For the gazillion times we’ve been in Oxford (and this weekend is a great reason to go back, as it’s Double Decker Arts Festival which we try to go to every year and is *so* fantastic) this was the first time we’ve gone out to St. Peter’s cemetery and taken pics. This large monument is the Falkner family plot — it was William who put the ‘u’ in his surname with the whole Royal Air Force affair.
Lots of his family is in this particular plot…
…including his dear, dear, dear brother Dean, whose death by plane crash William blamed on himself.
William had already lost his baby daughter, named ‘Alabama’, born two months prematurely and who lived only eleven days. Dean’s death was awful on him, and he took care of Dean’s pregnant wife who gave birth to a daughter who just happened to pass away last year, Dean Faulkner Wells. She wrote ‘Every Day by the Sun‘ in which she talks about how William, her Uncle, looked after her, and she called him ‘Pappy’.
And so if you ever have a moment in which you think to yourself, ‘well, my family certainly has tsuris, my family is composed of a serious collection of, ahem, characters,’ remind yourself that the Falkner/Faulkner family had its own bits. DFW wrote:
“It has taken me 70 plus years to develop the discipline and courage to write this book. My relatives were private people, building walls, not only in themselves from outsiders, but from one another. This vaulted Faulkner crippling privacy, which has been interpreted as anything from crippling shyness to arrogance to paranoia, may have evolved as a safety hatch in light of our eccentric and sometimes outrageous behavior. Over the years, years my family can claim nearly every psychological aberration, narcissism, nymphomania, alcoholism, anorexia, agoraphobia, manic depression, paranoid schizophrenia. There have been thieves, adulterers, sociopaths, killers, racists, liars and folks suffering from panic attacks, that’s me, and real bad tempers.”
Faulkner as author was one thing; but Faulkner as ‘worker’ — another. When he got fired as Postmaster, he was relieved and said, “thank G-d I’ll never be at the beck and call of every son-of-a… who’s got two cents to buy a stamp”. He also worked at the Ole Miss power plant (where he wrote ‘As I Lay Dying‘) as night supervisor. There’s a move afoot right now to save the power plant — the right one, or another? — from destruction because of Faulkner’s connection to it.
Recently the MLA (Modern Languages Association) released its list of the top 25 American writers ‘as determined by the amount of scholarship on each’. Faulkner is #2 on the list.
In honor of Faulkner’s 50th yahrzeit, the Faulkner & Yoknapatawpha Conference in Oxford will reflect on his writing with the theme, ‘Fifty Years After Faulkner’ with side trips to Faulkner-related destinations as well. More on the conference here.