At the Height of His Career
By Jay Parini
He married his childhood sweetheart, Estelle, in 1929 after she divorced her first husband. Not long after, he bought a run-down mansion in Oxford and named it Rowan Oak . There he raised one daughter, Jill, and remained until his death in 1962. To this day, the house is a monument to Faulkner, and it attracts thousands of tourists each year.
Between 1928 and 1962, Faulkner wrote an amazing number of novels and stories. He also skipped off to Hollywood for brief stretches to earn money by writing screenplays. He hated Hollywood, which he considered artificial, yet he befriended many famous actors of the day, including Clark Gable and Humphrey Bogart. Faulkner eventually wrote all or part of many screenplays, and some of them—To Have and Have Not and The Big Sleep—were quite remarkable, although his work in the film industry never compared to his work as a novelist.
Faulkner experienced what he called "one matchless time" between 1928 and 1942, a period of immense creative power and productivity. During those years, he wrote a sequence of intensely vivid novels and stories that have remained at the center of American literature. In addition to such stories as "A Rose for Emily," "Barn Burning," and "The Bear," he wrote Sartoris, The Sound and the Fury , As I Lay Dying , Sanctuary, Light in August , Absalom, Absalom!, The Wild Palms [If I Forget Thee Jerusalem,] Go Down, Moses and The Hamlet. Few writers in the history of world literature have managed such a streak of masterworks in such a short space.
Faulkner drank heavily from a fairly early age, and this sad fact cannot be avoided when looking into his life. Indeed, he spent many periods tucked away in various alcoholic clinics, recovering from binges that left him helplessly ill. This excessive drinking took its toll, and his later work—the novels largely produced in the late 1940s and 1950s—does not measure up to the writing he produced during his heyday. Nevertheless, nothing he wrote is without interest and a certain power. Even his nostalgic last novel, The Reivers, offers an entertaining and memorable portrait of the writer's boyhood in Mississippi.
Photo Credit: William Faulkner at the Studio club in Hollywood, c. 1936. Courtesy of The Brodsky Collection Center for Faulkner Studies