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Faulkner as Father: Student’s Prize-Winning Research Reveals Conflicted Portrait

Published November 9, 2016 in News

By: Anne E. Bromley | University Communications

Reading William Faulkner’s letters to his daughter, Jill, appealed to University of Virginia student Marcella “Ellie” Sohm, because she, too, was the same age in college at the time the well-known writer wrote to his only child. Plus, she “leaped at the opportunity to do some firsthand research of my own on Faulkner,” she said.

Sohm, a fourth-year student from New York City double-majoring in English and women, gender and sexuality studies, researched and wrote about how Faulkner came across as a father in letters sent to his daughter while Jill attended a two-year college in Massachusetts in the early 1950s – letters now preserved as part of the William Faulkner Collection in UVA’s Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library.

Faulkner, who served as UVA’s first writer-in-residence in 1957 and 1958, and Jill, who resided in Albemarle County after getting married, donated the letters and other documents to the library.

Marcella Sohm said Faulkner wrote about father-son relationships in his fiction, but almost nothing about fathers and daughters.

The project yielded many exciting moments for Sohm, who began studying the Nobel Prize-winning author’s difficult modernist work while she was in high school. The paper she wrote at UVA netted her second place in a contest, with a trip to Cape Girardeau, Missouri, as part of the prize to present the paper at the Center for Faulkner Studies’ conference, one of only two undergraduates invited.

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