William Faulkner, the American novelist, has been the subject of numerous biographies, but none more comprehensive than André Bleikasten’s William Faulkner: A Life through Novels. Originally published in French in 2007, this massive biography has been translated into English by Stephen Romer and finally released in 2016. Bleikasten, a professor of American literature, has dedicated his academic career to the study of Faulkner and his works, making him an expert on the subject. In this review, we will examine the book’s strengths, weaknesses, and contributions to Faulkner scholarship.
Thorough and Insightful
One of the most significant strengths of Bleikasten’s biography is its thoroughness. The book covers every aspect of Faulkner’s life, from his childhood in Mississippi to his final days as a writer in residence at the University of Virginia. Bleikasten delves into Faulkner’s personal life, exploring his relationships with his family, friends, and lovers. He also provides detailed accounts of Faulkner’s writing process, his influences, and the reception of his works by critics and readers.
The depth of Bleikasten’s research is impressive. He draws from a wide range of primary sources, including Faulkner’s letters, manuscripts, and interviews, as well as interviews with those who knew him. Bleikasten also incorporates secondary sources, such as critical essays and biographies, into his analysis. As a result, the book is not only informative but also insightful, providing new perspectives on Faulkner’s life and works.
Challenges and Controversies
Another strength of the book is that Bleikasten does not shy away from the challenges and controversies surrounding Faulkner’s life and works. He discusses Faulkner’s complicated relationship with race, his use of dialect and vernacular, and his portrayal of women. Bleikasten also examines the critical reception of Faulkner’s works, both positive and negative, and the controversies surrounding his winning of the Nobel Prize in Literature.
Bleikasten’s nuanced approach to these issues is refreshing. He acknowledges the flaws and shortcomings in Faulkner’s writing and character while also recognizing his contributions to American literature. This balanced perspective adds depth and complexity to the biography and allows readers to form their own opinions about Faulkner’s legacy.
Writing Style and Structure
The writing style and structure of the biography are also noteworthy. Despite its length, the book is engaging and accessible. Bleikasten’s prose is clear and concise, and he avoids academic jargon, making the book accessible to both scholars and general readers. The structure of the book is also well organized, with each chapter focusing on a specific period of Faulkner’s life or a particular aspect of his work.
One weakness of the book, however, is its chronological approach. While this structure provides a comprehensive overview of Faulkner’s life, it can be challenging to keep track of the various characters and events that are introduced throughout the book. Additionally, some readers may find the detailed descriptions of Faulkner’s works and the analysis of his writing process tedious.
In conclusion, André Bleikasten’s William Faulkner: A Life through Novels is a comprehensive and insightful biography of one of America’s most celebrated writers. Bleikasten’s thorough research and nuanced approach to Faulkner’s life and works make this book an essential addition to Faulkner scholarship. Despite some challenges with the book’s structure, Bleikasten’s engaging writing style and his commitment to exploring the complexities of Faulkner’s legacy make this biography a must-read for anyone interested in Faulk