The Truth and the Faulkner
William Faulkner’s 1949 Nobel Prize attested to his impact on the world of literature. His statue in Oxford Square is a tribute to the indelible mark he left on our city. And, of course, Jim Beam’s flourishing industry it a testament to his habits. Perhaps he was never sober enough to keep any secrets, so I’ve done a little research and dug up some bones.
So, first, the bones: rumor has it that Faulkner’s dog is buried next to him in Oxford Cemetery. The Faulkner cemetery plot contains 4 graves: one for Faulkner, his wife Estelle, and stepson Malcolm. The 4th plot was filled by a smaller stone for “E.T.” who was described as “an old family friend who came home to rest with us.” The identity of “E.T.” is a carefully guarded secret; no one seems to know who “E.T.” is, except for Faulkner’s nephew, Jimmy Faulkner. Rumor = it’s the dog. Or the extra-terrestrial.
Faulkner served as the University of Mississippi’s postmaster from 1922-1924. Despite neglect of his duties, and accusations of even throwing away mail, he was ultimately fired for drinking on the job. “I reckon I’ll be at the beck and call of folks with money all my life, but thank God I won’t ever again have to be at the beck and call of every son of a bitch who’s got two cents to buy a stamp.” He was also “fired” from a volunteer position with the Oxford Boy Scout Troop for, well, drinking on the job. Tisk tisk.
Until 2005, United Airlines sponsored the “Faux Faulkner” awards. Contest entries were attempts at writing the way Faulkner would have written about certain people and situations. Winners of the contest had their piece published in United’s in-flight magazine. (You know you all read those things. Sky Mall was simply a brilliant idea.) That year, 2005, a parody of the Bush Administration modeled after Faulkner’s The Sound And The Fury, entitled, “The Administration And The Fury,” written by Sam Apple, attracted a great deal of controversy in both its subject matter and United’s decision to publish it on their website, rather than the magazine itself, which led many to believe United was practicing corporate censorship of freedom of speech.
Faulkner condemned racial segregation in the 1950’s. However, he was against federal intervention. Perhaps this was his attempt at being politically correct.
If you mailed a letter on August 3, 1987, your 22-cent stamp was a tribute to William. (And his negligent postmaster duties. I find the stamp highly ironic. Commemorating a bottle of whisky would have made much more sense.)
When the United States entered World War I in 1917, Faulkner (then spelled Falkner) tried to enlist in the Army Air Corps as a pilot. When he was rejected for being too short, he decided to spell his name “Faulkner” and adopted a British persona, and English accent, hoping to join the Royal Air Force in Canada. He was accepted and reported for duty in Toronto on July 9, 1917. He enrolled in months of pre-flight training, lasting until the end of the war in November 1918, and never got to fly. But that didn’t prevent him from suggesting that he had. He returned to Oxford in his R.A.F. uniform sporting wings that he had purchased in New York City and a limp he claimed he had suffered in a crash.
One afternoon in August, Faulkner’s wife Estelle remarked, “Bill, does it ever seem to you that the light in August is different from any other time of the year?” Thus an alteration of the title Dark House to Light in August.
Benjy’s section in The Sound and the Fury is marked by italics that represent shifts in time periods. Faulkner attempted to have these time shifts marked by changes in ink color, but the publishing industry was not advanced enough to support his idea.
Years after his death, an online phenomenon known as “blogging” was developed, which allowed for the creation of this website, in honor of Faulkner’s hometown, and this article, which will be featured in two installments. This would all be impossible, of course, without Al Gore’s invention of the internet. Gore, like Faulkner, is a fellow Nobel Prize winner. Stay tuned next week for Part 2.