Mister Faulkner Goes to Stockholm

In six short years, William Faulkner went from salaried Hollywood script doctor to winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature. How had this seeming miracle occurred?

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"Faulkner is finished."

This assessment in 1944 rolled as casually off the lips of esteemed Hemingway editor Maxwell Perkins as the time of day. Indeed, all but one of Faulkner's 17 books were out of print. His payas a Hollywood script doctor was a mere pittance compared with the pay of some of his collaborators. Yet Faulkner would soon experience a reversal of fortune seldom seen in U.S. literary history, reports author Paul Gray.

Another editor, Malcolm Cowley of the New Republic, felt that none of Faulkner's individual books conveyed the true scope of the author's achievement. Cowley put together an anthology drawn from published works set in Faulkner's native Mississippi in the fictional county of Yoknapatawpha. He presented the saga in chronological order. This had the effect of creating a seamless historical chronicle, of tying together what Faulkner, using modernist techniques, had presented in flashes and fragments. Cowley's introduction stressed a grand design behind Faulkner's works "that has not been equaled in our time."

After The Portable Faulkner appeared in 1946, everything changed. Intruder in the Dust (1948), Faulkner's first novel in six years, became a commercial success. MGM bought the screen rights, providing a temporary financial cushion. Then, in 1950, Faulkner was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Faulkner, who did not want to make the trip to Stockholm to accept the award, had to be coaxed into going and his alcohol intake monitored every step of the way. The payoff proved worth the effort. A single sentence from his acceptance speech would become one of the most cited quotations from any Nobel text: "I believe that man will not merely endure: He will prevail."

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