This week (May 8-14) in literary history – American poet Phillis Wheatley was born (May 8, 1753); J.M. Barrie was born (May 9, 1860); Ernest Hemingway and Pauline Pfeiffer were married (May 10, 1927); Final volumes of Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones were published (May 10, 1749); William Faulkner’s short story collection, Go Down, Moses was published (May 11, 1942); Poet Nelly Sachs died (May 12, 1970); Daphne Du Maurier was born (May 13, 1907); Alfred Lord Tennyson published Poems (May 14, 1842); Virginia Woolf published Mrs. Dalloway (May 14, 1925)
Highlighted story of the week -
On May 11, 1942, William Faulkner’s greatest collections of short stories, Go Down, Moses, was published. The collection included “The Bear,” one of his most famous stories, which had previously appeared in the Saturday Evening Post. The seven stories all take place in a fictional county of Mississippi, and are based on Faulkner’s observations of his own native state.
Faulkner was born on September 25, 1897 in New Albany, Mississippi, where his father was the business manager of the University of Mississippi. His mother, a sensitive, literary woman, encouraged Faulkner and his three brothers to read. Faulkner was a good student but lost interest in studies during high school. He dropped out sophomore year and took a series of odd jobs while writing poetry. In 1918, his high school girlfriend, Estelle Oldham, married another man, and Faulkner left Mississippi. He allegedly joined the British Royal Flying Corps, but World War I ended before he finished his training in Canada. He returned to Mississippi and continued writing poetry. A neighbor funded the publication of his first book of poems, The Marble Faun (1924). His first novel, Soldiers’ Pay, was published two years later.
In 1929, he finally married Estelle, who had divorced her first husband and now had two children. They bought a ruined mansion near Oxford, Mississippi and began restoring it while Faulkner finished The Sound and the Fury, which was published in October 1929. His next book, As I Lay Dying (1930), featured 59 different interior monologues. Light in August (1932) and Absalom, Absalom (1936) also challenged traditional forms of fiction. Faulkner’s difficult novels did not earn him enough money to support his family, so he supplemented his income by selling short stories to magazines and working as a Hollywood screenwriter. He wrote two critically acclaimed films, both starring Humphrey Bogart: To Have and Have Not was based on an Ernest Hemingway novel, and The Big Sleep was based on a mystery by Raymond Chandler.
Faulkner’s reputation received a significant boost with the publication of The Portable Faulkner (1946), which included his many stories set in Yoknapatawpha County. Three years later, in 1949, he won the Nobel Prize for Literature. His Collected Stories (1950) won the National Book Award. Throughout the rest of his life, he lectured frequently on university campuses. He died on July 6, 1962 of a heart attack at age 55 and was buried at St. Peter’s Cemetery in Oxford, Mississippi.
Check back every Friday for a new installment of “This Week in Literary History.”
Michael Thomas Barry is the author of six nonfiction books that includes the award winning Literary Legends of the British Isles and America’s Literary Legends. Visit Michael’s website www.michaelthomasbarry.com for more information. His books can be purchased from Amazon through the following links: