Mr. William’s Walk

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Upstairs are the equally uncluttered bedrooms; perhaps making their estrangement a little easier, Faulkner built a room for Miss Estelle around 1934. His own quarters hold dark wood dressers and, on the bedside table, a bottle of Jack Daniel’s that Bahr found in the house and placed there for authenticity.

In the late 1970s, when Bahr came to work at Rowan Oak, he lived in a former slave cabin down the road that had been the model for Dilsey’s cabin in The Sound and the Fury . In front was the former Chandler house of the same book; a retarded boy named Edwin Chandler roamed behind the iron fence of this antebellum homestead in Faulkner’s day. He became its famous idiot-narrator, Benjy. Today only a meaningless iron post remains of the fence.

When he went to town along South Lamar Boulevard, William Faulkner would leave his world of sibling lusts and jailhouse lynchings to walk five minutes to his mother’s house. The house now belongs to his niece, Dean Faulkner Wells, and is separated by a chain-link fence from a Chevron station at Lamar and University. After visiting with his mother, he might go next to the old red-brick post office on the square in what is now city hall. Then maybe to Gathright-Reed’s, where Mr. Reed leant him dime mystery novels (many of which are still in his house). If he was hitting all his favorite stops in town, Faulkner might visit with his lawyer friend and early mentor Phil Stone, a block west of the square.

The building that once housed the Lyric movie theater on Van Buren Avenue was before 1913 the site of Murry Falkner’s livery stable. Several biographers have pointed out that the hunting stories and tales of drunken fights the elder Falkner’s customers told to kill time in the stable must have fed for a lifetime his writer son, who, though also a hunter, was otherwise runty and bookish by local standards. The Lyric theater, where Intruder in the Dust had its world premiere in 1949, burned in 1970, and its charred shell was eventually bought by an orthodontist named Watt Bishop.

Square Books faces the south side of the courthouse, down the block on Van Buren from the former stable. This beautiful bookstore vies with Smitty’s for the social center of downtown.

Throughout the town, you see a big house the Falkner family either lived in at one time or that William Faulkner stole for his fiction. His grandfather J. W. T. Falkner’s bank on North Lamar is where William had his first miserable job as a bookkeeper.

When they buried William Faulkner in July 1962, it was properly hot. William Styron, covering the funeral for Life magazine, could place the suffocating feeling almost immediately. “It is a heat which is like a small mean death itself,” he wrote, ”… encountered before, in all those novels and stories.” The memorial, of course, took place in the Rowan Oak parlor.

St. Peter’s Cemetery is lovely and still of a manageable size. Down the hill from his ancestors lies William Faulkner himself. Miss Estelle is united with him here, along with her son, Malcolm Argyle Franklin, who died an alcoholic in Charleston in 1977 and had been the happy child groom years before.

It is a quiet spot and a relatively undecorated grave as the graves of the famous go. There was a carnation and a dead potted flower on it when I visited and cold, spongy ground from a week’s rain. It was a soft day in January, disturbed only by a respectful graveyard jogger.

Nathan Ward TO PLAN A TRIP