Skip to main content

1957: Faulkner Among the “Snobs”

His place as one of the great writers of the 20th century firmly established, William Faulkner accepted an invitation in 1957 from UVA’s English department to come to the University as writer-in-residence. Faulkner’s appointment was cause for excitement among students and faculty, though the winner of the 1949 Nobel Prize for Literature initially caught Virginians off guard.

After Faulkner arrived on Grounds, his “observations on ‘Virginia snobs’ caused somewhat of a sensation,” wrote Virginius Dabney in Mr. Jefferson’s University. “He liked the state, he said, ‘because Virginians are all snobs and I like snobs.’”

Courtesy of Special Collections Library, UVA Library

When questioned during a lecture about his recently expressed opinion of Virginians, Faulkner’s reply was punctuated by frequent laughter from those in attendance. “A snob is someone who is so complete in himself and so satisfied with what he has that he needs nothing from anybody,” Faulkner explained. “That when a stranger comes up, he can accept that stranger on the stranger’s terms, provided only the stranger observe a few amenities of civilization. That’s what Virginians do. They never push at me. They want nothing of me. They will offer me their hospitality and they will accept me. All I have to do is just behave reasonably.”

Courtesy of Special Collections Library, UVA Library

Faulkner returned as writer-in-residence in the spring of 1958. The following year, he worked from a study in Alderman Library as a consultant on contemporary literature to the library. He was appointed lecturer in American literature in 1960 and divided his time between Charlottesville and Oxford, Miss., until his death in 1962.

To mark the 50th anniversary of Faulkner’s second term as writer-in-residence, the Special Collections Library hosted an April 4 symposium, “Faulkner in the University: Then and Now.” An accompanying exhibit—which includes an interactive kiosk featuring video and audio, along with letters, manuscripts, Faulkner’s typewriter and tweed jacket—can be seen through Aug. 1.

William Faulkner Courtesy of Special Collections Library, UVA Library

Most of Faulkner’s lectures at UVA were recorded and have been digitally restored. Courtesy of Special Collections Library, UVA Library

Faulkner occasionally served as an official at UVA track meets. Courtesy of Special Collections Library, UVA Library