Faulkner’s Relationship with his Daughter as Displayed in the Film, William Faulkner: a Life on Paper
In William Faulkner, a Life on Paper, Faulkner seemed to be more a father to the literary works he produced than he was to his true daughter (or to the niece/ward who appeared in the film). His daughter Jill
Faulkner Summers spoke of him in much the same manner as did the other people interviewed in the film. From the residents of Oxford, Mississippi to Lauren Bacall, everyone seemed to have some interesting or entertaining anecdote to relate about Faulkner and his eccentric ways. His daughter and niece were no different. His niece relates a tale about Faulkner making up a family ghost; his daughter laughs about his drinking and recites the poem that signaled that a binge was coming. She quotes him as telling her “No one remembers Shakespeare’s child” when she criticizes his drinking, signaling a less than ideal relationship
. All in all, although she perhaps provides more details about her father’s life, she really has no more to say about him than any other Oxford resident.
Faulkner’s children, or daughters, were his literary masterpieces (and those not-so-masterpieces). People, even his family, did not seem to understand him, and he did not seem to care. He once said, “I can invent much more interesting people than God can.” Apparently, he believed this. Even though he always had several dependents, his emotional nurturing went into his writing not into his literal family. Jill states that he never willingly hurt or offended anyone but that he did not care about people and was not interested in ordinary people. His attention was devoted to his writing and the extraordinary people he invented in his fiction rather than the daughter he “invented” in his real life.
The film seems to set this up as well. As much (possibly more) time is spent discussing the literature he produced as is spent discussing his family. Passages from his works are quoted at length, tying the imaginary to Faulkner’s reality. Even when simply discussing the plot of a work, a direct connection between the work and Faulkner’s life is implied. For instance, when the film focuses on As I Lay Dying, the narrator states that Addie’s wish to be buried with her “people” is a literal rejection of her husband and children. This immediately follows the narration about Estelle’s attempted suicide, linking this imaginary family with Faulkner’s real family.
The literary figures interviewed (Robert Penn Warren, Shelby Foote, etc) declare that the people in Oxford simply did not grasp Faulkner’s importance. In fact, they likely understood this very well; however, they had to live around him continuously. To see a man prefer to spend his time with imagined “daughters” rather than with his true daughter must have been puzzling for them and for his daughter who has little more than a few anecdotal stories to relate about her father rather than true father-daughter moments that she could cherish.