William Faulkner and History

Powerful Essays
William Faulkner and History

In order to fully understand importance of history and the past in Faulkner’s writing, it is first necessary to examine the life he lived and the place that shaped it. William Cuthbert Falkner (the “u” was later added via his own accord) was born September 25, 1897 in New Albany, Mississippi (Padgett). Named for his great-grandfather Colonel Falkner, young William was told countless stories as a boy of the old Colonel and other great heroes of the South. Faulkner himself described the process of embellishment subjected to one story told by his Aunt over time:

…as [Aunt Jenny] grew older the tale itself grew richer and richer, taking on a mellow splendor like wine; until what had been a hare-brained prank of two heedless and reckless boys wild with their own youth had become a gallant and finely tragical focal point to which the history of the race had been raised from out the old miasmic swamps of spiritual sloth by two angels valiantly fallen and strayed, altering the course of human evens and purging the souls of men.

(Howe, 13)

Perhaps it is from these stories that he developed his own knack for historical and literary invention. “As a boy Faulkner did not need to study the history of the South: he lived in its shadow and experienced its decline” (Howe, 13), writes Irving Howe when describing Faulkner’s youth and education in the South. Rather than learn the history of his country via books and conventional methods, Faulkner lived it in the games of Civil War that he and his friends played as children. He grew up knowing “about Vicksburg and Corinth and exactly where his grandfather’s regiment had been ...

... middle of paper ...

...napatawpha, 1995. Ed. Donald M. Kartiganer and Ann J. Jackson, 1997. 3-38.

Faulkner, William. “Banquet Speech.” City Hall, Stockholm. 10 Dec. 1950. 17 Nov. 2004 <>.

Foster, Thomas C. “History, Private Consciousness, and Narrative Form in Go Down, Moses.” The Centennial Review. 28 (1984): 61-76.

Howe, Irving. William Faulkner: A Critical Study. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1951. 11-21.

Millgate, Michael. “Faulkner and History.” The South and Faulkner’s Yoknopatawpha: The Actual and the Apocryphal. Ed. Evans Harrington and Ann J. Abadie. Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 1977. 22-39.

Padgett, John B. “MWP: William Faulkner (1897-1962).” Mississippi Writers Page. 17 Nov. 2004 <>.
Get Access