In honor of this weekend’s Springfest at my small east-coast liberal-arts college, which is, in fact, much like all other small east-coast liberal-arts colleges, I bring you a story of one of the greatest debauchers of the 20th century. Bros got nothing on William Faulkner.
Side note: I suppose it’s unfair that I keep writing about people I admire/find sexually alluring, but my justification is that it makes my dedication to the story very deep, and thus makes my writing “better” (picture me as someone whose interest takes a lot to be held, which may appear counter-intuitive since I’m a Medieval Studies major, but hey, the world works in mysterious ways). Currently Faulkner has been topping my list of favorite writers, and who wouldn’t admire the guy? He’s influenced generations with his subject matter, style and aesthetic, contributed to classic film scripts like The Big Sleep and To Have and Have Not, as well as put out some of the greatest contributions to American literature. Blah blah, achievements, shit like that. The important thing is that he was a great fucking drunk and banged a lotta broads.
From the beginning, Faulkner got down to it, setting his sights on a girl named Estelle Oldham, daughter of Major Lemuel and Lida Oldham (dig these southern-heritage motherfuckers). But Estelle was clearly not as taken with Faulkner as, say, a more grateful bitch who recognized his genius and wanted to hop on that gravy train before it left the station. So she sort of kind of ‘saw’ other people while they were dating, and somebody popped the question before Willie got his act together (IF YOU KNOW WHAT I’M SAYIN’). See, Estelle was kind of a gold digger, and like all good women, wanted a ring on that finger ASAP, so her new suitor had a law degree (whereas Faulkner had spent most his time sort of, you know, not going to college and reading and shit), and she had a new hubby. Faulkner, presumably heartbroken (Lord knows why), joined the British Royal Flying Corps since there was a war on or something, and he was too short to enlist in the US Army. Hell, the Brits’ll take any warm body that can wear a uniform.
Before this he was writing poetry and other sensitive crap like that, and once said to a group of fairly uninspired college students:
“For fiction the best age is from 35-45. Your fire is not all used up and you know more. Fiction is slower. For poetry the best age is from 17 to 26. Poetry writing is more like a skyrocket with all your fire condensed in one rocket.”
I mention this because during his time in the aircorps, he began to get a little fantastical with his own life (I always say that large-scale long-con lying about oneself is the best way to both a more interesting life and to losing all your friends. Thank you, Bob Dylan). Not only did he convince several army buds that he had illegitimate children scattered like raisins all across Mississippi, he also sort of decided to tell everyone that (even though he never actually saw combat), he’d been shot down over France. HEY-O! If that’s not gonna get you Good Ol’ Miss snatch , I don’t know what will. And thus we begin Faulkner’s lifelong journey into blending fiction and reality with fantastic success, as best evidenced by his imagined Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi, where many of his novels were set.
But back to his sexploits, cause that’s the important shit. He waited for Estelle to get a divorce, cause let’s face it, no one can resist that mustache for long, and married her in 1929, 11 years after he missed the boat the first time (in the intervening time, he kinda went to college, worked many odd jobs, got ‘life experience’ or something, and perpetuated the notion that he was a crazy and useless sonofabitch around his hometown by being a terrible postmaster and asking people on the street what synonyms for words were since he didn’t own a dictionary or thesaurus. A great, great man indeed). And if you think that just because he waited for Estelle meant that theirs was a marriage for the ages, you’d be Absalom-Absalom-lutely wrong. From the early 30s, he was supplementing his income with stints writing and touching up scripts in Hollywood. And by ‘writing and touching up’ I mean ‘slaying and feeling up,’ and by ‘scripts’ I mean ‘slorebags.’
His lays were many and varied in their publicity level, the first major one being with Meta Carpenter, the script-girl for his Hollywood boss, Howard Hawkes. I would make some sort of ‘that’s so meta’ joke about their relationship, but I can’t think of one right now.
