Simply Faulkner | Phillip Weinstein
We were approached by the fantastic publishers at Simply Charly to see if we wanted to review any go their intellectual and enticing biographical books that look into the great of our past. At Simply Charly they only publish books that analyse the great people of our planet and most of the books are written by scholars and experts in the person they are scribing about. Kernel Deb took the first one off the block for us and reviews SIMPLY FAULKNER, a biographical study of William Faulkner written by past William Faulkner Society president, Professor Phillip Weinstein. SIMPLY FAULKNER is available from the Simply Charly site HERE. Enjoy Deb’s thorough review…….all the best…….JK.
SIMPLY FAULKNER belongs to the Simply Charly Great Lives Series. These succinct biographies aim to explain the societal contributions of influential scientists, artists, writers, economists and notable historical figures, by providing insight, substance and depth to the story of their lives. Each volume is written by a prominent scholar familiar with their subject’s life and work. William Faulkner (1897 -1962) was an American writer, who along with literary luminaries TS Eliot, Ernest Hemingway and James Joyce had a profound influence on literature. Faulkner was awarded two Pulitzer prizes, two US National Book awards and the 1949 Nobel Prize for Literature. Professor Philip Weinstein is the past president of the William Faulkner Society and the author of the 2010 Hugh Holman Award winning BECOMING FAULKNER. In SIMPLY FAULKNER Weinstein distils the essential components of his previous work to provide a cogent, concise, cook’s tour of Faulkner’s life and work.
William Faulkner was born the first of four sons in New Albany, Mississippi in 1897 to father, Murray, and mother, Maud. His father, an outdoorsman with limited literacy was a sharp contrast to his literature-loving, artistic mother. Weinstein notes that Faulkner did not write directly about his childhood but some insight into these years is provided by the memoirs written by his brothers who described “a happy childhood full of shared, Twain-like misadventures.” Weinstein suggests that several other elements of Faulkner’s childhood can be guessed at by reading his novels, citing the fact that his mother Maud made young William wear a back brace for two years to correct his sloppy posture, an experience replicated by Mrs Compton with her daughter Caddy in THE SOUND AND THE FURY. Similarly, Weinstein links the personal history and behaviour of Faulkner’s flamboyant great grandfather “the Old Colonel,” his banker and railway tycoon grandfather “the Young Colonel” and train loving father, to various events in Faulkner’s novels. One such example cited by Weinstein is the white master in GO DOWN MOSES – impregnates his slave, and that slave’s (and his own) daughter, a sequence of events rumoured to mirror the real life sexual exploits of “the Old Colonel.”
According to Weinstein, Faulkner’s upbringing was replete with heroic and nostalgic stories of the American Civil War. Keen to participate in WW1 Faulkner was devastated to be rejected by the U.S. Army because he was half an inch too short. This rejection Weinstein posits adversely influenced Faulkner’s life in a myriad of ways, including Faulkner’s false claim to veteran status to gain entry to The University of Mississippi, without which, he would have been ineligible to attend because he had failed to complete high school. Already shy, Weinstein theorises that Faulkner’s inability to see active service compounded his sense of inadequacy, which in turn influenced his lifelong reticence to engage with younger writers, connect with his contemporaries, or become part of the literati.
Although in his early life Faulkner was a poet, he eschewed this label from his early twenties, a perhaps insightful decision given that his many accolades all relate to his prose. Faulkner felt that the orderly grammar, character and plot conventions of the 19th century writers that preceded him, often, did not adequately or authentically, communicate the messy, overpowering, dense experience of real lives. His novels thus attempt to replicate a more accurate depiction of reality by using stream of consciousness syntax, mimicking the diction and cadence of real speech and thought. Moreover his use of multi-strand and overlapping narratives to demonstrate that even though people can share a common event, their experience of the event can vary according to the pace at which they experience it, their viewpoint, the values they bring with them that affect their interpretation of the event, and later the fragments of memories they retain. His modernist style with a strong local perspective positions him stylistically with authors such as James Joyce and Franz Kafka.
Weinstein briefly touches on Faulkner’s extramarital relationships, and his time in Hollywood as a screenwriter during which he notably worked closely with director Howard Hawks and wrote screen adaptations of Hemingway’s TO HAVE AND TO HAVE NOT, and Raymond Chandler’s THE BIG SLEEP, in between drinking sessions with buddies Humphrey Bogart, Lauren Bacall and Clark Gable. Weinstein also reveals Faulkner’s fascination with barnstorming daredevil fliers and their airplanes which infused his novel PYLON. Faulkner and his brothers later learnt to fly themselves, but tragically his youngest brother Dean died in a biplane accident in a plane given to him by Faulkner. Weinstein links Faulkner’s subsequent guilt and grief at Dean’s death, along with his lifetime of immoderate drinking, to his later physical and mental health issues.
Memphis, Mississippi in the 1950’s, was widely considered to have highest homicide rates in America, a fact that Faulkner had great difficulty reconciling given his lifelong bond with his Negro nanny Mammy Barr who Weinstein cites as perhaps the most important person is Faulkner’s life. SIMPLY FAULKNER explores some of Faulkner’s many public faux pas related to racial issues, and contrasts them with the content in his novels which seemingly depict “race” as merely a social construction and segregation as physiologically groundless. Whilst convoluted these sections of SIMPLY FAULKNER are interesting because Faulkner’s often conflicting statements on racial issues are frequently a source of fierce debate.
In essence SIMPLY FAULKNER paints William Faulkner as a prodigiously insightful, observant and empathetic man who recurrently drank to oblivion to cope with a sense of inadequacy borne out of his short stature, failure to see active war service, and fraudulent entry to university. This inadequacy was compounded by guilt related to the death of his brother Dean and his perpetual sense of shame that he could not foresee a rapid end to the racial violence endemic in his beloved Mississippi. Weinstein’s SIMPLY FAULKNER is a neat, fascinating examination of Faulkner’s life and his work, revealing both to be a testament to the ways in which people endure the trauma in their lives. SIMPLY FAULKNER is an excellent introduction to the life and work of William Faulkner and recommended for anyone who enjoys Faulkner’s work or 20th century American literature more generally.
Deborah is a lifelong lover of books, food, TV and film with a penchant for schlock horror, superheroes, science fiction, black comedy and Asian martial arts stars. She would prefer to skydive than couch surf and is a fan of zombie walks. She can be found plugged into podcasts on long walks with her dog.
** All images courtesy of various sources on Google or direct from the distributor/publisher – credit has been given to photographers where known – images will be removed on request.