RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
Over the weekend, the University of Mississippi rededicated the home of Nobel Prize novelist William Faulkner following a 1.3-million-dollar restoration. Faulkner bought the antebellum house in 1930 and named it Rowan Oak after the qualities of the two trees; rowan for serenity and oak for strength. It was built in 1848, and the house was in disrepair when William Faulkner bought it. He spent the rest of his life working on it and trying to pay for it by writing what many believe to be the greatest novels of American literature. Melanie Peeples reports from Oxford, Mississippi.
MELANIE PEEPLES reporting:
The difference in going to see Hemingway's house and Faulkner's home is that you take a trip to Key West, you make a pilgrimage to Oxford. There, at the end of a long pea gravel drive, the columns of a white clapboard house peek out through a stand of cedars. For Faulkner fans and former English majors, you cross a threshold at Rowan Oak where the world falls away.
(Soundbite of door opening and closing)
PEEPLES: Inside, curator William Griffith can spot the reverent.
Mr. WILLIAM GRIFFITH (Curator): Some are completely silent, yeah, when they go through. Some--and they'll write in the comment book, `I can't believe I'm here,' or `This is fantastic.'
PEEPLES: They politely peek into the parlor and library, but it's the next room they've come to see.
Mr. GRIFFITH: This is his office. This room was added on in the '50s, probably around 1952. And while he was in this room, he was working on the first novel he wrote after he won the Nobel Prize, and this is a novel called "Fable."
PEEPLES: The book is set during Holy Week in World War I with a plot so complicated Faulkner wrote the outline on the walls so he could refer to it while writing. It's kind of the Sistine Chapel of Rowan Oak.
Mr. GRIFFITH: Mm-hmm. You can get a look at his handwriting. You can see he had very nice handwriting, very nice print.
PEEPLES: By the window is Faulkner's writing desk and the old portable Underwood typewriter where he created `more interesting people than God did,' as he once put it, a remark out of character from his usual modest self. There's a half-spooled ribbon in the typewriter, and you can't help but wonder what words are hidden under there, and if anyone else has seen them. It's a moment stopped in time.
Ms. BETTY HENDRICKS(ph) (Visitor): There's just something about the character of the house and the way it smells that, you know, has just transported me back to a different era.
PEEPLES: Betty Hendricks is an arts teachers from El Paso. They say once you've seen someone's home, you see them differently. And Hendricks knows what this house meant to Faulkner, how it seemed to restore to prominence his family's name.
Ms. HENDRICKS: If you can't find him here, I don't know where you'd be able to find him. He's still here.
PEEPLES: Jeanie Anderson(ph) agrees.
Judge JEANIE ANDERSON (Visitor): Definitely. There's--I don't want to say that there's a religious air to it because that's too somber, but there's a remembrance, yeah.
PEEPLES: A judge in Alabama, Anderson reveres Faulkner for being the first Southerner to write about the real South.
Judge ANDERSON: The good and the bad. And, you know, he was, I think, one of the first writers to really be candid about a lot of issues in the South.
PEEPLES: A former English major, Anderson's days of dreaming about being a great writer are behind her. Still, she says, she wouldn't mind absorbing a little of Faulkner anyway. She feels him most where a lot of people do.
Judge ANDERSON: The grounds. The grounds and the trees.
PEEPLES: From the front porch, you can see lines of cedars and a magnolia here and there; nothing but Faulkner everywhere you look on the 34 acres. It's easy to go back in time. He practically preached it: `The past is never dead. It's not even past.' If you think hard enough, you can just make him out rounding the corner.
(Soundbite of 1949 speech)
Mr. WILLIAM FAULKNER: Leaving no room in his workshop for anything but the old verities and truths of the heart, the old universal truths lacking which any story is ephemeral indeed: love and honor and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice.
PEEPLES: It's from this acceptance speech after winning the Nobel Prize for literature in 1949. He almost didn't go to Sweden, telling a journalist at first that he was just a farmer and couldn't leave his cows. He loved Rowan Oak.
(Soundbite of bird chirping)
PEEPLES: You remember hearing he was an intensely private man who once dug potholes in his driveway to keep gawkers at bay, and you resolve to pull yourself away, to stop intruding. You resolve to, but your feet stand firm. Then you realize it's quintessential Faulkner, the human heart against itself. For NPR News, I'm Melanie Peeples in Oxford, Mississippi.