Editor’s note: This story was reported exclusively for HottyToddy.com by Larry Wells. Wells was married to WIlliam Faulkner’s niece Dean, who passed away in 2011. He is a frequent speaker and authority on the famous Oxford native.
On Nov. 18, I participated in a tribute to William Faulkner sponsored by the William Faulkner Foundation at Rennes 2 University, in Rennes, France.
The event featured an exhibition of Alain Desvergnes’ photographs of Oxford and New Orleans (1963-65) and a photo-concert presented by Paul Vancassel’s Photo à l’ouest: “The Deep South of Alain Desvergnes,” a slide show of 477 images accompanied by live music by the Lightnin’ Soulstars jazz trio.
In 1994 the William Faulkner Foundation was established at the Rennes 2 University by Professor Nicole Moulinoux and specialists from all over Europe and the United States. An important research center for Faulkner in Europe, it houses William Faulkner manuscripts, a rare books collection and concordances to Faulkner’s Works, a databank and CD-ROM information on Contemporary Southern Literature.
The Foundation promotes American Southern Studies by providing research on William Faulkner and access to his manuscripts and other works on Southern contemporary authors. The Foundation also organizes festivals, symposia, seminars, conferences and creative writing workshops, and sponsors cultural events and Franco-American exchanges.
I had attended Alain Desvergnes’ photographic exhibition at the Ole Miss Museum which was displayed from March – August, 2013, but now to see his spectacular images projected on a movie screen was like a kind of time travel. Here was Oxford and Ole Miss of the 1960s, faces of people I’d know — some of them long dead — and SEC football and beauty pageants and tailgating in the Grove.
Here, too, one sees a troubled Mississippi reeling from the Meredith crisis of 1962, all captured by Desvergnes’ camera while the Lightnin’ Soulstars played blues, New Orleans jazz, and a version of “Dixie” I’d never heard.
When my wife, Dean Faulkner, was a 19-year-old exchange student in Paris, she attended a performance of her uncle William’s play, “Requiem for a Nun.” As she entered the theatre, she was surprised to see a stage set recreating the facade and white columns of Rowan Oak, and it seemed that she was suddenly back in Oxford.
When the play ended the only way she could express her excitement was to go looking for Jean Paul Sartre’s house. By some miracle she found it and sat on his doorstep until dawn. I, too, came to France and found Mississippi onstage, front and center in all its complexity, pain and guilt, and the doorstep this evening belonged to Alain Desvergnes.
Following is my comments at the Nov. 18 opening ceremony of “William Faulkner: 50 Years After: Allow me one correction. My French hosts incorrectly introduced me as the” nephew” of William Faulkner, when in fact I am not officially his nephew-in-law considering that he was deceased when I married his niece, Dean.
“I am pleased to be a part of this occasion, and to view, once again, the work of my friend, Alain Desvergnes, which captures the spirit and essence of William Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County. My late wife Dean Faulkner was the daughter of William Faulkner’s youngest brother, also named Dean, who died in a plane crash before she was born. We met in graduate school at the University of Mississippi and were married for thirty-eight years. Her uncle William, whom she called “Pappy,” died in 1962, and though I never met him I knew him through his work, and biographies, and through Dean’s vivid memories.
“In behalf of Dean and her family, I would like to thank the University of Rennes Deux for honoring her uncle, who as a young man lived and worked in Paris. He wrote his aunt, “I have just finished the most beautiful story in the world…” France was a sanctuary for Faulkner, then, and it is indeed a sanctuary today, and if he were present I believe that he would say from his heart, Vive la France!”
Here is the link to the program: ftp://ftp.univ-rennes2.fr/incoming/VernissageDesvergnes_nov13.mp4
Photos courtesy of The William Faulkner Foundation at Rennes 2 University.