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William Faulkner's Mississippi

May 4, 2011 |  6:00 am

Williamfaulkner_attypewriteWilliam Faulkner was so displeased with living in Hollywood that when he was told he could work from home, he promptly set out for his desk -- 1,900 miles away at Rowan Oak, his house in Oxford, Miss.

L.A. Times book critic David L. Ulin went to Oxford, discovering the connection between Faulkner's grand ambitions and the small town, home to the University of Mississippi, where he felt most comfortable. Ulin writes:

[B]eginning with his third novel, "Sartoris" (1929), he told the Paris Review in 1956, "I discovered that my own little postage stamp of native soil was worth writing about and that I would never live long enough to exhaust it, and by sublimating the actual into apocryphal I would have complete liberty to use whatever talent I might have to its absolute top."

My own little postage stamp of native soil: Here we have another iconic riff, so much so that it has long since blurred into cliché. It refers to Faulkner's decision, in 15 novels and dozens of short stories, to reframe Oxford as the seat of the fictional Yoknapatawpha County, "a cosmos of my own," which he imagined as "a kind of keystone in the universe; that, small as that keystone is, if it were ever taken away the universe itself would collapse."

That's a great description, not just of his ambition but also of his aesthetic: the balance of myth and recollection, the desire to use this landscape as a template against which the human struggle might play out in epic terms. Still, spend a day (or two, as I did last month) or even an hour roaming Oxford and you begin to see how literal Faulkner's vision was.

Read more about Oxford and Faulkner's legacy, and see a gallery of photos of Oxford today.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: William Faulkner at Rowan Oak with his Underwood typewriter, 1950. Credit: Associated Press.