William Faulkner, Favorite Son, Etc

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), March 8, 1997 | Go to article overview

William Faulkner, Favorite Son, Etc


"He would pretend to be disgusted with the whole thing, but privately he'd be pleased." So says historian Shelby Foote of what might have been William Faulkner's reaction to the brouhaha surrounding the memorial statue soon to be set up in his home town of Oxford, Miss.

The controversy over the statue is partly a response by the Faulkner family to the notion that it might be used to encourage some sort of Faulkner tourism industry. Mr. Faulkner was himself, as his daughter and nephew have pointed out, a very private person - and would consider tourism centered around his home and statue the height of Snopesism. (The Snopeses were the white trash characters Mr. Faulkner created to embody vulgarity, dishonesty and greed.)

And then there was the problem of the magnolia tree. It turned out that the mayor of Oxford - and other statue boosters - decided the perfect place for the statue would be precisely where one of two magnolia trees graced the town square. To the outrage of Oxford's environmentalists, the mayor went ahead one night and simply had the tree cut down.

Somehow, though the site has not been finally decided, the whole project is proceeding, and the statue is due to be unveiled in September. As Mr. Foote, who came to know the author well in his last years, put it, "I'm against the cutting of trees, but I think we can sacrifice one magnolia for William Faulkner. All this controversy will just add to the festivities."

And as to the tourism problem, most likely there's isn't too much to worry about on that front. Despite Mr. Faulkner's literary genius and Nobel literature prize - or perhaps because of those things - he's no Elvis. And Oxford, Miss. isn't exactly Gracelend, either.

* DAVE CLARKE'S ILLNESS: D.C. citizens of every political persuasion have been worrying about Council Chairman Dave Clarke's health for moe than two months now.

Mr. Clarke's troubles began - or at least began to be publicly noticeable - late last year, with emotional outbursts, confusion and a shuffling gait. Shortly after the council meeting where he delivered a rambling diatribe against Mayor Barry, Mr. Clarke checked into Georgetown Hospital for testing; later, he was moved to Johns Hopkins for further testing.

Now The Washington Post has reported that the chairman is suffering from a degenerative neurological disease - similar to Lou Gehrig's disease - and can barely speak. Mr. Clarke's spokesman, Bob Hainey, refused to confirm The Post story; but he didn't deny it either. And though Mr. Hainey, like Mr. Clarke's family, continues to be reticent about his illness, a two-month hospital stay clearly indicates something very serious.

Mr. Clarke is an elected official with a job to do. One can surely sympathize with his family's and friends' desire to maintain his privacy, but a clear explanation of what ails Mr. Clarke and where he stands health-wise is long overdue.

* LIFE AND ART: People who have met David Helfgott and seen him in concert after watching the movie "Shine," the smash-hit film version of his life that has garnered numerous Academy Award nominations, are wondering: Is he a naive and delicate genius fighting his way back to sanity and his musical career? Or is he a sick man, mentally and musically incapacitated, being exploited by his film biographer?

First of all, it turns out that much of the biographical detail contained in the film "Shine" -which purports to be the story of his life - is false. …

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