Slipping through a cold metal turnstile, I enter Rowan Oak, William Faulkner’s home in Oxford, Mississippi. The gatekeeper, an Ole Miss graduate student reading a worn-out Thomas Pynchon paperback and wearing leather sandals, accepts my $5 ticket and waves me through into the house. Rowan Oak, a primitive Greek revival house set on four acres of land, was Faulkner’s home for over thirty years. From 1930, when he and his wife Estelle bought the house, until 1962, the year of his death, Faulkner used this house both as a family home and as an office for writing many of his best-known Southern works.
It’s easy to see how this home and its surroundings could inspire the author to root his characters in elaborate Southern worlds. The large white house, built almost immediately before the start of the Civil War, has crisp green shutters. The walk up to the front door is flanked with oak trees. Nostalgic structures like a wooden smokehouse, an outdoor kitchen, and a stable occupy the view from the porch. Open to the public for decades, the house has been a museum since Faulkner’s daughter Jill sold the house and its considerable plot of land to the University of Mississippi ten years after her father’s death.
The house feels like a museum, in that there are label cards all over and velvet cords protecting some of the rooms. One cordoned-off room, tucked into the back corner of the house, holds particular interest. Faulkner’s study, which he set up after winning Nobel Prize money in 1950, is covered in his scribbles. He famously out lined his book A Fable directly on the walls of this room, scrawling the days of the week in capital letters above his desk, and jotting details underneath each. The room, in addition to the scribbles, has some original furniture and a fan. Legend has it that Faulkner refused to get air conditioning in the house, and that his family installed an A/C unit immediately when he died.
Ole Miss carefully preserves and facilitates the house museum. The University has strong ties to Faulkner in other ways, too. I was lucky enough to meet with the Dr. Jennifer Ford, the Head of Archives and Special Collections at Ole Miss Libraries, while in Oxford. With white gloves on, she showed me a just a sliver of the rich Faulkner pieces, both personal and literary, stored in that library. From photographs to early writing drafts, the objects in the library enriched my understanding of Faulkner as a writer rooted deeply in his home but also in his Southern context more broadly. Traces of (and shout-outs to) Faulkner are everywhere in Oxford. An art gallery on the main square sells parody paintings of Faulkner. He’s mentioned all over the delightful local bookstore Square Books . Even his grave, on the edges of a graveyard downtown, is a tourist site, covered in dirt and the bottles of rum his fans leave as an offering.
While bits of Faulkner are everywhere in his proud hometown, nowhere is more fully immersive than the Rowan Oak house. From thoughtfully written labels to period wallpapers, the home gives insight into the lifestyle and (often quirky) routines of the iconic author.
All photos taken by Robert Jordan and provided by courtesy of Rowan Oak.