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  • William Faulkner and the Ledgers of History
  • Sally Wolff (bio)

Recently I interviewed Dr. Edgar Wiggin Francisco III, whose father, Edgar Francisco, Jr., was a friend of William Faulkner. As a boy, Edgar III was present and listening when Faulkner made frequent trips to Holly Springs, Mississippi, to visit the McCarroll/Francisco family at the home that has been in their family for one hundred seventy-six years. Now, at the age of seventy-nine, Dr. Francisco reminisced with me about those days.

During the first interview, his wife Anne suggested that he show me the family diary that belonged to his great-great-grandfather.1 He disappeared from the room and returned momentarily with a volume written originally in longhand in the 1800s by his ancestor, who owned plantation lands in Mississippi and Arkansas. He explained that this volume was one of seven typescript volumes, all of which were prepared from the original, and handed it to me. Among the typescript pages were some facsimiles of the original, handwritten diary that had been composed on ledger paper. The handwriting is in the old, nineteenth-century style and difficult to decipher. Seeing the ledger instantly brought to my mind the ledger sections of Go Down, Moses. One entry caught my eye—a list of the amounts of money paid for individual slaves. In that moment, I sensed what further consideration has suggested all the more strongly: [End Page 1] that the “Diary of Francis Terry Leak” not only may have influenced the ledger and slave sale records in Go Down, Moses but also likely served as an important source for much more of William Faulkner’s work.

I began to ask questions. “Have you read much of William Faulkner’s writing?” Dr. Francisco answered “Not much.” “Have you ever read Go Down, Moses?” Dr. Francisco answered “No.” “Did your father read much that Faulkner wrote?” “No.” “Did William Faulkner ever see this diary?” This time the answer was “Yes.”

Dr. Edgar Wiggin Francisco III, a native of Holly Springs, Mississippi, is a learned man with six academic degrees: a bachelor’s degree from Southwestern at Memphis (now Rhodes College); a master’s degree in psychology from Emory University; a master’s degree in industrial management from the Georgia Institute of Technology; a master’s degree in public health from the Yale University School of Medicine; and a master’s degree and Ph.D. in economics from Yale University, where he taught for several years before launching his career in health care policy. He participated in the writing of Medicare and Medicaid policy. Although he left his home state long ago for Vermont and is now retired in Georgia, he nonetheless retains vivid memories of his Mississippi roots.

Dr. Francisco says unequivocally that as a child in the 1930s he witnessed this diary in the hands of William Faulkner, who not only read the diary but “pored over” it “many times” during the course of approximately twenty years: “He always had a pad,” and “he was always scribbling.” Beginning in the early 1920s, Faulkner repeatedly visited his father in their family home, and he had access to the diary during those visits. Faulkner read and re-read the diary so often that he knew the contents of each volume well. On some occasions when he came to visit, Faulkner asked to see specific volumes: “Not that one,” he would say. “I want to see the fat one.” His friend Edgar would take out from the chest of drawers the ledger that Faulkner wanted to study. Faulkner would then turn to places in the diary that he especially wanted to review again. He knew exactly where to turn to find what he was looking for and often took notes.

Dr. Francisco—or “Little Eddie,” as Faulkner and family members called him—remembers that at times, Faulkner would react to what he was reading by speaking out loud, as if he were upset. Presumably he reached the point of hot debate with a long-dead diarist in reaction not to the weather that day or what type of plow he used but rather to the [End Page 2] diarist’s pro-slavery stance...