“How the negros [sic] became McCaslins too . . . “: A New Faulkner Letter

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“How the negros [sic] became McCaslins too . . . “: A New Faulkner Letter

by Noel Polk
Southern Cultures, Vol. 5, No. 3: Fall 1999

"William Faulker, the architect of Go Down, Moses, flirts with his good friend's wife in a nearly-lost letter and drops a few clues left out of the book's famous ledgers."

Editors of the papers of Bell I. Wiley have uncovered a letter from William Faulkner to Mary Frances Wiley, Bell’s wife, which is of interest to general readers and Faulkner specialists alike. Wiley, the great historian of the Civil War, was on the faculty at the University of Mississippi from 1938 to 1946, with some time out for service in World War II. Given their mutual interests in the Civil War, Wiley’s friendship with Faulkner may seem a natural thing, but according to Wiley, he and Faulkner met quite by accident through the ministrations of Wiley’s neighbor, Colonel Hugh Evans, who is mentioned in the letter. The head of the ROTC at Ole Miss, Evans knew Faulkner through common interests more amenable to Faulkner, perhaps, than scholarship and the university. Evans was, according to Wiley, “a great lover of hunting and dogs and horses.” Clearly, however, Faulkner got along very well with the Wileys, who seem to have made part of a group of Oxonians who socialized together on a number of occasions. The letter suggests that Faulkner took a good deal of pleasure in the Wüeys’ company, especially that of Mary Frances, a very attractive woman with whom, as the letter’s tone suggests, he enjoyed a mannerly flirtation. The Wüeys were at the time away from Oxford while Bell was in the armed forces.