Faulkner and Love

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The Women Who Shaped His Art, A Biography

Judith L. Sensibar

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The deeply moving, untold story of America’s greatest twentieth-century novelist and the three women at the center of his imaginative life

This book is about the making of the writer William Faulkner. It is the first to inquire into the three most important women in his life—his black and white mothers, Caroline Barr and Maud Falkner, and the childhood friend who became his wife, Estelle Oldham. In this new exploration of Faulkner’s creative process, Judith L. Sensibar discovers that these women’s relationships with Faulkner were not simply close; they gave life to his imagination. Sensibar brings to the foreground—as Faulkner did—this “female world,” an approach unprecedented in Faulkner biography.

Through extensive research in untapped biographical sources—archival materials and interviews with these women's families and other members of the communities in which they lived—Sensibar transcends existing scholarship and reconnects Faulkner’s biography to his work. She demonstrates how the themes of race, tormented love, and addiction that permeated his fiction had their origins in his three defining relationships with women. Sensibar alters and enriches our understanding not only of Faulkner, his art, and the complex world of the American South that came to life in his brilliant fiction but also of darknesses, fears, and unspokens that Faulkner unveiled in the American psyche.

Judith L. Sensibar is the author of The Origins of Faulkner’s Art and the winner of fellowships from the NEH and the ACLS. She lives in Chicago.

"Exploring the emotional and creative energies Faulkner derived from his close relationships with three generations of white and black women, Judith Sensibar provides a decidedly original and revealing portrait of his life and his writing."—Eric J. Sundquist, author of Faulkner: The House Divided

“A remarkable work of sleuthing, researching, and interpreting. Sensibar has used every resource in print, and has buttressed all that information with countless oral interviews to provide a myriad of insights into Faulkner.”—Linda Wagner-Martin, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

"The portrait of Faulkner that emerges from this book is layered, complex, and absolutely fascinating. Sensibar offers a new way of apprehending his world and of understanding how he was shaped as a thinker and writer."—Thadious Davis, University of Pennsylvania

“We know a lot about William Faulkner's drinking, his philandering, his struggles with race, sexuality and history. We know much less about why Faulkner was so spectacularly talented and so spectacularly troubled. Judith Sensibar's magisterial new book tells how the fraught, obsessive relationships with the women in his life permeated every aspect of his art and life. Faulkner's critics and biographers too often dismiss or caricature his mother, his  "mammy," and his wife. But by uncovering important new information about Faulkner's family life, and integrating it with intelligent readings of his fiction and poetry, Faulkner and Love places Maud Butler, Caroline Barr, and his wife Estelle Oldham Faulkner back where they belong at the center of his work and illuminates the obsessions that impelled him to write the greatest novels of the 20th century.” – Diane Roberts, author of Dream State

"A breakthrough account. . . . An indispensable addition to Faulkner scholarship. After reading this scrupulously documented, brilliantly insightful  . . . account of one of America's greatest novelists, one can easily see why these three essential women who touched him in what he created out of history, myth, memory and reality should be given more than attention. They should be celebrated."—Alexander Theroux, Boston Globe

"Sensibar’s long-awaited tome is finally here! For the first time, a scholar looks deeply and sensitively into William Faulkner’s relationships with the three women who were central in his life: mother, nanny, and wife, analyzing these relationships for what they explicate about the man and drawing the connections between the women and the fictional female characters in his work. Not only does Sensibar’s meticulous research shoot holes in some myths, it will enrich our understanding of Faulkner and his world. The book is exciting, too, because there are new, previously unpublished photographs and material presented with the cooperation and encouragement of Faulkner’s only child, the late Jill Summers, who, Sensibar tells us, 'wanted this story told.'"—Lisa Howorth, Square Books

"[A] compelling and profound study. . . . Those who think they know Faulkner biography are in for a few surprises as they move through Sensibar's lucid and illuminating pages. . . . Room must be made on the bookshelf of Faulkner biography for this exhuastively researched and brilliantly argued new study. . . It will make several of the earlier efforts irrelevant, and nothing written about the subject hereafter will risk not taking it into account."—M. Thomas Inge, The Key Reporter

Sensibar's sensibility is that of a major literary critic, and this book serves to sustain that judgment. All future biographers of Faulkner must take into account her findings, and they should be grateful for the intelligent light she has cast on one of our most inexplicable and challenging authors.”—Thomas Inge, Richmond Times-Dispatch

"A major biography. . . . Essential."—Choice

". . . drawing on new biographical data and personal documents, Sensibar has produced an in-depth and focused work of interest to Faulkner scholars."—Felicity D. Walsh, Library Journal

"Judith L. Sensibar's Faulkner and Love is a revisionist, paradigm-shifting biography with strongly feminist underpinnings, and as such, is sure to be a subject of contention among the gatekeepers of Faulkner studies.  In a crowded and ever-growing field, this is a remarkable, original work of scholarship whose sources for the first time reach into African American communal history. . . . Faulkner in Love is a treasure trove of  material — a riveting read." —Minrose Gwin, Southern Library Journal

Chosen as an Outstanding Academic Title for 2009 by Choice Magazine

Finalist for the 2009 Marfield Prize, National Award for Arts Writing
ISBN: 9780300165685
Publication Date: August 31, 2010
616 pages, 6 1/8 x 9 1/4
75 b/w illus.