24 November 2009

Ripley, Mississippi: Colonel William Falkner: Literary Landmarks of the Southern United States, #14

Ripley, Mississippi, at midday Saturday is so dead that you can probably drive round the center in your sleep and come to no harm nor cause any. Venture onto the highway a few hundred yards away, though, and somewhere at least is open: yes, McDonald's is where everyone seems to hang out here. Back in the 19th century, though, Colonel William Clark Falkner – William Faulkner's great-grandfather – was involved in the re-creation of the railroad here. He was also involved in a number of other things, and probably none too popular: an attempt to shot him misfired, although he killed his would-be murderer and got off with self-defense. He became a writer, and wrote a best-selling novel – The White Rose of Memphis (1881). But his days were numbered, and ex-business partner R. J. Thurmond shot him in the street in the center of Ripley: he died the next day.

His great-grandson wanted to be a writer too, and he took his relative (as Colonel Sartoris) as a model in Sartoris (1929; repr. as Flags in the Dust, 1973), and The Unvanquished [1938].

The Colonel's grave is not difficult to find in Ripley Cemetery: with the statue on top of it it stands at 23 feet, and is a very impressive sight. On to Tennessee.

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