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200 × 130 × 15 mm
224 pages
20 illustrations
10 Sep 2018
Critical Lives

William Faulkner Kirk Curnutt

At various stages of his life, the celebrated American writer William Faulkner (1897-1962) presented himself as a literary dandy, a shabby bohemian, a humble farmer, a courtly lover, and a genteel but aloof Southerner. In private and public, he was masterful at making people wonder who he really was. As Kirk Curnutt acknowledges, Faulkner was first and foremost a storyteller. Faulkner’s experiments in style and form radically challenged conceptions of the American South, race and the experience of time in narrative. Beginning with the 1929 publication of The Sound and the Fury (his fourth novel), Faulkner produced a dazzling series of masterpieces – novels and stories that alternately exhilarated and exacerbated critics and left readers gasping to keep pace with his storytelling innovations. He created his own microcosm in which compassion and honour struggle to stand up to the violence, lust and greed of the modern world.

As prolific as he was, his career was neither easy nor carefree. Faulkner from the outset was strapped for cash, burdened with supporting a large extended family, ambivalent towards a marriage in which he felt honour-bound to remain, and vulnerable to alcoholism. This book examines how he strained to balance these pressures to pursue his artistic vision with single-minded determination. As generations of readers have struggled to appreciate, understanding the relationship of Faulkner’s life to his art is not a matter of discovering the ‘man behind the myth’; it is of learning how the man created the myth.

‘Curnutt delivers a fine blend of Faulkner in little more than 200 pages, which should prove a good starting point for anyone wishing to learn more about one of the defining literary voices of the 20th century . . . Curnutt offers the right blend of research and anecdote, and astute analysis of the novels, short stories, and evolution of Faulkner’s style. He manages to fit in the heavy family history in Mississippi; the initial struggles of “Ol’ Bill” to find his métier that eventually led to a remarkable run of books; the reluctant Hollywood years, the booze, marriage troubles, and slump into relative obscurity, before a renaissance of recognition resulted in the 1949 Nobel Prize for Literature. Impressive.’ — Irish Times

‘Curnutt chronicles the major periods of Faulkner’s life and literary career. Most interestingly, he endeavors to distinguish between fact and fiction in the development of Faulkner’s public personae . . . Exploring Faulkner’s texts, events surrounding their composition, and their public and critical reception, Curnutt offers a brief but compelling portrait . . . Readers intimidated by more extensive studies of Faulkner’s life – such as Joseph Blotner’s esteemed 800-page eponymous biography – will take comfort in Curnutt’s compendious account of this larger-than-life literary legend. Highly recommended.’ — Choice

‘This well-researched and engaging study provides a clear and useful introduction to Faulkner’s life and work, a formidable task for a short book, but one that Curnutt performs admirably. It will be invaluable to Faulkner neophytes as well as Faulkner scholars.’ — Deborah Clarke, Professor of English, Arizona State University and author of Robbing The Mother: Women in Faulkner

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Kirk Curnutt is Professor and Chair of English at Troy University, Alabama. His most recent books include Reading Hemingway’s ‘To Have and Have Not’ (2017) and American Literature in Transition, 1970–1980 (2018).


1 Backgrounds and Futures (1839–1913)
2 Birth of a Faun (1914–21)
3 Foaling Season (1921–7)
4 Driving the Nails Straight (1928–31)
5 Rushing from Pillar to Post (1932–8)
6 ‘The Best in America, By God’ (1939–45)
7 Aiming for the ‘Magnum O’ (1946–54)
8 Breaking the Pencil (1955–62)

Afterword: ‘To Think of Myself Again as a Printed Object’
Select Bibliography
Photo Acknowledgements