by Oprah Winfrey.
As I Lay Dying
This novel is the harrowing account of the Bundren family’s odyssey across the Mississippi countryside to bury Addie, their wife and mother. Told in turns by each of the family members–including Addie herself–the novel ranges in mood from dark comedy to the deepest pathos. Originally published in 1930.
The Sound and the Fury
First published in 1929, Faulkner created his “heart’s darling,” the beautiful and tragic Caddy Compson, whose story Faulkner told through separate monologues by her three brothers–the idiot Benjy, the neurotic suicidal Quentin and the monstrous Jason.
Light in August
Light in August, a novel about hopeful perseverance in the face of mortality, features some of Faulkner’s most memorable characters: guileless, dauntless Lena Grove, in search of the father of her unborn child; Reverend Gail Hightower, who is plagued by visions of Confederate horsemen; and Joe Christmas, a desperate, mysterious drifter consumed by his mixed ancestry. Originally published in 1932.
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William Cuthbert Faulkner was born in 1897 in New Albany, Mississippi, the first of four sons of Murry and Maud Butler Falkner (he later added the “u” to the family name himself). In 1904 the family moved to the university town of Oxford, Mississippi, where Faulkner was to spend most of his life. He was named for his great-grandfather “The Old Colonel,” a Civil War veteran who built a railroad, wrote a bestselling romantic novel called The White Rose of Memphis, became a Mississippi state legislator, and was eventually killed in what may or may not have been a duel with a disgruntled business partner. Faulkner identified with this robust and energetic ancestor and often said that he inherited the “ink stain” from him.
Never fond of school, Faulkner left at the end of football season his senior year of high school, and began working at his grandfather’s bank. In 1918, after his plans to marry his sweetheart Estelle Oldham were squashed by their families, he tried to enlist as a pilot in the U.S. Army but was rejected because he did not meet the height and weight requirements. He went to Canada, where he pretended to be an Englishman and joined the RAF training program there. Although he did not complete his training until after the war ended and never saw combat, he returned to his hometown in uniform, boasting of war wounds. He briefly attended the University of Mississippi, where he began to publish his poetry.
After spending a short time living in New York, he again returned to Oxford, where he worked at the university post office. His first book, a collection of poetry, The Marble Faun, was published at Faulkner’s own expense in 1924. The writer Sherwood Anderson, whom he met in New Orleans in 1925, encouraged him to try writing fiction, and his first novel, Soldier’s Pay, was published in 1926. It was followed by Mosquitoes. His next novel, which he titled Flags in the Dust, was rejected by his publisher and twelve others to whom he submitted it. It was eventually published in drastically edited form as Sartoris (the original version was not issued until after his death). Meanwhile, he was writing The Sound and the Fury, which, after being rejected by one publisher, came out in 1929 and received many ecstatic reviews, although it sold poorly. Yet again, a new novel, Sanctuary, was initially rejected by his publisher, this time as “too shocking.” While working on the night shift at a power plant, Faulkner wrote what he was determined would be his masterpiece, As I Lay Dying. He finished it in about seven weeks, and it was published in 1930, again to generally good reviews and mediocre sales.
In 1929 Faulkner had finally married his childhood sweetheart, Estelle, after her divorce from her first husband. They had a premature daughter, Alabama, who died ten days after birth in 1931; a second daughter, Jill, was born in 1933.
With the eventual publication of his most sensational and violent (as well as, up till then, most successful) novel, Sanctuary (1931), Faulkner was invited to write scripts for MGM and Warner Brothers, where he was responsible for much of the dialogue in the film versions of Hemingway’s To Have and Have Not and Chandler’s The Big Sleep, and many other films. He continued to write novels and published many stories in the popular magazines. Light in August (1932) was his first attempt to address the racial issues of the South, an effort continued in Absalom, Absalom! (1936), and Go Down, Moses (1942). By 1946, most of Faulkner’s novels were out of print in the United States (although they remained well-regarded in Europe), and he was seen as a minor, regional writer. But then the influential editor and critic Malcolm Cowley, who had earlier championed Hemingway and Fitzgerald and others of their generation, put together the Portable Faulkner, and once again Faulkner’s genius was recognized, this time for good. He received the 1949 Nobel Prize for Literature as well as many other awards and accolades, including the National Book Award and the Gold Medal from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and France’s Legion of Honor.
In addition to several collections of short fiction, his other novels include Pylon (1935), The Unvanquished (1938), The Wild Palms (1939), The Hamlet (1940), Intruder in the Dust (1948), A Fable (1954), The Town (1957), The Mansion (1959), and The Reivers (1962).
William Faulkner died of a heart attack on July 6, 1962, in Oxford, Mississippi, where he is buried.