Becoming Faulkner: The Art and Life of William Faulkner

Becoming Faulkner: The Art and Life of William Faulkner

by Philip Weinstein
     
 

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William Faulkner was the greatest American novelist of the twentieth century, yet he lived a life marked by a pervasive sense of failure. Throughout his career, he remained haunted by his inability to master a series of personal and professional challenges: his less-than-heroic military career; the loss of his brother in an airplane crash; a disappointing stint

Overview

William Faulkner was the greatest American novelist of the twentieth century, yet he lived a life marked by a pervasive sense of failure. Throughout his career, he remained haunted by his inability to master a series of personal and professional challenges: his less-than-heroic military career; the loss of his brother in an airplane crash; a disappointing stint as a Hollywood screenwriter; and a destructive bout with alcoholism. In this imaginative biography, Philip Weinstein—a leading authority on the great novelist—targets Faulkner's embattled sense of self as central to both his life and his work. Weinstein shows how Faulkner's troubled interactions with time, place, and history—with antebellum practices and racial division—take on their fullest meanings in his fiction. Exploring the resonance of his own unpreparedness, Faulkner invented a singular language that captured human consciousness under stress as never before. Becoming Faulkner joins Faulkner's life and art in a bold new way, giving readers a full vantage from which to better understand this twentieth-century literary genius.

Weinstein shows how Faulkner's troubled interactions with time, place, and history—with antebellum practices and southern heritage—form a pattern that played out over the course of his entire life. At the same time, these incidents take on their fullest meanings in his fiction. It was in meditating on his failures, his own unreadiness, Weinstein argues, that Faulkner came up with his singular language, one that captured human consciousness under stress as never before. His fruitless striving catapulted American literature to a new level of sophistication.

Narrating the events that comprised Faulkner's life, biographers have long struggled to depict his personal complexity, the paradoxes that shaped his decisions and dogged his relationships. But without a consideration of the writing as well, the troubles in the life fail to reveal their deeper resonance. By skillfully analyzing the work while tracing the events, Weinstein achieves a full portrait, revealing struggles that animate his life and shadows that complicate his work. Becoming Faulkner thus conjoins Faulkner's life and art in a bold new way, giving readers a full vantage from which to better understand this twentieth-century literary genius.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"In an earlier study, Weinstein offered the lapidary observation that Faulker 'was hurt into greatness.' Becoming Faulkner elaborates powerfully, and often brilliantly, on that claim...Along the way we are treated to breathtaking flashes of insight." —The Southern Register

"Philip Weinstein... has written a deeply felt, spellbinding, lyrically written tale of Faulkner's art and life, how each bred and interpenetrated the other, a dynamic dialectic of doom and hope, sex and sensibility, Southern myth and personal agonies." — Providence Journal

"Becoming Faulkner gives Faulkner's readers a powerfully original account of how the author's tortured but fiercely guarded personal life informed his creative one. Weinstein brilliantly renders Faulkner's struggles with unconquerable difficulties-family disasters and doomed loves, the maelstrom of Southern racial conflict, flights toward self-destruction, the intolerability of success-to provide an unprecedented and invaluable affective life of the writer."-John Matthews, Boston University

"Intricately weaving together the intense struggles that Faulkner confronted in a life fraught with personal and cultural conflicts with the works of genius he produced both out of, and in the face of, those conflicts, Becoming Faulkner is brave, bold, and brilliant. Weinstein's unorthodox approach to Faulkner's life and art delivers a stunningly original grasp of both. A landmark book in Faulkner Studies."-Carolyn Porter, University of California, Berkeley

"Faulkner has a reputation of being a writer difficult to read and understand, yet in this wonderfully illuminating book, Philip Weinstein shows us a way in. By revealing how Faulkner's writing is a uniquely faithful rendering of human life as it is actually lived rather than as it is usually written about, Weinstein explains why Faulkner-a man of terrifying openness-invented a whole new way of writing to capture trouble as it is being experienced, before we can grasp its significance. Seen from this perspective, Faulkner's novels take on sudden clarity. Everyone who reads fiction, as well as all Faulkner lovers, will not want to miss this remarkable book."-Carol Gilligan, author of In a Different Voice and Kyra

"Weinstein acknowledges that although Faulkner would have protested this glimpse into his tormented private world, he also would have recognized the portrait as true. What more can one ask of a biographer? This rich work will be well received by Faulknerian students and scholars. Highly recommended."-Library Journal

"At a time when over-stuffed biographies and specialist criticism have left our major literary figures more dissected than understood, Weinstein gives us his most profound, ambitious, and loving work, a book that captures the Faulkner that matters-the mess of the life caught up inextricably with the power of his novels. Whether you've read Faulkner, or studied him, or simply always wanted to grasp his importance to American literature, Becoming Faulkner offers as rich and pleasurable a journey into his great achievements as you'll ever find."-Adam Haslett, author of You Are Not a Stranger Here and Union Atlantic

"Writing," says Weinstein, near the end of this thoughtful book, "was how Faulkner reckoned with what had happened to him in life." He experienced as drama the endless contradictions and contrarieties that merged in his consciousness, translating them into prose that outlasted him. The task of making fiction was inextricably linked with the process of "becoming Faulkner"; serious readers of Faulkner will be grateful to Weinstein for what he tells us about this strange, often painful, process." —American Scholar

"Becoming Faulkner delivers what we all want but so seldom get from a literary biography: genuine insight into how its subject's life engendered great work. It is critically persuasive, concisely informative, admirable in its balancing of sympathy and judgment, and thoroughly enjoyable to read." —Jonathan Franzen, author of Freedom

Library Journal
In his prolog, Weinstein (English, Swarthmore Coll.) explains his concept of a biography as a work that does more than recount the events of a person's life in chronological order. He seeks to convey something of the disturbing stresses of Faulkner's life as he might have experienced them at the time and to explore how those experiences shaped the great works he produced between 1929 and 1942. Weinstein examines Faulkner's failed elopement with Estelle Oldham and his failed marriage to her years later. He discusses his great-grandfather, a Civil War hero who likely fathered a child with a black servant, and his effect on a young Faulkner who fabricates heroic service in World War I and becomes an outspoken opponent of the Civil Rights Movement. Faulkner's bouts with depression and alcoholism are similarly examined. Weinstein acknowledges that although Faulkner would have protested this glimpse into his tormented private world, he also would have recognized the portrait as true. What more can one ask of a biographer? VERDICT This rich work will be well received by Faulknerian students and scholars. Highly recommended.—Anthony Pucci, Notre Dame H.S., Elmira, NY

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780195341539
Publisher:
Oxford University Press
Publication date:
11/20/2009
Pages:
272
Product dimensions:
6.30(w) x 9.30(h) x 0.80(d)

Meet the Author

Philip Weinstein is Alexander Griswold Cummins Professor of English at Swarthmore College.

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