William Faulkner Draws Maps of Yoknapatawpha County, the Fictional Home of His Great Novels

faulkner-Portable map

If you’ve ever had dif­fi­cul­ty pro­nounc­ing the word Yok­na­p­ataw­pha—the fic­tion­al Mis­sis­sip­pi coun­ty where William Faulkn­er set his best-known fiction—you can take instruc­tion from the author him­self. Dur­ing his time as writer-in-res­i­dence at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Vir­ginia, Faulkn­er gave stu­dents a brief les­son on his pro­nun­ci­a­tion of the Chick­a­saw-derived word, which, as he says, sounds like it’s spelled.

If you’ve ever had dif­fi­cul­ty get­ting around in Yoknapatawpha—getting the lay of the land, as it were—Faulkner has stepped in again to help his read­ers. He drew sev­er­al maps of vary­ing lev­els of detail that show Yok­na­p­ataw­pha, its coun­ty seat of Jef­fer­son in the cen­ter, and var­i­ous key char­ac­ters’ plan­ta­tions, cross­roads, camps, stores, hous­es, etc. from the fif­teen nov­els and sto­ry cycles set in the author’s native Mis­sis­sip­pi.

Per­haps the most repro­duced of Faulkner’s maps, above, comes from 1946’s The Portable Faulkn­er and was drawn by the author at the request of edi­tor Mal­colm Cow­ley. We see named on the map the loca­tions of set­tings in The Unvan­quished, Sanc­tu­ary, The Sound and the Fury, The Ham­let, Go Down, Moses, Light in August, and the sto­ries “A Rose for Emi­ly” and “Old Man,” among oth­ers. This map, dat­ed 1945, had an impor­tant pre­de­ces­sor, how­ev­er: the map below, the final page in Faulkner’s epic tragedy Absa­lom, Absa­lom! Most read­ers of that nov­el, myself includ­ed, have thought of Quentin Compson’s deeply con­flict­ed, repeat­ed asser­tions that he doesn’t hate the South as the novel’s con­clu­sion. It’s a pas­sion­ate speech as mem­o­rable, and as final, as Mol­ly Bloom’s silent “Yes” at the end of Joyce’s Ulysses. Not so, writes Faulkn­er schol­ar Robert Ham­blin, the nov­el actu­al­ly ends after Quentin, and after the appen­dix’s chronol­o­gy and geneal­o­gy; the nov­el tru­ly ends with the map.

What Ham­blin wants us to acknowl­edge is that the map cre­ates more ambi­gu­i­ty than it resolves. The map, he says “is more than a graph­ic rep­re­sen­ta­tion of an actu­al place”—or in this case, a fic­tion­al place based on an actu­al place—“it is simul­ta­ne­ous­ly a metaphor.” While it fur­ther attempts to sit­u­ate the nov­el in his­to­ry, giv­ing Yok­na­p­ataw­pha the tan­gi­bil­i­ty of Thomas Hardy’s fic­tion­al Wes­sex or Sher­wood Anderson’s Wines­burg, Ohio, the map also ele­vates the coun­ty to a myth­ic dimen­sion, like “Bullfinch’s maps depict­ing the set­tings of the Greek and Roman myths and the wan­der­ings of Ulysses, Sir Thomas More’s map of Utopia, Jonathan Swift’s maps of the trav­els of Lemuel Gul­liv­er.”

faulkner-Absalom map

The Portable Faulkn­er map at the top of the post appears “in a style unlike Faulkner’s” and was “much reduced for pub­li­ca­tion in first and sub­se­quent print­ings,” A Com­pan­ion to William Faulkn­er tells us. The Absa­lom map, on the oth­er hand, appeared in a first, lim­it­ed-edi­tion of the nov­el in 1936, hand-drawn and let­tered in red and black ink, a col­or-cod­ing fea­ture com­mon to “Faulkner’s many hand-made books.” Click the image, then click it again to zoom in and read the details. You’ll notice a num­ber of odd things. For one, Faulkn­er gives equal atten­tion to nam­ing loca­tions and describ­ing events that occurred in oth­er Yok­na­p­ataw­pha nov­els, main­ly mur­ders, deaths, and var­i­ous crimes and hard­ships. For anoth­er, his neat cap­i­tal let­ter­ing repro­duces the let­ter “N” back­wards sev­er­al times, but just as many times he writes it nor­mal­ly, occa­sion­al­ly doing both in the same word or name—a styl­is­tic quirk that is not repro­duced in The Portable Faulkn­er map.

