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Home:  >News & Events   >News Archives   >2005

Hints of William Faulkner’s values revealed in author’s Bible

May 3, 2005

By Tobie Baker
University of Mississippi News Services

William Griffith, curator of Rowan Oak, examines two family Bibles returned to the home on May 1 by Jill Faulkner Summers, daughter of Nobel laureate William Faulkner.

OXFORD, Miss. - William Faulkner’s theme that people are decent — evident throughout much of his writing — appears to have been instilled in him at an early age. Or, at least, he seemed to know what people wanted to hear.

According to a penciled inscription dated Oct. 1, 1904, inside the back cover of the Nobel Prize-winning author’s childhood Bible, Faulkner, while studying a Sunday school lesson, was asked what he’d rather have than anything else. The inscription states that after a few moments, Faulkner replied, “I’d rather have honor and do what’s right.”

“This inscription reveals Faulkner’s value system was in place by the time he was 7 years old,” said Rowan Oak Curator William Griffith. “This theme that people want to do right is present throughout much of his novels.”

Joe Urgo, chair of the University of Mississippi Department of English, said that Faulkner seemed to have always had a clear sense of words that certain situations and context demanded. The pinnacle of this great talent, he said, are the words Faulkner used in response to winning the Nobel Prize.

“In Faulkner’s mind, it was always the decent thing to do to meet the expectations of one’s audience, whether it was an audience expecting homilies, ambition or — in the case of his art — brilliance,” Urgo said.

The inscription came to light following the donation of the author’s study Bible to Rowan Oak by his daughter, Jill Faulkner Summers. She gave the tattered Bible back to Rowan Oak on Sunday at a dedication ceremony commemorating the reopening of the author’s estate following a three-year $1.3 million restoration project.

Summers also returned another family Bible. That Holman’s Edition Holy Bible, published in 1872, was originally owned by Mrs. Faulkner’s family, the Oldhams.

“I felt this is where these Bibles belong,” Summers said. “I took them when I moved, and I wanted to give them back.”

Faulkner’s childhood Bible was given to him by his mother, Maud, according to an inscription inside the front cover of the black leather-bound book. The Sunday school teacher’s edition Bible was purchased at the turn of the 20th century for $2.50.

“This is a significant gift from Mrs. Summers,” said Griffith. “We’re simply thrilled to have these Bibles.”

Leased to the university in 1962 to create a scholarly research center and to commemorate the famed author, Rowan Oak was home to Faulkner from 1930 until his death in 1962. The antebellum estate was deeded to his daughter, who sold it to Ole Miss in 1972.

Originally known as The Bailey Place, the home was renamed Rowan Oak by Faulkner for the legend of the Rowan tree. According to a tale by Sir James Frazer, Scottish peasants placed a cross of Rowan wood over their thresholds to ward off evil spirits and afford the occupants a place of refuge, privacy and peace.

At Rowan Oak, the author accomplished one of the more remarkable feats of American literature. From As I Lay Dying to Absalom, Absalom!, Faulkner wrote a series of novels set in his fictional county of Yoknapatawpha.

Directions to Rowan Oak: From the 1300 block of South Lamar Boulevard, turn west onto Old Taylor Road. The property is located on the north at the hard curve. The historic marker is half-hidden in the trees.

Rowan Oak is open to visitors 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays and 1-4 p.m. Sundays. Guided tours are available by calling 662-234-3284.

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