Emory English Professor Sally Wolff-King recently discovered a link between Nobel Prize-winning author William Faulkner and an antebellum journal that could provide scholars tremendous insight into Faulkner’s works.
The journal was written by Francis Terry Leak, a wealthy plantation owner in Mississippi. Leak’s great-great-grandson, Edgar Wiggin Francisco III (’56G) met with Wolff-King in March 2008 at his home in Atlanta, where she made the connection between Faulkner’s works and the journal.
Wolff-King was preparing a book of interviews by people are still living and who knew Faulkner. Through this undertaking, Wolff-King visited Francisco two years ago.
“I set about to interview him. ... Then in the course of the interview we started to look at the diary,” she said. The diary contained much information that Wolff-King was able to connect to Faulker’s works.
Her book of compiled interviews is now on the “back burner” as she works on a new book, Ledgers of History: William Faulkner, an Almost Forgotten Friendship, and an Antebellum Diary
, which is due in June from Louisiana State University Press.
Francisco told Wolff-King that his father had been close with Faulkner and that Faulkner would often times study, take notes and familiarize himself with the journal.
Wolff-King said she noticed a section of the journal that accounted the money paid for individual slaves and connected it to a section in Go Down, Moses
, published in 1942.
The journal was donated to University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1946. Chapel Hill created a type script of the journal, which has been available to scholars.
Wolff-King said that without knowing Faulkner had read the journal, it would be very difficult to make the connection to his works.
“Dr. Francisco’s eye witness statement made the difference,” she said.
Wolff-King said once she knew Faulkner had not only seen this diary, but also had taken notes from it, she began to look at the journal more closely.
“The diary is 1,800 pages long, and I studied it carefully for two years,” she said. Wolff-King said the more she studied the journal, the more certain she became that Faulkner drew from the entries.
“It was pretty clear that Faulkner drew from it, not just for Go Down, Moses, but for other works, including The Sound and the Fury
and Absalom, Absalom!
Wolff-King described the discovery of the connection as a “once in a lifetime literary find” that will provide new information and direction for Faulkner scholars.
The journal emphasizes that Faulkner used sources that were available to him, she said.
“We know that he drew on many sources, but this previously unrecognized source is so extensive,” she said.
Wolff-King said the journal reveals Faulkner’s writing process and his appreciation for authenticity.
“I think ... [Faulkner] was so interested in this old farm journal because it gave him much information about what life was like [on the antebellum southern plantation] and allowed him to write authentically about the past,” she said.
Wolff-King teaches Southern Literature at Emory, where she has also served as associate dean and assistant vice president. She has studied Faulkner for 30 years.
— Contact Kate Borger