This profile of one of America's most fascinating and complex literary figures, assesses his impact on 20th century society and culture. The author examines the cultural forces which played upon him - his Southern heritage, his family, his marriage, his drinking, his relations with women - and the many self-perpetuating myths which surrounded him. The author has also written "Joseph Conrad: the Three Lives".
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What Reviewers Are Saying
Like Karl's previous elephantine biography, Joseph Conrad: The Three Lives (1978), this new one contains a surfeit of information accompanied by portentous commentaries in graceless prose. It remains unclear why, after Joseph Blotner's omnivorous 2100-page 1974 biography (revised 1984), there is a need for another, 1200-page, vacuum-cleaner approach to Faulkner's life. Karl maintains that he is trying "to understand and interpret that life psychologically, emotionally, and literarily." What he delivers, though, is largely a rehash of facts earlier detailed by Blotner and others but now glossed by Karl's pronouncements on the significance of it all. This is accompanied by a lot of literary name-dropping and occasional superficial discussions of modernist writers and thinkers presented as a context for Faulkner's own work. And while too padded and overblown for the general reader, this book fails also as a careful work of scholarship. From the first page of chapter one, where he claims Faulkner wrote As I Lay Dying right after The Sound and the Fury, when actually it was Sanctuary that he wrote next, Karl's inaccuracy is troubling. Dates are frequently off: The Double Dealer began in 1921, not in 1925, when it actually folded; The Wild Palms was published in 1939, not 1934; and so on. Karl is also off the mark on many details regarding Faulkner's friends, publishers, and Hollywood employers. Further, Karl's gratuitous swipes at other writers seem out of line: calling Aldous Huxley a "poor screenwriter" - despite his now-classic versions of Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice - or speaking of An American Tragedy's "poor, uncritical prose" are just two examples. Worst of all is the tone of the hook, at times pedantic, at other times smarmy about Faulkner's sexual affairs and alcoholism. (Tom Dardis' The Thirsty Muse, p. 26, handles this aspect far better.) And, despite Faulkner being "America's greatest novelist of the twentieth century," Karl's overall attitude is irritatingly condescending to him and to the southern milieu out of which he wrote. In an age of too many bad literary biographies, this is one of the worst. (Kirkus Reviews)