The Diary That Inspired William Faulkner

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NY Times writer Patricia Cohen had a fascinating article in the Arts section on February 11, 2010. It was titled” “Where Faulkner Found His People: Characters’ Names Are Inside a Plantation Diary the Writer Knew Well.”

“The climactic moment,” the article begins, “in William Faulkner’s 1942 novel “Go Down, Moses” comes when Isaac McCaslin finally decides to open his grandfather’s leather farm ledgers with their ‘scarred and cracked backs’ and ‘yellow pages scrawled in fading ink’ –proof of his family’s slave-0wning past.”

The diary that was a source for Faulkner for names, incidents and details was penned in the mid-1800s by  Francis Terry Leak, a wealthy plantation owner in Mississippi.   His great-grandson, Edgar Wiggin Francisco, Jr., was a friend of Faulkner’s since childhood. Mr. Francisco’s son, now 79, recalled the writer’s frequent visits throughout the 1930s, and said Faulkner was fascinated with the diary’s   several volumes.   Mr. Francisco said he saw them in Faulkner’s hands and recalled that he “was always taking copious notes.”

Sally Wolff-King, a scholar in Southern literature at Emory University who discovered the connection between Faulkner and the journals, called it “a once-in-a-lifetime literary find.” A short preview of her findings was available in the fall 2009 issue of The Southern Literary Journal; her book “Ledgers of History: William Faulkner, an Almost Forgotten Friendship, and an Antebellum Diary,” is due out in June from Louisiana State University Press.

Has a chance find of a  diary in a friend’s house, a yard sale, flea market, antique store or junk shop  given you a character or inspired a story?

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