It must have been the rows of tall trees -- apparently mandatory in photos of Rowan Oak -- that led me to believe Faulkner's house was a massive and imposing structure. Since I was expecting something so grand, the visit was unexpectedly intimate.
Ole Miss says the house has changed very little since Faulkner's death in 1962. Many of his belongings are still inside.
Faulkner's daughter Jill Faulkner Summers sold the house to the university a decade after his death, but most of Faulkner's papers are housed at the University of Virginia, where Faulkner served as writer-in-residence from 1957 to 1962.
Faulkner himself willed the major manuscripts and personal papers to UVa, but Jill also handed over portions of Faulkner's personal library to be deposited in Special Collections at Virginia.
Some of my hosts in Oxford passed along the local rumor that Jill holds a grudge against the people of Oxford for ridiculing her father during his life. Another rumor has it that the University of Virginia for many years gave Ms. Faulkner's husband a fairly high-ranking position at the college to ensure continued custodianship of the papers.
But back to the house itself. The tour brochure says, "In 1930 William Faulkner purchased what was then known as 'The Bailey Place,' a large primitive Greek Revival house that pre-dated the Civil War, standing on four acres of cedars and hardwood. He was fascinated with its history, knowing that it had been built by a Colonel Sheegog from Tennessee who settled in Oxford when it was a tiny frontier settlement of the 1840s. Faulkner renamed it 'Rowan Oak.' He optioned the surrounding acreage and settled in with his wife Estelle and her two children from a previous marriage, Malcolm and Victoria. Within a few years his own daughter Jill was born, and Rowan Oak was the family home of the Faulkners until 1962, the year of Faulkner’s death."