Book Review: “William Faulkner: The Man and the Artist” by Stephen B. Oates

by Roy E. Perry

Considered one of the literary titans of American literature, William Cuthbert Faulkner won the 1949 Nobel Prize for Literature, two Pulitzer prizes, and numerous other awards. Not bad for a “self-made man” who had little formal education. His main claim to fame was the novels dealing with the characters of his fictitious Yoknapatawpha County saga (based on Lafayette County, Mississippi, of which Oxford is the country seat), which he described as “my own little postage stamp of native soil.”

Of his 19 novels, Faulkner was at the apex of his creative artistry when he wrote The Sound and the Fury (1929; which Oates points out was “the novel closest to Faulkner’s heart“); As I Lay Dying (1930); Light in August (1932); and Absalom! Absalom! (1936; which many critics opine as his greatest work).

Faulkner’s favorite books? Oates writes: “He read again and again, maybe once a year, the Old Testament, Shakespeare, some of Balzac, Don Quixote, Madame Bovary, Moby Dick, Vanity Faire, and The Nigger of the ‘Narcissus.’ When pressed, during a lecture, to rate his contemporaries, Faulkner said he would rank Thomas Wolfe first, then Dos Passos, Hemingway, Willa Cather, and John Steinbeck. An [Ole Miss] student pointed out that he hadn’t ranked himself. Where would he put William Faulkner on his list? ‘I’m afraid you’re taxing Mr. Faulkner’s modesty,’ a faculty member said. At the student’s insistence, Faulkner revised his list, ranking himself second to Wolfe in terms of their courage and the ‘magnitude of their failure.’ He put Dos Passos third, Hemingway fourth, and Steinbeck fifth, dropping Cather from his list.

In fewer than four hundred pages, Stephen B. Oates has written a fascinating, highly readable, and intelligent novel of one of America’s top-echelon writers, a man and an artist pursued and driven by demons, who created a fictional world describing humanity’s hopes and fears, dreams and nightmares, triumphs and tragedies, magnificent successes and miserable failures, glory and shame. With admiration, I commend Faulkner’s works and Oates’s biography of Faulkner to your reading experience.

Roy E. Perry of Nolensville, Tennessee was a book reviewer for the ‘Nashville Banner’ and ‘The Tennessean’ for more than thirty years. Now retired, he also was an advertising copywriter at a Nashville publishing house for more than twenty-five years.

David M. (Dave) Carew is writer/editor of “Underground Nashville” and the author of the novels “Everything Means Nothing to Me: A Novel of Underground Nashville” and “Voice from the Gutter.” He also is a freelance book editor, publicist, and advertising/marketing/public relations writer.

 

 

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