(OpEdNews) February 26, 2011:
On February 25th, Jeffrey M. Jones posted the write-up titled "Mississippi
Rates as the Most Conservative U.S. State" at Gallup.com.
As a fan of William Faulkner's novels, I am not surprised to
learn that more people in Mississippi
today identify themselves as conservative, rather than either liberal or
moderate (the other two options available in the Gallup
survey). Faulkner himself was born and raised in Mississippi.
Faulkner's Yoknapatawpha County
is based on north Mississippi.
Many of the white people in Faulkner's fictional county could be fairly described
as conservative in character.
Because the word "conservative" is derived from the word
"conserve," we should note that Faulkner's fiction does indeed truly conserve a
lot about life in Mississippi,
albeit through fictional characters and events. Moreover, Faulkner at times
seems to have extraordinary empathy with certain white male characters in his
novels, characters who could fairly be described as conservative in character,
if you will allow me to make this small play on words. But does it follow that
Faulkner himself should be described as a conservative, as I have seen him
described at one conservative website on the Internet?
Many of Faulkner's white characters are content to conserve
and perpetuate the old customs of slavery and racism and sexism that were
typical in the historical times that Faulkner uses in his fictional settings.
For example, Thomas Sutpen in Faulkner's novel ABSALOM, ABSALOM! embodies the
old customs of slavery and racism and sexism. But Faulkner uses his portrayal
of Sutpen as a way to critique the old customs of slavery and racism and
sexism, not as a way to celebrate them. As a result, I do not think that
Faulkner should be considered a conservative in any serious sense of the term.
Conservatives today usually want to conserve the old ways of racism and sexism.
If self-described conservatives in Mississippi today were as critical of the
old customs of slavery and racism and sexism as Faulkner was, they would probably
stop calling themselves conservatives.
Through his fiction, Faulkner himself wrestled with our
tragic American heritage of slavery and racism and sexism. Consequently, his
stories can help us reflect on and wrestle with these tragic aspects of our
American heritage. However, Faulknerian tragedy, as exemplified in ABSALOM,
ABSALOM!, is in a sense far less dramatic than Shakespeare's tragedies and
ancient Greek tragedies, as Warwick Wadlington shows in his fine book READING
FAULKNERIAN TRAGEDY (Cornell University Press, 1987).
In any event, Faulkner fans should welcome Sally Wolff's new
book LEDGERS OF HISTORY: WILLIAM FAULKNER, AN ALMOST FORGOTTEN FRIENDSHIP, AND
AN ANTEBELLUM PLANTATION DIARY: MEMORIES OF DR. EDGAR WIGGIN FRANCISCO III
(Louisiana State University Press, 2010).
The transcriptions of Edgar Wiggin Francisco III's
conversations about his memories begin on page 65 and end on page 179, followed
by discussion notes, works cited and consulted, and the index. On pages 1-64,
Sally Wolf discusses how various points in the conversations can help us better
understand Faulkner's novels and particular characters. Between pages 64 and
65, there are several unnumbered pages of photographs of people, places, and
things that help us concretize certain aspects of the transcribed
Wolff's book sheds new light on William Faulkner (1897-1962)
personally and on his friendship with Edgar Wiggin Francisco, Jr. (1897-1966)
and Edgar Wiggin Francisco III (born 1930). Her book also sheds new light on
some of Faulkner's novels and especially on Thomas Sutpen in ABSALOM, ABSALOM!
As Wolff's book reveals, Faulkner based Thomas Sutpen on Francis
Terry Leak (1803-1863), whose handwritten ledgers belonged to the Francisco
family. Through his friendship with the Francisco family, Faulkner was allowed
to read Leak's ledgers at different times. Leak's ledgers cover the period 1839
to 1862. For his fictional purposes, Faulkner embellished the details of the
story of Thomas Sutpen beyond the details of the life of Francis Terry Leak.
But the Leak ledgers show that Faulkner knew about plantation life in
Sally Wolff of Emory
University in Atlanta
interviewed Edgar Wiggins Francisco III, who now lives in a distant suburb of Atlanta.
But he grew up in Holly Springs,
Mississippi. As a young boy, he
was known as Little Eddie. His father's friend William Faulkner often visited
his father, Edgar Wiggin Francisco, Jr. Will Faulkner usually asked Little
Eddie's father to tell him again certain stories that the two men had
themselves heard when they themselves were young boys. They heard the stories
from Amelia McCarroll Leak, who was Little Eddie's great-grandmother, and her
sister Sallie McCarroll. (Amelia and Sallie were two of John Ramsay McCarroll's
So we have four story-tellers telling stories of their
family, spanning roughly a century of their family history:
(1-2) Amelia McCarroll Leak and Sallie McCarroll tell
stories to the boys Edgar Wiggin Francisco, Jr., and William Faulkner.
(3) Edgar Wiggin Francisco, Jr., tells stories to his adult
friend William Faulkner and his son, Little Eddie.
(4) Edgar Wiggin Francisco III (aka Little Eddie) tells stories to Sally Wolff, who records them and then transcribes them and publishes them in this book.
So let's review the family story.