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  Rowan Oak  
 
   
On Thursday afternoon, I arrived at Rowan Oak, Faulkner's home in Oxford, Mississippi, just in time to catch the sunset. When I walked up to the house, students from the university were scattered around the grounds and the porches, each with a drawing pad, sketching. So I didn't start taking pictures until I'd walked all the way around the house and realized that the dying afternoon light lit the house perfectly. Rather than worrying about disturbing the students, I set up my tripod.
   
The light was especially nice on the peeling clapboards when I got back around the front of the house. The sky was filled with thick purple/white clouds, and the sun broke through, almost like an Arizona fall afternoon, but the Mississippi air was thick, not just humid. Walking in it was like wearing an extra t-shirt--over my head.
   
Soon all the students left and I had the entire grounds to myself, or so I thought. I was surprised to find it so deserted and empty, no foreign tourists, just two cats...
   
The four-legged cat spoke in long sentences, with confused punctuation, drifting in and out of extended similes, adjectives, adverbs; even his meow was a purr in five-syllables.
   
The entry roof. I was surprsied at the simplicity of the home, and the condition of the woodwork. The home hasn't been abused, in fact there's isn't one piece of broken window glass, but it has been neglected. Being a setimental carpenter, I took offense on Faulkner's behalf.
   
The entry--the distortion is from my 14m lens. Once you've seen someone's home you seen them differently. No, it's not important to know everything about an author in order to enjoy their work, but I have read many times how Faulkner bought the house because he wanted to be a southern gentlemen. Seeing his home, I had more the feeling that he wanted to be respected. A wreck at the time he purchased it, the Greek Revival home needed plumbing, electrical, roofing, foundation--every type of work imaginable. I'm sure it was more home than he could afford.
   
An original chinked hewn-log cabin, used by Faulkner as a barn for his cow.. Walking the grounds, I coudn't help but notice how the forest--the growth--must be forever creeping in toward the home and the outbuildings; (I was looking for an opportunity to use that semi-colon) containing the trees and the underbrush and the vines as they take back the fields and pastures an inch at a time, or maybe a foot at a time, must be a constant battle, mostly because the thick moist air provides an accelerated, mutated kind of growth--Faulkner's words made sense to me: "the moist fecund earth."
   
The pasture and pathway to Bailey's Woods. Seeing the fencing and the posts, and the work on the outbuildings, I'm reminded of the many times Faulkner talked about working on the house and the grounds, and about how writing a novel was "like building a chicken coup." Much of the carpentry was Faulkner's own handiwork, and it's fortunate he was able to earn at least a 'miserable' living as a novelist.
   
The stables reminded me of the many photos I've seen of him in English riding attire, and this old horse trailer--constructed from a Model T I think--its axle rusted and wheels long since lost, helps date the last presence of horses in these pastures.
   
The gates seem just as he might have left them, swung wide open, barely hanging on their hinges, as if no one dared touch anything after he was gone.
   
On the moring of my second day, October 8, I met the curator of the home at the front gate. Faulkner's home is being restored, so it's currently closed to the public, but I was allowed in to photograph the mantelpieces. This one is in the front parlor that Faulkner used as a study while writing Sanctuary, Light in August, Requiem for a Nun...
   
None of the mantels are original to the home. The house was built in 1848, but abandoned and in near ruins when Faulkner bought it in 1930. He was an early preservationist, as the style of the mantelpieces fit perfectly in the home, reflecting an early Victorian combination of neo-classic and gothic influences.
   
The parlor still holds bookshleves that Faulkner built. The shelves are dadoed into the vertical divider supports and pinned with toe-driven finish nails. The joinery is rough but not crude. His hand is everywhere evident.
   
The main parlor mantelpiece has a similar horizontal panel in the frieze, but rathen than a gothic diamond shape, this one has a single flute, and in this parlor the pilasters are paneled with the same fluting.
   
After he won the Nobel, Faulkner moved his study to the rear bedroom. On the walls are the story-board outlines for The Fable, written in Faulkner's own hand--a small tight script with many sentences crossed out. The text looks exactly like the manuscript folio for The Sound And The Fury.
   
