To strangers names may seem amorphous,
without meanings bringing them alive,
from people serving as Yocknapatawpha’s
slaves from Faulkner’s probably derive.
There’s Moses, Isaac, Toney, Edmund, Sam,
Old Rose, and Henry, Ellen, Milly, Mollie,
and even, probably, there’s Absalom,
all slaves. It surely wasn’t melancholy
inspiring him to choose slaves to write
about white men. I think it gave him joy
to resurrect dead black men via white,
technique that any racist would annoy.
However hard you try you’ll find the past
cannot be bottled up, and Faulkner popped
the cork on it, by choosing to broadcast
slave names which he made his white men adopt,
thus posthumously liberating men
and women who had flat, not Jewish, noses
thus elevating them with Hebrews when
God brought the Jews from Egypt, helped by Moses.
Patricia Cohen writes about the names Faulkner used for the white men in his Yoknapatawpha County sagas (“Faulkner Link to Plantation Diary Discovered, NYT, February 11, 2010):
The climactic moment 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 “yellowed pages scrawled in fading ink” — proof of his family’s slave-owning past. Now, what appears to be the document on which Faulkner modeled that ledger as well as the source for myriad names, incidents and details that populate his fictionalized Yoknapatawpha County has been discovered. The original manuscript, a diary from the mid-1800s, was written by Francis Terry Leak, a wealthy plantation owner in Mississippi whose great-grandson Edgar Wiggin Francisco Jr. was a friend of Faulkner’s since childhood. Mr. Francisco’s son, Edgar Wiggin Francisco III, now 79, recalls the writer’s frequent visits to the family homestead in Holly Springs, Miss., throughout the 1930s, saying Faulkner was fascinated with the diary’s several volumes. Mr. Francisco said he saw them in Faulker’s hands and remembers that he “was always taking copious notes.” Specialists have been stunned and intrigued not only by this peephole into Faulkner’s working process, but also by material that may have inspired this Nobel-prize-winning author, considered by many to be one of the greatest American novelists of the 20th century. “I think it’s one of the most sensational literary discoveries of recent decades,” said John Lowe, an English professor at Louisiana State University who is writing a book on Faulkner. He was one of a handful of experts who met Dr. Francisco at the hand-hewn log house in Holly Springs last month. There they saw the windowpane where a cousin, Ludie Baugh, etched the letters L-U-D-I-E into the glass while watching Confederate soldiers march by — a scene that appears in several Faulkner works. ..
Sally Wolff-King, a scholar of Southern literature at Emory University who uncovered the connection between the author and the journal, called it “a once-in-a-lifetime literary find.” “The diary and a number of family stories seem to have provided the philosophical and thematic power for some of his major works,” she added. Names of slaves owned by Leak — Caruthers, Moses, Isaac, Sam, Toney, Mollie, Edmund and Worsham — all appear in some form in “Go Down, Moses.” Other recorded names, like Candis (Candace in the book) and Ben, show up in “The Sound and The Fury” (1929) while Old Rose, Henry, Ellen and Milly are characters in “Absalom, Absalom!” (1936). Charles Bonner, a well-known Civil War physician mentioned in the diary, would also seem to be the namesake of Charles Bon in “Absalom.” Scholars found Faulkner’s decision to give his white characters the names of slaves particularly arresting. Professor Wolff-King said she believes he was “trying to recreate the slaves lives and give them a voice.”Dr. Francisco says he is still very uncomfortable that his family’s connection to Faulkner has come to light. “I wouldn’t have done it at all,” he said about publicizing the diary. “My wife urged me until I finally did it,” he said of Anne Salyerds Francisco, his wife of 50 years. “She pushed and Sally pulled. There were long-repressed things that Faulkner uncovered that I didn’t know were in the family,” Dr. Francisco explained, adding that his father never talked about Leak and his slave-owning past. “I just bottled all that up and forgot about it.”