(Fun Film Fact Time! The Coen Brothers multi-award-winning 1991 film, Barton Fink, contains a blatantly Faulknerian character, played by Frasier’s dad, and some lady who fills the Meta role. Their relationship is used to emphasize the bleeding line between high and low art/culture which the protagonist Barton is continually and unsuccessfully trying to recreate despite the fact it is around him, since Fake Faulkner is portrayed as a guy who dresses classy as shit but gets drunk, can’t write and beats his woman. Now that’s so meta!)(Sort of.)(Humor me.)
Faulkner also shacked up for a long fucking time with an aspiring writer (oops), Joan Williams, who (thanks to Somerset Maugham who was all like, “write about what you know, kids”) turned their affair into a novel (double oops). By the 40s, his wife was addicted to drugs to numb the pain of her husband’s constant infidelity, and Faulkner was crushing 12oz curls like it was his job (cause I mean, he was a Southern writer, it basically was his job). But the rampant alcoholism did not in fact effect his work, as he far preferred to binge after a project had been completed. Such work ethic! Let’s learn a little something from William Faulkner, my nameless small east-coast liberal-arts college, as finals draw ever nearer and nearer… oh hell, what am I saying? I just stole a bottle of wine from a Classics symposium. Best day ever!!!!
Anyway, aside from having the strange habit of writing on the walls of his house, his output flourished, and in 1950, he won the Nobel Prize for literature. I’m guessing Estelle, all strung out as she was, figured, “What could possibly go wrong if I send my husband off to Sweden to pick up this prestigious-ass award?? It’s not like Sweden is full of six foot tall Amazonian women with low self-esteem and a huge boner for my Willie’s work!” Yeah, that’s most likely what she thought.
Faulkner did indeed catch that Stockholm Syndrome (and by that I mean an STD), and started another affair with the recently-widowed (pity sex!) Else Jonsson. You could say he had nothing Else to do!!!!!1! (no, that doesn’t really make sense—sorry, I opened that wine a couple of paragraphs ago). TWIST: Else’s late husband had been the one who interviewed Faulkner in 1946 and introduced him to the Swedes, thus resulting in said national boner, and said Nobel fucking Prize.
Another conquest on the part of this busy, busy southern gentleman was that of Jean Stein, who interviewed him in Paris in the late 50’s, and was clearly powerless to resist not only the mustache, but by then what had to have been a distinct musk of stale alcohol and old-man decay. Yum.
But legit, Jean was pretty cool. She was tight with lots of artistic types cause her dad was mad famous/connected, including Elia Kazan (Should I do another Fun Film Fact? Yes, the answer is yes. Indulge me, it all makes sense in the end: A truly great director, it’s also truly depressing that Kazan will likely be remembered most for testifying against his colleagues and friends during the House Committee on Un-American Activities at the height of the communist witch-hunt, because he felt he would be betraying his integrity to lie. Among others, Kazan sold his former BFFs Arthur Miller and Clifford Odets up the creek, then spent the rest of his career trying to rectify and atone for his actions through artistic output on stage, screen and novel. SUPER CRAZY BONUS FACT: Odets and Faulkner were in Hollywood working on scripts AT THE SAME TIME. AND, THE TITULAR CHARACTER, BARTON FINK–remember that movie I mentioned that one time?–IS BASED ON CLIFFORD ODETS. Boom, full circle).
It’s been said that Faulkner had a “tendency” to enter into “occasional” extramarital affairs. I personally feel like this is a bit of an understatement, since that makes it sound like he simply had no choice in the matter, like a cooter-clepto. The man clearly knew what he was doing (even though he was proably sloshed 75% of the time), and I say more power to him! What does it matter, the clear physical and emotional effect this infidelity had on his wife, who died prematurely? What does it matter that Faulkner had multiple issues with his children, both biological and step, and couldn’t sucessfully grapple with his role as consistent provider to dependents?
It doesn’t, cause he was William G.D. Faulkner, and he rode the shit out of as many women as would put up with him for an extended period. And someday I will turn As I Lay Dying into a fucking beautiful and transcendent-ass screenplay.