At Home With William

The past isn't dead. It's not even past.



Just a brisk walk from the stately Lewis home lies yet another impressive domicile. The two homes are similar in many ways, in fact, with their stately tree-lined walkways and grand entrances. But look closer. There is something different about this place called Rowan Oak. It's got a stillness to it, and here, you won't find high-tech gadgets, Wi-Fi, or even something as simple as, say, a dishwasher.

What you will find is a literary life, perfectly preserved.

At Rowan Oak, William Faulkner's wistful vision of a haunted, pastoral South is palpable. A primitive Greek revival, Rowan Oak sits on dozens of acres known as Bailey's Woods. The name Rowan Oak is derived from the legend of the Rowan tree in Sir James Frazer's The Golden Bough, in which a cross of rowan is placed over the threshold to protect the occupant from evil. The marvelous condition of Faulkner's house has done well to lend credence to this protective custom. Monolithic cedars flank the uneven brick walkway, solemn as if sentinels weary of the encroachment of years. In the Rose Garden, the pungent decay of the Old South weaves in amidst the fragrance of fragile rose petals and mournful wisteria. Within seconds, one feels transposed into the soul of Yoknapatawpha County and its glorious and profligate inhabitants.

Inside the halls of the home, one can nearly see the glancing specter of Faulkner himself in the halls, his cheeks rubicund from imbibing from a glass of bourbon in hand. Faulkner's office conveys an aura of obstinate permanence, present in the preserved graphite inscriptions — a storyboard for A Fable — that stretch across the plaster wall. His typewriter, illuminated by the sun showers that cascade through the window, sits like an ethereal monument lionized by the canon it has yielded. In the library, a gallery of portraits gaze forebodingly as light timidly wafts in between the heavy violet curtains. Faulkner's own ornately framed portrait hangs dignified over the fireplace.

The preservation of Faulkner's bedroom is immaculate. Resting against the wall, adjacent to the earthy fireplace, is a pair of hunting rifles. Riding pants, yellowed from age and wear, rest haphazardly over the arm of a chair while soiled boots sit erect on the carpet. Faulkner's bed, an unassuming four-poster, lies dormant underneath the windowsill. One would like to imagine that the sultry, stinging nectar aroma of whiskey still permeates the air. Overlooking Bailey's Woods and the dense rows of autumn foliage is the asylum of Mrs. Estelle, banished away to the back of the house by her husband. Though empty for decades, an air of fecundity navigates the house in evanescent tendrils of wind, giving Rowan Oak a pulse of vigor that masks the etiolated grandeur of the Old South.

Despite the inexorable creeping of time, the ghost of Faulkner, alongside Quentin Compson and Colonel Sartoris, marches on in the Original Garden, circling around the gnarled limbs of the magnolia. The legacy Faulkner leaves behind, embodied by Rowan Oak, gives testament to his adage that "I believe that man will not only endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance."

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