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Profiles in Pipes –– William Faulkner

William Cuthbert Faulkner was one of the greatest writers of the 20th century. He was born on September 25, 1897, as William Cuthbert Falkner, the first of four sons to an upper-middle-class family in Oxford, Mississippi. The young Faulkner was heavily influenced by the reading habits of his mother and maternal grandmother, and tall tales of a great-great grandfather’s exploits in the Civil War. Though Faulkner wrote many stories, novels, and screenplays during his life, it is perhaps not surprising that he often returned to familiar themes like familial relationships and the decline of the South following Reconstruction. 

In 1918, Faulkner tried to enlist in the British Army by joining the Canadian Royal Air Force. Though no evidence exists that Faulkner ever served during World War I –– or that he even received any actual Air Force training –– he returned to Mississippi with a fake war wound and invented stories of combat. 

Soon after, he underwent a name change –– from Falkner to Faulkner, though why this happened is unclear. One story holds that Faulkner changed his name to try and sound more “British” due to his escapades in Canada. Another contends that his name was simply misspelled on an early edition of his first published work and that he never bothered to correct it.

Regardless, the newly minted Faulkner spent the rest of the 1920s publishing a series of books culminating in the landmark novel, The Sound and the Fury. The work is experimental – it features multiple narrators, stream-of-consciousness style description, and deviates from chronological order –– and it received mixed reviews upon its initial release. Some lauded it as a brilliant literary breakthrough, while others largely dismissed the work. Around this time, Faulkner married Lida Estelle Oldham Franklin, and the couple had four children (including two from her previous marriage). 

By 1932, Faulkner had completed some of the most revered works of the 20th century, such as The Sound and the Fury, As I Lay Dying, and Light in August. Yet, despite this fact, Faulkner did not experience economic success. Indeed, badly in need of money, he moved to Hollywood to work on dozens of screenplays over the next several decades. It wasn’t until 1949 that he received the Nobel Prize in Literature. And while Faulkner earned extensive plaudits for his later novels, it is generally understood that most of the praise he received toward the end of his life took the form of compensatory recognition for earlier, previously underrated works. 

Faulkner was an avid pipe smoker his entire life. According to one story, Faulkner’s father gifted him a cigar, which the young Faulkner promptly broke into bits and stuffed into his pipe. In any case, Faulkner was verifiably fond of traditional shapes from Comoy’s and Dunhill. Regarding tobacco, Faulkner was known to partake in non-aromatics like Balkan Sobranie, Dunhill 965, and Sir Walter Raleigh. He died in June of 1961 in Byhalia, Mississippi. 

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