William Faulkner Outlines on His Office Wall the Plot of His Pulitzer Prize Winning Novel, A Fable (1954)


Image cour­tesy of enotes

This past sum­mer I had occa­sion to vis­it Oxford Mis­sis­sip­pi for a con­fer­ence on William Faulkn­er, host­ed by the uni­ver­si­ty he briefly attend­ed, Ole Miss. Own­er of Faulkner’s estate, Rowan Oak, since 1972, the uni­ver­si­ty often stages events on the novelist’s for­mer grounds—particularly to cel­e­brate meet­ings devot­ed to his work. While I had wan­dered around the prop­er­ty a few times dur­ing my stay on cam­pus, I thought I’d wait until the cap­stone bar­be­cue at the conference’s close to enter the house itself. More fool me. A rain­storm forced the fes­tiv­i­ties into a col­lege hall, and I had to depart ear­ly the fol­low­ing morn­ing.

And so, sad­ly, I missed out on walk­ing Faulkner’s floor­boards, peer­ing out through his win­dows, and, espe­cial­ly, see­ing first­hand the notes he scrawled on the walls of his study to out­line the plot of his 1954 nov­el A Fable. The Pulitzer Prize and Nation­al Book Award-win­ning book, which—depending on your tol­er­ance for Faulkner’s excess­es is either a “crown­ing achieve­ment or self-indul­gent mess”—occu­pied the author for over a decade. He began A Fable—set in France dur­ing World War 1—just after the end of the Sec­ond World War, and did much of the writ­ing in the small office he added to the house in 1950, the year after he won the Nobel Prize. (Hear him read his Nobel Prize Speech here.)

Faulkner Wall Writing-L

Pho­to by Nick Rus­sell

Plot­ting the chronol­o­gy on the walls helped him become ful­ly immersed in the novel’s den­si­ty, but, writes edu­ca­tion blog Enotes, “not every­body was so pleased with the method”: “Faulkner’s wife, dis­ap­point­ed with the deci­sion, had the walls repaint­ed. In return, Faulkn­er rewrote the out­line and then shel­lacked the wall to ensure a per­ma­nent record.”

There are much worse ways to antag­o­nize one’s spouse, I sup­pose, but I’m sure that wasn’t his pri­ma­ry intent. Faulkn­er con­sid­ered the nov­el his masterpiece—Pulitzer and Nation­al Book Award com­mit­tees agreed—but crit­ics have not been so kind. It’s now one of his less­er-known works, one of the few not set in the fic­tion­al Yoknopataw­pha, a stand-in for his own Lafayette coun­ty, which he mined for sto­ries all of his mature career after some brief adven­tur­ing abroad.

Per­haps his defi­ant preser­va­tion of the plan for A Fable rep­re­sents his deep desire to leave behind the “postage stamp” of Oxford and its surrounds—to ven­ture into oth­er imag­i­na­tive ter­ri­to­ries. If so, his plan failed. Faulkn­er will be for­ev­er asso­ci­at­ed with the South—with Mis­sis­sip­pi, and with Rowan Oak. And like so many devo­tees, I’ll like­ly make my pil­grim­age to his well-pre­served home a year­ly event. The next time I’m down there, how­ev­er, I’ll actu­al­ly make it inside to see the writ­ing on the walls.

garabatos-novelas-adictamente.blogspot (2)

Pho­to by John Lawrence, from Faulkner’s Rowan Oak , by John Lawrence and Dan Hise


Relat­ed Con­tent:

Rare Audio: William Faulkn­er Names His Best Nov­el, And the First Faulkn­er Nov­el You Should Read

William Faulkn­er Reads His Nobel Prize Speech

The Art of William Faulkn­er: Draw­ings from 1916–1925

How Famous Writ­ers — From J.K. Rowl­ing to William Faulkn­er — Visu­al­ly Out­lined Their Nov­els

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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  • Samantha says:

    Thanks for the eNotes link back! Great write up!

    -Saman­tha B.
    Mar­ket­ing Man­ag­er @ eNotes

  • David says:

    The sec­ond I saw that writ­ing on the wall I thought, bipo­lar, I’ve seem quite a bit of bipo­lar writ­ing on walls, remark­ably sim­i­lar with dif­fer­ent peo­ple, love of author­i­ta­tive com­mand­ing cap­i­tals seems to be uni­ver­sal. So I googled Faulkn­er, there do seem to be quite a few claims he was bipo­lar, includ­ing at least one in a book. I don’t know if this is con­test­ed.

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