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Editor’s Note What follows is a scholarly exchange centered on Judith L. Sensibar’s Faulkner and Love: The Women Who Shaped His Art, A Biography, which offers a revisionist account of Caroline “Callie” Barr as a woman who was remarkable in her own right but also for the indelible marks that her influence left on the life and work of William Faulkner. In “Looking for Callie Barr,” Jack D. Elliott, Jr., challenges key components of Sensibar’s narrative. Noel Polk, the previous editor, designated Elliott’s article for inclusion in this special issue on Faulkner. When I read the article, I felt that it called for a response; an external reader expressed the same sentiment without any prompting on my part. With the intention to spark a constructive dialogue, I issued an invitation to Sensibar, who delivered the response that follows “Looking for Callie Barr.” As this exchange makes clear, Sensibar and Elliott sharply disagree on which methods and sources are the most reliable for seeking insights into the subject of their inquiries, and they have different stories to tell on the basis of the conclusions they have drawn from the evidence. But in airing their differences, these scholars invite us to think about how “looking for Callie Barr,” like all forays into past lives, reveals the illuminating possibilities and inherent limitations of biographical and historical understanding. JACK D. ELLIOTT, JR. Mississippi State University - Meridian Looking for Callie Barr CALLIE BARR, THE BLACK WOMAN WHO RAISED MURRY AND MAUD Falkner’s four boys, is a familiar figure to those conversant with the life of William Faulkner. In most Faulkner biographies the story is essentially the same and to a large degree based on the monumental biography by Joseph Blotner, who based his version of things on the recollections of Faulkner’s brothers. Barr was born a slave in the vicinity of Lafayette County, Mississippi, and was owned by a Barr, from whom she derived her name. Sometime following the 1902 arrival of the Falkners in Oxford, she entered their employ as a nursemaid to the young sons and over the years virtually became a member of the family. She spent her last few years living in a cabin behind Rowan Oak, where she died in 1940 and was buried under a stone inscribed Callie Barr Clark 1840-1940 “Mammy” Her white children bless her. Judith Sensibar’s Faulkner and Love: The Women Who Shaped His Art, A Biography examines the lives of three women closely associated with Faulkner: his mother, his wife, and Callie Barr. Early on she states her agenda: “Rewriting Faulkner’s life by radically altering its context, as I have, by writing in his life-long relations with this community of three generations of black and white women, alters the ways we read his art” (xvii). Minrose Gwin calls this book “a revisionist, paradigm-shifting biography,” a “remarkable, original work of scholarship . . . [based in] primary documents and oral histories” (135). As part of her agenda, Sensibar re-examines the life of Callie Barr. On first reading, her depiction of Callie Barr appears to provide considerable new information on her life and relationship to Faulkner. Early in her discussion of Barr, Sensibar notes that while “the facts remain sparse and fragmentary . . . . I have had to speculate more than I would have liked” (20). This statement seems intended to provide justification for 424 Jack D. Elliott, Jr. emphasizing oral sources and other reminiscences (xv-xvii). These sources consist of written recollections by Faulkner’s stepson, Malcolm Franklin, as well as interviews with Faulkner’s daughter, Jill Faulkner Summers, and with Barr’s relatives. However, questions soon arise regarding the account because of Sensibar’s use of relatively late sources for relatively early history. In his memoir, Bitterweeds, Malcolm Franklin claims that Barr originated not near Oxford, as the standard narrative has it, but in the South Carolina Low Country (109; Sensibar 37). After the Civil War, in an odyssey filled with trials and adventures, Barr wandered westward to Arkansas, then after a few years crossed the Mississippi River and wandered back eastward, eventually settling in Tippah County, Mississippi, where she came into the employ of the Falkner family...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2689-517X
Print ISSN
0026-637X
Pages
pp. 423-435
Launched on MUSE
2020-02-27
Open Access
No
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