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President Jill Tiefenthaler's Blog

Studying Faulkner in Oxford, Mississippi

A field trip to Mississippi brings Faulkner alive for today’s students, in the words of Professor Barry Sarchett (Dean Mike Edmonds accompanied Barry and his class on this wonderful trip):
“English 381: Faulkner” is taught every other year. It includes a one-week trip to Oxford, Mississippi, Faulkner’s home, and where he lived for most of his life.  Oxford is also the model for his fictional town of Jefferson, county seat of his world-renowned Yoknapatawpha County, the setting for his most of his many novels.   
The rationale for the trip is relatively simple: while the works of great writers can be thoroughly gratifying and challenging when read anywhere, a new dimension of understanding may be added by visiting the geographies which may have inspired the books and/or which provide the settings for them.  This is exponentially more true with writers who bring a strong sense of regional identity to their work, and no writer I know of has done that more than William Faulkner.
Thus, because very few CC students have come from the Deep South, it becomes even more important to give them a small sense of this unique culture, geography, and history.  I firmly believe most major cities in the world are in many ways alike, no matter where.  I tell my students that they may have visited Paris or Rome or Moscow or Buenos Aires or London, but Mississippi may be more “foreign” to them than any of those places.  And in the three times  I have included this trip in the course, I have seen more culture shock that I do when I teach in Greece.  Most of Faulkner’s work is obsessed with the historical and cultural past of the South and its very special identity in contradistinction to the rest of the country.  By being in his home town for a week, holding class each day in Rowan Oak, Faulkner’s home (now a museum run by the University of Mississippi), visiting sites that crop up in his novels, and reading his work while breathing the air he breathed in the places he saw, the students do get a more intimate and nuanced view of who has been described by many critics as the greatest writer our country has ever produced.
The group at Faulkner's home.

The group at Faulkner’s home.

Student Will Schube with the Faulkner statue on the square in Oxford.

Student Will Schube with the Faulkner statue on the square in Oxford.

At Old Taylor Grocery outside Oxford, the model for Frenchman's Bend, a township that figures in several novels.

At Old Taylor Grocery outside Oxford, the model for Frenchman’s Bend, a township that figures in several novels.

3 Comments

  1. Joe Barrera says:

    Absalom, Absalom! Would like to have Barry do an Alumni class on that one. Joe

  2. Walker Sahag says:

    Since I am probably the only CC Grad who was born in Oxford and can claim William ‘Bill’ Faulkner as a good family friend I would be very interested in participating on a CC study trip to my home town.

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