Tuesday, October 08, 2013

Rowan Oak

I have recently returned from another extended stay in Arkansas. While there I was able to do a few interesting field trips, one of which was a visit to William Faulkner's home, Rowan Oak, in Oxford, Mississippi. The house and grounds are owned by the University of Mississippi. Access to the grounds is free and you can tour the house for $5.

The house was built in the 1840s by a wealthy Irish immigrant named Shegog. Faulkner bought it for $6000 in 1930. It had been empty for ten years before that and was in a dilapidated state, not to mention it had no electricity or indoor plumbing. Faulkner fixed it up, doing much of the work himself.

As you can see from this picture, it is difficult to get a good picture of the exterior when the trees that surround it are leafed out. You would get better views in the winter.

The house has a semicircular driveway lined with cedars and a cedar-lined walk goes from the driveway to the front door. Many people planted cedars around their homes in the 19th century after the large yellow fever epidemics in the South. Cedars were thought to cleanse the air of disease.

A large, neglected formal garden, laid out in the 19th century, sits on the other side of the driveway. Faulkner never bothered to revive the garden.
Directly behind the house is this brick building that was the original detached kitchen. Back when cooking was largely done over open fires, accidental fires were frequent and the kitchen was in a separate building to prevent burning down the house. They were also sometimes made of fireproof material like this brick one. Supposedly the brick was homemade and fired on site. Faulkner converted this into a smokehouse, as a previous owner had added a "modern" kitchen on to the house.

This log barn was the original building on the site, and the Shegog family lived in it while the house was being built. Faulkner kept his tools and a dairy cow in the barn.

Faulkner was quite a horseman, and had this stable built west of the house in the 1950s.

Here is the entry hall where you pay your $5 and get your map for the self-guided tour. The open door is to the library.

The semi-circular plexiglass barriers in the doorways made it difficult to get good photos of many of the rooms, even with a wide-angle lens. Here is a first shot of the library. Faulkner did most of his writing in here in the first years he was in the house. He used to unscrew the doorknob on the outside of the door so that no one could disturb him. Later he repurposed a room elsewhere in the house as an office and writing room that we will see later.  Faulkner's mother had a reputation as a painter, and that's a portrait of Faulkner done by his mother over the fireplace.

Here's another shot of the library so you can see there actually were a lot of books in there. The painting is of Faulkner's grandfather in Confederate uniform, also done by Faulkner's mother.

 Here is a picture of the office I mentioned earlier. You can see his writing table and typewriter in the middle and the antlers on the mantle. I was able to catch the golf clubs in the corner but couldn't get the fly rod leaning against the wall on the left side of the room. Faulkner kept a bed in here.

The guide said Faulkner "built" this room in the 1950s.  It obviously wasn't added on to the house, so I assume it got re-purposed from another use. For many years after he bought the house, Faulkner had a lot of children around: two step-children, a daughter, and a niece he mostly raised after his brother died. I imagine as the Faulkners became empty-nesters they converted bedrooms to other uses.

 Here is the famous plot line of the novel A Fable, hand-written by Faulkner on the wall in the office. It's located over the bed and this is the best I could catch leaning out over the plexiglass barrier. I believe I recently read something by James Salter exclaiming what dedication to craft this demonstrates.  According to the guide, Faulkner was inspired to do this by the story-boarding technique he learned as a Hollywood screenwriter.
Faulkner and his wife Estelle had separate bedrooms, and this is the first picture of Faulkner's bedroom where you can see his bedside reading bookcase.

Here is the other side of the bedroom. You can see Faulkner's riding boots and field boots and his cameras on the mantle. The number on the mantle is a competition number he wore in a horse show in Charlottesville, Virginia. There appear to be two firearms leaning on the wall next to the fireplace.

The people working there didn't know what they were. The one on the left looked like a BB gun to me, I'll let you experts identify the one on the right.


Anonymous said...

Reid, the one on the right is an 1865 "trapdoor" Springfield, or a close relative thereof. It looks short, possibly a cavalry model.

Reid Farmer said...

I figured you'd be on the job!

Gil said...

Guess who was a screenwriter for Bogart/Bacall's To Have and To Have Not (1944). Bacall's first movie at age 19. Drop dead gorgeous.
"You know you don't have to act with me, Steve. You don't have to say anything, and you don't have to do anything. Not a thing. Oh, maybe just whistle. You know how to whistle, don't you, Steve? You just put your lips together and... blow"

Anonymous said...

I don't know about Cedars cleansing the air(but that's an interesting historical factoid, for sure), but if any of you end up having to spend the night out in the woods in the South in the Summer(without civilized accutrements of any sort), take it from me--seek out a good-sized Red Cedar tree(or better yet, a whole thicket of them--and crawl into the middle of it!), and spend the night under it--not only will it protect you and keep you dry from all but the heaviest of rains, it will repell and keep you from being EATEN ALIVE by chiggers, ticks, etc. The somewhat prickly needles are well worth tolerating as opposed to a major chigger infestation!...L.B.

Gerard H. Cox said...

That long gun may be an Allin Conversion Mode3l 1865, but it's more likely to be the 1873 "Trapdoor" 45-70. That full stock makes it a rifle, not a carbine.

Steve Bodio said...

And I think the BB gun is a Daisy Red Ryder.

Reid Farmer said...

Cool. I wonder if he had issues with birds and squirrels. He was living in town you know.