While his immediate family fell on some hard times while William Faulkner was growing up, Faulkner's memory was filled with visits to his grandfather's home, "Big Place." In 1930, newly married to his childhood sweetheart, Estelle Oldham Franklin, and feeling confident about his writing, Faulkner purchased a stately antebellum house in Mississippi. A family friend of his father-in-law had given the newlyweds a fantastic deal—although the house was in desperate need of repair, for $6000 and a mortgage, Faulkner got his dream house and four acres of land.
The Faulkner's new home was known as the Shegog Place, after the old Irish Colonel who had built it in the mid-1800s, but that name didn't last long once the Faulkner's moved in. "In the evenings, Faulkner would read on the verandah, sipping whiskey. He was making his way systematically through Sir James Frazier's learned anthropological study, The Golden Bough, which had meant so much to [T.S.] Eliot as a background to The Waste Land. One night he came upon a passage about a rowan oak, indigenous to Scotland: not oak at all but a fruit tree with white flowers and red pomes. It symbolized peace and safety, and this struck him pleasantly; he now christened the new house as Rowanoak (or, fairly soon after, Rowan Oak)" (p. 156, One Matchless Timeby Jay Parini)
Faulkner and Estelle lived at Rowan Oak until his death in 1962. The house and grounds are now a museum operated by the University of Mississippi.
Guided tours are available:
1–4 Sundays (Closed Mondays)
Take a virtual tour: www.olemiss.edu/depts/u_museum/rowan_oak/interactive.html
Photo Credit: Rowan Oak © 2005 Bruce Newman.
Attend the annual Faulkner and Yoknapatawpha Conference this summer and go on more guided tours.