The Art of William Faulkner: Drawings from 1916–1925


Before William Faulkn­er more or less defined the genre of South­ern lit­er­a­ture with his folksy short sto­ries, tragi­com­ic epic nov­els, and stud­ies in the stream of dam­aged con­scious­ness, he made a very sin­cere effort as a poet with a 1924 col­lec­tion called The Mar­ble Faun. Pub­lished in 500 copies with the assis­tance of his friend Phil Stone, who paid $400 dol­lars to get the work in print, Faulkner’s poet­ry did not go over well. Although lat­er judg­ments have been kinder, the pub­lish­er called it “not real­ly a very good book of poet­ry” and most of the print run was remain­dered. The young Faulkn­er fared much bet­ter how­ev­er with anoth­er of his ear­ly cre­ative endeav­ors: art.


Between 1916 and 1925, the Uni­ver­si­ty of Mississippi—which Faulkn­er attend­ed for three semes­ters before drop­ping out in 1920—paid him for draw­ings pub­lished in the uni­ver­si­ty news­pa­per Ole Miss and its humor mag­a­zine The Scream. The draw­ings, like that of a danc­ing cou­ple at the top, show the influ­ence of jazz-age art-deco graph­ic illus­tra­tion as well as that of Eng­lish illus­tra­tor and aes­thete Aubrey Beard­s­ley (who gets a name-check in Faulkner’s 1936 nov­el Absa­lom, Absa­lom!). Beardsley’s influ­ence seems espe­cial­ly evi­dent in the draw­ing above, from a 1917–18 edi­tion of Ole Miss.


Many of Faulkner’s illus­tra­tions are much sim­pler car­toons, par­tic­u­lar­ly those he did for The Scream, such as the 1925 draw­ing above of two men and a car. Even sim­pler, the line draw­ing of an air­plane below recalls the author’s fas­ci­na­tion with avi­a­tion, man­i­fest­ed in his failed attempt to join the U.S. Air Force, his suc­cess­ful accep­tance into the R.A.F., and his non-Mis­sis­sip­pi 1935 nov­el Pylon, about a row­dy crew of barn­storm­ers in a fic­tion­al­ized New Orleans called “New Val­ois.” You can see more of Faulkner’s draw­ings here and read his ear­ly prose and poet­ry in an out-of-print col­lec­tion housed online at the Inter­net Archive, which has been now added to our col­lec­tion of Free eBooks.


Relat­ed Con­tent:

William Faulkner’s New­ly-Dis­cov­ered Short Sto­ry and Draw­ings

William Faulkn­er Tells His Post Office Boss to Stick It (1924)

Rare 1952 Film: William Faulkn­er on His Native Soil in Oxford, Mis­sis­sip­pi

William Faulkn­er Audio Archive Goes Online at Uni­ver­si­ty of Vir­ginia

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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