Final­ly, in con­trast to the map at the top, which Faulkn­er gives his name to as one who “sur­veyed & mapped” the ter­ri­to­ry,” in the Absa­lom map, he lists himself—beneath the town and coun­ty names, square mileage, and pop­u­la­tion count by race—as “sole own­er & pro­pri­etor.” Against Alfred Korzybski’s famous dic­tum, Tok­izane Sanae insists that at least when it comes to lit­er­ary maps, “Map is Ter­ri­to­ry… proof of new­ly con­quered own­er­ship of a land”—the ter­ri­to­ry of a deed. Suit­ably, Faulkn­er ends a nov­el obsessed with own­er­ship and prop­er­ty with a state­ment of own­er­ship and property—over his entire fic­tion­al uni­verse. In an iron­ic exag­ger­a­tion of the pow­er of sur­vey­ors, car­tog­ra­phers, archi­tects, and their landown­ing employ­ers, the map “spa­tial­izes and visu­al­izes the con­cept of a myth­i­cal soil and the pow­er of this God.” In that sense, it forces us to view all of the Mis­sis­sip­pi nov­els not as his­tor­i­cal fic­tion, but as episodes in a great reli­gious mythol­o­gy, with the same depth and res­o­nance as ancient scrip­ture or polit­i­cal alle­go­ry.


If we wish to see Faulkner’s map this way—a zoom out into an aer­i­al shot at the end of an epic picture—then we’re unlike­ly to find it of much use as a guide to the plain-faced logis­tics of his fic­tion. It’s unclear to me that Faulkn­er intend­ed it that way, as much as it’s unclear that Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot’s foot­notes to The Waste Land serve any pur­pose except to dis­tract and con­fuse read­ers. But of course read­ers have been using those foot­notes, and Faulkner’s map, as guide­lines to their respec­tive texts for decades any­way, not­ing incon­sis­ten­cies and find­ing mean­ing­ful cor­re­spon­dences where they can. One inter­est­ing exam­ple of such a use of Faulkner’s map­mak­ing comes to us from the site of a com­pre­hen­sive Uni­ver­si­ty of Vir­ginia Faulkn­er course that cov­ers a bulk of the Yok­na­p­ataw­pha books. The project, “Map­ping Faulkn­er,” begins with a con­sid­er­ably spars­er Yok­na­p­ataw­pha map, one prob­a­bly made “late in his life” and which “seems unfin­ished,” lack­ing most of the place names and descrip­tions, and cer­tain­ly the assertive sig­na­ture. With over­laid blue let­ter­ing, the site does what the Absa­lom map does not—gives each nov­el, or 9 of them any­way, its own map, with dis­crete bound­aries between events, char­ac­ters, and time peri­ods.

If Faulkn­er want­ed us to see the books as man­i­fes­ta­tions of a sin­gu­lar con­scious­ness, all radi­at­ing from a sin­gle source of wis­dom, this project iso­lates each nov­el, and its themes. In the map of Sanc­tu­ary, above, only loca­tions from that nov­el appear. On the page itself, a click on the cir­cu­lar mark­ings under each locale brings up a win­dow with anno­ta­tions and page ref­er­ences. The appa­ra­tus might at first appear to be a use­ful guide through the noto­ri­ous­ly dif­fi­cult nov­els, pro­vid­ed Faulkn­er meant the loca­tions to actu­al­ly cor­re­spond to the text in this way. But what are we to do with this visu­al infor­ma­tion? Lack­ing any leg­end, we can’t use the map to judge scale and dis­tance. And by remov­ing all of the oth­er events occur­ring in the vicin­i­ty in the span of around a hun­dred years or so, the maps denude the nov­els of their greater con­text, the pur­pose to which their “own­er & pro­pri­etor” devot­ed them at the end of Absa­lom, Absa­lom! Faulkner’s maps, as works of art in their own right, extend “the trag­ic view of life and his­to­ry that the Sut­pen nar­ra­tive has already con­veyed” in Absa­lom, Absa­lom!, writes Ham­blin: “Through the hand­writ­ten entries that Faulkn­er made,” in that map, the most com­plete drawn in the author’s own hand, “the land­scape of Yok­na­p­ataw­pha is pre­sent­ed pri­mar­i­ly as a set­ting for grief, vil­lainy, and death.”

View more maps by Faulkn­er here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Art of William Faulkn­er: Draw­ings from 1916–1925

Rev­el in The William Faulkn­er Audio Archive on the Author’s 118th Birth­day

William Faulkn­er Resigns From His Post Office Job With a Spec­tac­u­lar Let­ter (1924)

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

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  • Carla Dolazza says:

    Until now I did­n’t know your web­site: it is because I have put “likes” on William Faukn­er’s arti­cles and curiosi­ties that I’ve come to get to know you.
    Thank you for your inter­est­ing, enlight­en­ing web­site!
    Ages ago, when I was a uni­ver­si­ty student,I 2met” W.Faulkner’s books and it was ove at first sight. Then I wrote my final the­sis on “As I lay dying”… Faulkn­er is and will always be my first love!

  • CL Coyne says:

    This is real­ly help­ful. Thank you so much for post­ing the dif­fer­ent maps all in one place and dis­cussing them in a way that’s so help­ful. I found a map of the coun­ty that is very detailed and I can’t tell where it came from orig­i­nal­ly but the pic­ture of it looks cropped (and slant­ed..) and some of the details/info is cut off. Can you tell me where I might find a bet­ter copy of this map and what it’s ori­gins might be? I don’t want to post a direct link incase that’s frowned on so please replace the word “dot” with a . It’s at http://ummuseumeducation blogspot.com/2013/05/currently-um-museum-has-breathtaking.html Thank you very much.

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