Five Fascinating Facts about William Faulkner

Fun facts about the life of William Faulkner, author of The Sound and the Fury

William Faulkner (1897-1962) is one of the most important American writers of the twentieth century. He is known for his novels and short stories set in the fictional Yoknapatawpha County, based on Lafayette County in his home state of Mississippi. Faulkner won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1949.

But what are some of the more interesting and curious facts about Faulkner’s life and work? Below, we have gathered five of the most fascinating biographical facts about Faulkner, and say a little bit about each one.

1. William Faulkner was born Falkner; according to one story, the ‘u’ was the result of a typesetting error Faulkner didn’t bother to correct.

Curiously, Falkner’s  great-grandfather had been Colonel Faulkner but had removed the ‘u’ – William put it back. Faulkner (William, that is) was born in New Albany in Mississippi in 1897, the eldest of four sons.

2. The website took its name from the Snopes, an unpleasant family who feature in the works of William Faulkner.

Faulkner’s Snopes Trilogy, comprising The HamletThe Town, and The Mansion, was published between 1940 and 1959 and centres on the Snopes family, a grasping and corrupt dynasty including a paedophile (Wesley), a pornographer, and a thief (this article has more Snopish detail).

Perhaps because of the association between Faulkner’s corrupt fictional family and the corruption of facts which begets urban legends, when the website was launched in 1995 the founders looked to Faulkner’s work for a name.

3. William Faulkner was rejected from joining the United States Army in 1914 because he was too short.

He reportedly gorged on bananas and glasses of water before the medical examination, in order to give the Faulknerimpression that his short and puny frame was more robust than it appeared; the plan failed.

Instead, Faulkner succeeded in joining the British army in 1917 – having forged letters from a fictional referee, a vicar named Edward Twimberly-Thorndyke (yes, really).

4. The only Christmas presents William Faulkner would accept from his family were pipe cleaners.

As we previously covered in one of our Christmas posts, Faulkner’s stepson, Malcolm Franklin, wrote in his book Bitterweeds: Life with William Faulkner at Rowan Oak that Faulkner’s gifts ‘consisted of little bundles of pipe cleaners, some in assorted colors, others snow-white.

There were all kinds of pipe cleaners in various bundles clinging precariously to the branches of the tree, each with its little tag. There was one package of Dill pipe cleaners, which Faulkner liked particularly… If he received any other gift he would carefully take it to his office and there it would remain unopened.’

5. Faulkner worked on the screenplay for the classic film The Big Sleep.

Along with Leigh Brackett and Jules Furthman, Faulkner co-wrote the critically acclaimed screenplay for the 1946 film version of Raymond Chandler’s novel. During the production of the film, Faulkner and his fellow writers wished to seek Chandler’s advice on an unresolved plot detail, so Howard Hawks, the director of the film, sent a telegram to Chandler asking him who killed the chauffer Owen Taylor in the story. Chandler’s response was brief, even by the standards of the telegram: ‘NO IDEA.’

John Sutherland, to whom we are indebted for this story (he tells it in his entertaining book Where Was Rebecca Shot? Puzzles, Curiosities And Conundrums in Mo: Puzzles, Curiosities and Conundrums in Modern Fiction), surmises that Chandler was perhaps disinclined to help them because he was jealous of Faulkner’s literary success.

He perhaps had reason to feel envious: in 1949, three years after the film of The Big Sleep, Faulkner won the Nobel Prize for Literature. So far as the plot detail in The Big Sleep is concerned, Sutherland offers his own possible solution, but Howard Hawks remained confused. ‘I never figured out what was going on,’ he later confided.

Image: William Faulkner, 1954 (author: Carl Van Vechten), Wikimedia Commons.

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