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JUDITH L. SENSIBAR Arizona State University Solicited Response to “Looking for Callie Barr” by Jack D. Elliott, Jr. “I have written a wicked book, and feel spotless as the lamb.” —Melville to Hawthorne, November 1851 I’M GLAD JACK ELLIOTT HAS READ MY MOST RECENT BOOK, Faulkner and Love: The Women Who Shaped His Art, A Biography (Yale UP 2009, 2010). However, he does not begin to engage its subject. This is the crucial role that Faulkner’s almost life-long relationships with Caroline Barr, Maud Falkner, and Estelle Oldham Faulkner played in the development, flowering, and sustaining of his imaginative vision and how such knowledge alters the ways we read Faulkner’s work. In fact, Elliott’s essay never mentions Faulkner’s great art. Since he has not engaged with Faulkner and Love, he has also not given adequate and balanced consideration to Caroline Barr, the remarkable African American woman who began caring for Faulkner when he was an infant and who subsequently cared for Faulkner’s daughter,Jill,untilshewasalmostseven.1 Indeed, despite his title,Elliott was not “Looking for Callie Barr” at all. His essay makes clear that he’d found her long ago in the “Mammy/Jezebel” myths of Southern black/whiterelationsenshrinedinJosephBlotner’sauthorizedbiography (1974, 1984). This Callie Barr was simultaneously the asexual yet titillating Mammy/Jezebel stereotype re-inscribed in almost all biographies since Blotner’s. In Faulkner and Love, I made a conscious effort to put this mythical figure fully and finally to rest. In the early 1980s I began the extensive historical research on all three women that took nearly two decades to complete (Faulkner and Love, “Methodology” xv-xvii). Unlike Elliott, I did look for and succeeded in finding and then writing into history the feisty, complicated, and intelligent African American woman who was invisible in that racist caricature. Elliott’s heavy reliance on inconclusive Census data and his dismissal of interview evidence from Callie Barr’s 1 Not “only six” as Elliott would have it. See also the Barr and Faulkner genealogies (Faulkner and Love 26-27, 146-47). 438 Judith L. Sensibar family and from Faulkner family members that does not conform to “standard accounts” has the effect of perpetuating the old Callie Barr myth (“Looking” 424). It suggests that the fabrications of myth are infinitely preferable to the verifiable facts, facts that led me to a different biographical narrative of Caroline Barr. This narrative supports one of the four intertwined biographies in Faulkner and Love. It also actually explains the indispensable role she played in Faulkner’s emotional and aesthetic development, and it reveals the prominent and heart-breaking place she held in his mature imaginative vision. My new readings of Absalom, Absalom!, Go Down, Moses, and “Mississippi,” for example, bear this out (Chapters 5, 6, 12, and throughout). What might explain Elliott’s resistance to the weight of evidence that can be corroborated? Perhaps his resistance is primarily with my having found such evidence. My research took me to places and people assumed to be “off-limits” or whose long silenced voices had been historically denied status as “evidence.” These included three generations of Callie Barr’s own family, the community of black men and women with whom she lived and moved. Nor, Elliott’s essay implies, was I to print those dissident white Faulkner voices—Faulkner’s daughter Jill, step-son Malcolm, and even William Faulkner’s own voice—when they contradicted those on whose “authority” the myth of Callie Barr reposes, notably Faulkner’s brothers on whose accounts Joseph Blotner’s “monumentalbiography”rests,alongwiththemany“standardaccounts” that followed (“Looking” 423, 424). Elliott, too, espouses this account, many details of which are easily refuted. I will cite but one example that refutes Elliott’s “Thesis Four” (“Looking” 431). In my biography I write that Faulkner confirms what Jill and Malcolm heard from Callie Barr—that she came from Ripley to Oxford with the Falkners.2 Even more striking, Faulkner claims an infant’s intimacy with Callie Barr: “. . . she did not enter [the Falkner] household until my father’s children began to arrive. From then on she was present day and night in the house with us while I and my...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2689-517X
Print ISSN
0026-637X
Pages
pp. 437-441
Launched on MUSE
2020-02-27
Open Access
No
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