Compared to Hemingway's home on Whitehead Street Rowan Oak is statuesque and austere and very restrained. There are no cats, no tour guides, no painters cluttering the entrance with their daubs.
William Faulkner bought the place with 20 acres of woods and he lived a quiet life here with his wife Estelle and their daughter. There are no bars within easy distance of the house and it needs no wall to keep out the crowds.
This home does not announce itself.
We drove cautiously down a woodland trail lined with parked cars, as though a Lovers' Lane until we dead ended into a turn around where we parked alongside a Texas SUV.
Leaving Cheyenne to snooze in the car in the shade of an overcast day we walked through the woods and came onto a lawn area in front of the house. I felt like a trespassing schoolboy lost in the grounds of a mansion. My wife is made of sterner stuff and she found an unmarked door and walked through it. Inside, Faulkner's home was remarkable in its air of normality. A young docent from Ole Miss took our ten dollar entrance fee for the pair of us and I signed the guest book. We were in. The living room with a youthful portrait of the author painted by his mother:
This photograph was captioned as the only one taken of the author smiling (more or less) at his nephew's wedding.
There were two young students in the building keeping an eye on it, and us. I enjoyed chatting with him about Hemingway and Faulkner. He told the story where Faulkner was interviewed and the great man from Mississippi made the comment that Hemingway was not very brave in his writing, ie: that he didn't put much of himself into his books and apparently Hemingway took the bravery comment as a personal affront and they were no longer friends.
He also told us Faulkner's daughter had two stipulations when she sold the property, house and twenty acres of Bailey's Woods, to the University of Mississippi. She said no gift shoppe and no signs, hence the secret hidden nature of Oxford's most famous house. There are no tours of the house, you get a handout and you are on your own, free to wander and look, read and think. It's glorious and I had grand time.
The Great Man's writing room as he left it, much like Hemingway's except in this case he wrote sitting down.
In that very Adirondack chair.
It is well known supposedly that Faulkner wrote out his plots on the walls. This was his last effort:
His mother painted his portrait and his wife painted watercolors. She ended up with her own bedroom which finally got air conditioning the story goes, the afternoon of her husband's funeral. Faulkner did not approve of unnatural cool air.
Estelle's room with easel.
It doesn't seem like a bad job being a docent/guardian at the house.
The house has a very sober, unremarkable air. It's a nice house with a fireplace in every room, dark colors, thick carpets and bourgeois comfort at very turn. I think of Hemingway's place in Key West, still littered with all those souvenirs of travels, of life lived large. What a contrast.
Outside the grounds were perfectly kept, trees, shrubs, lawns , paths and ....a fire hydrant? Unlike the stereotype my dog didn't pee on it. Maybe because she's a girl. I really like how Cheyenne feels no compunction to mark her turf.
The docent said she was welcome to hang out outside so I retrieved her from the car and, as placidly as ever she wandered the grounds checking this and that.
Apparently Faulkner was quite the handy man and he had a smokehouse...
...and he also indulged in carpentry...
...and had a nanny who lived in her own home on the grounds.
Faulkner may not have approved of air conditioning but nowadays there is a tank-sized unit on the grounds pumping air. Cheyenne could have used some!
The cow barn was rebuilt using original woods and Faulkner used to get his milk from the animal.
My wife spotted this "Faulkner cat" on the grounds, as she called it.
The horse stable and paddock. Apparently Faulkner loved to ride, too bad it was quadrupeds and not motorcycles, but there we are.
Part of Faulkner's purchase was these woods next to his house. Nowadays they constitute a rather pleasant woodland park for public use.
Cheyenne followed me reluctantly, tired as she was she refused to get in the car and wait with my wife, but her torture was cut off early by the heavy wet sounds of raindrops crashing on the leaves above us.
I recommend a visit of course, as it was great fun to see the papers, articles, photos and movie posters from his Hollywood period, all displayed in a serene and laid back environment. I checked the visitor counter on the desk and saw 59 displayed, possibly the number of visitors. More than I expected less than would be in Hemingway's house. Faulkner was no prize fighter, bull runner or womanizer but he wrote like a man possessed. Too bad his home is hardly sign posted at all.