The entry stair is extremely simple for a Victorian home. Perhaps Faulkner rebuilt or replaced the original balustrade and newel posts. But on further thought, I think the home, its woodwork, and the homes in the city and surrounding countryside, reflect the economy of Mississipi: the difference between Victorian styles in the depressed south as compared to homes in eastern port cities, where merchants created a more affluent architecture. I noticed upstairs, where Faulkner added on a new wing with bedrooms and a bathroom, the extension of the balustrade was done with admirable care, matching the newel posts very closely, and using the same simple and rectangular balusters.
   
His grave at the Oxford cemetary was recently vandalized.
   
The irony didn't escape me. In several of his novels he writes about funerals and caskets. In Sanctuary a casket falls and the contents spill out; in As I Lay Dying... But I was struck more on the trip by how hard Faulkner struggled to earn the respect of his townspeople, who always thought of him as a strange eccentric "count-no-count." One of the visitors I met at Rowan Oak, and also ran into downtown at the courthouse, reminded me of how Faulkner used to walk through the town wearing his RAF uniform. Even now, it's odd how small the sign is at Rowan Oak, how difficult it was to find his grave site.
   
The Lafayette County Courthouse, with the statue of a Confederate solidier on the north west side and a flag pole on the south east side (with an American and Confederate flag). Also on that side a plaque to Veterans of Foreign Wars, listing all men lost in each specific war; "negroes" are listed separartely and not by specific wars. Faulkner's Jefferson County Courthouse, site of Colonel Sartoris' famous duel, location of Bayard Sartoris' confrontation with B. J. Redmond, and perhaps best known as the site of Benjy's final bellowing in the S&TF--as Luster drives the buggy into town and turns the wrong way around the courthouse. It could be that the traffic pattern was already developed in those early horse-and-buggy days. If so, Faulkner never made it clear in the novel that the courhouse isn't so much a square as a roudabout, a hub, with one-way traffic circling. If Luster turned the wrong way, Benjy probably had good reason to bellow.
   
The stair case inside the courhouse is less than one would expect of a Victorian era building in the north, especially one that dated back to the early 1800's, but the sign on the front of the building describes how the union arm burned the original courthouse in 1864. This stair exemplifies the economic ruin faced by the deep south; it lacks the rich embellishments typical of the time, when craftsman carved balusters and newel posts like a diamond cutter shapes stone.
 
Most of the architecutre in the city dates to after the civil war, as many homes were destoyed by the Union solidiers. Several of the homes personify the mid-Victorian era, like this Italiante, identified by the single story bay on the west side, the arched topped windows, heavy modillion dentil brackets at the cornice, and the coupled colonettes supporting both porches.
 
A large Victorian estate within walking distance of downtown, the gates thrown open for years, and undergoing renovation.
 
The First Presbyterian Church downtown, a Second Empire tower flanked by twin gothic spires.
 
Oxford is home to Ole Miss, which has many of Faulkner's papers in its collection. While California just elected an actor for govenor, it's interesting that Mississippi continues a rich political tradition--Haley is also the name of a main character in the Donna Tartt novel I'm currently reading, set in the south, and a woman named Lamar is running for State Senate here--the main street through Oxford is named Lamar St.
 
On a side street near downtown, I found a Greek Revivial home on a large and raised central lot. At one time the estate had an attractive fence surrounding it, but now the fence is gone and these steps, settling into the clay soil, lead nowhere.
 
A circular drive surrounds a tall pine tree, which blocks the front of the house from direct view, but a side view reveals colossal columns and a cantilevered front porch, a plain pediment, and the Georgian shape of the home.
 
Faulkner's home is in the same style, here lit only by the front porch light, a bare bulb hung from the ceiling, the house empty since shortly after Estelle's death, I guess, in the early 1970's when Jill sold the home to the university. Even before Estelle's death, the university maintained the home. Mississippi remains the poorest state in America. At night, the sound of the woods closes in on the home, crickets and nightbirds eager for the sun to set, and fireflies flickering in the heavy dense air.
 
 
     
     
   
     
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