William Faulkner: The Man and the Artist

ISBN: 0517053454
ISBN 13: 9780517053454
By: Stephen B. Oates

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Reader's Thoughts


Accessible and entertaining shorter biography, using some fictional techniques to create scenes that may have happened, based on evidence.


This book is frustrating at times, not by the fault of its author, butbecause Faulker was a frustrating man. Many times I found myself rolling my eyes, "No, Billy, not again! You are a grown man!"It is interesting to know that one of America's most well-renowned novelists lived the majority of his life in a protracted phase of adultolescence--drinking, falling down staircases, cheating on his wife with a woman half his age. But what irritated me most about Faulker was his inability to accept his fame and the attention brought by it. With the way he battered himself and abused those closest to him, one would think he had spent his life attempting unsuccessfully to get published.The book is written, as the author explains in his introduction, using novelistic techniques, which drew me in and often made me forget that I was reading a biography. If you are a seasoned Faulkner reader, this book may frustrate you because, after all, we want our heroes to be innocents and underdogs. But it will ultimately deepen your interest in a man whose life was at times more complicated than some of his most challenging passages. If you have never read Faulker, this book may spark in you an interest in his work; you will want to know what all the fuss was about and you will want to see for yourself the products of a man who spent a significant portion of his time holed up, absent from his wife and children, hacking away at his craft, which cost him a great deal of grief.This book is a work of literature that stands on its own merit.


Oates successfully takes the reader deep into Faulkner's life. It is a maddening but illuminating trip, as the narrative details the great author's struggles with bouts of self-esteem and alcoholism. Anyone who has ever struggled with Faulkner's work would do well to start here as the biography demystifies some of Faulkner's dense prose. As a companion piece, the Oates biography helps breathe even more life into the Snopes, Sutpens and other denizens of Faulkner's world, and leaves the reader feeling as if the man himself might be in the room, bourbon in hand.


There's a danger in learning too much about your heroes. The actor whose work you admire turns out to be a misogynistic, woman-beating jerk; the athlete who you've cheered for suddenly unleashes a radical, idiotic political tirade. And then there's Faulkner, who turns out to be an alcoholic lout, obnoxious and pretentious.Truth be told, I already knew some of this about Faulkner, but the book sets it out in stark detail. As an example, if you removed every anecdote from the book that involves him getting so drunk that someone else has to put him to bed or take him to dry out in a hospital, you'd be left with little more than a pamphlet describing the plots of his major books.But despite any moral repugnance engendered by The Man and The Artist, the book is a surprisingly good read. At times it can feel a little repetitive, due in most part to Faulkner's ceaseless wishy-washy circling back to themes of self-doubt, alcoholism, and money woes. Yet at the same time, he did live through interesting times, and as a result the book is sprinkled with appearances, not only by other writers, but by actors, politicians, and civil rights leaders. Additionally, Faulkner's self-destructive behavior transforms even the most boring of subjects, such as winning some literary award, into a much more dramatic event.The truth is that I'm making an effort (in part, because it seems to have come up so much more in the past year or so) to ignore biography. I can admire the actor or the athlete for their performances, without much caring about their disappointing personal lives. I've never really understood why people tend to vote for politicians they'd like to have a beer with, when in reality, they'll never so much as pull up a barstool next to them. And so it is with Faulkner; that I find ninety percent of his life disgusting (and in truth, that number (and my attitude in this review in general) is a bit of an overstatement, as there is actually quite a bit to admire about the man) is kind of irrelevant. Even were he still alive, the only time I'd be sharing any part of that ninety percent is by reading a book like this.Instead, I can focus on the real reason I know Faulkner's name: his books. Perhaps the best thing one can say about Oates' work here is that it made me want to revisit most, if not all, of Faulkner's oeuvre. Although admittedly, the sections of this book about the writing of A Fable drag on just as much as what I remember of the actual reading.One additional note: I cringed when Oates described himself as using "novelistic techniques" in the preface, imagining the worst, but he does an admirable job. I'd pictured creaky-sounding dialogue, but for the most part he relies strictly on description, and when he does present actual speech (which he does sparingly) it feels quite natural. Frankly, I'm not entirely sure to what he was referring, unless he means that he delves into the emotional context of the man's life, rather than just presenting a list of dates, times, and places, which, in my opinion, is the responsibility of any biographer, whether he uses "novelistic techniques" or not.


A beautiful insight into Faulkner's disturbing life. I have a new found love for my life after having read through the troubles from Faulkner's life. If one wants to understand how characters are formed or how they happen to a writer this is the book to read. It's an absolutely fascinating insight into a writer's mind. His characters would speak to him while he would work on his night job as someone who would dump coal at a powerhouse. This is one of those books after 'What I Talk About When I Talk About Running' that actually spoke to me. It's been an enriching experience reading this book.

Tom V

If you have The Portable Faulkner, then you might think of this work as The Accessible Faulkner, at least as far as Faulkner being accessible goes.That Faulkner was an enigma is pretty much set in stone, and we see here a lot of the anecdotes and stories about the Nobel Laureate and his times, both good and bad. It's hard reading, sometimes, because we see the man coming to grief, and never even trying to dodge trouble. In fact, courting trouble seemed to be an overarching aspect of his life. "Tortured artist" may be an apt description of Faulkner, but he was just as likely to be a torturing artist, selfish, infantile, faithless, chauvinistic. He finally passed away in my one-time home town, trying once again to dry out, and when the end comes, we're left with sadness and regret.Oates does a fine job of chronicling the vagaries of the author's life. If you'd like to take a look inside the clockworks that was William Faulkner, this is a good place to start.4 Stars.

Gary McDowell

Reads like one of Faulkner's own novels. Brilliantly written and superbly interesting. My favorite biography, hands down... one of my favorite books, period.


One of the best biographies I have ever read


I've never read anything by William Faulkner (not that I haven't tried). When I read this bio years ago, I was immediately smitten. What a charming jerk he must have been! I was tickled to learn that Bill used the famous line "between grief and nothing, I'll take grief" not once, but twice, in letters to two different mistresses, in addition to using it in whatever book it was in. What nerve -- quoting himself to score chicks!


some nice biographical info. the novelistic style is fine as an idea, but the artistry certainly falls way short of faulkner himself, or any other respectable author. i have stalled in reading it about halfway through because i'm nervous about all the spoilers i'm getting in the plot summaries of faulkner's novels.

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