From the New York Times:
The climactic moment in William Faulkner’s 1942 novel “Go Down, Moses” comes when Isaac McCaslin finally decides to open his grandfather’s leather farm ledgers with their “scarred and cracked backs” and “yellowed pages scrawled in fading ink” — proof of his family’s slave-owning past. Now, what appears to be the document on which Faulkner modeled that ledger as well as the source for myriad names, incidents and details that populate his fictionalized Yoknapatawpha County has been discovered.
The original manuscript, a diary from the mid-1800s, was written by Francis Terry Leak, a wealthy plantation owner in Mississippi whose great-grandson Edgar Wiggin Francisco Jr. was a friend of Faulkner’s since childhood. Mr. Francisco’s son, Edgar Wiggin Francisco III, now 79, recalls the writer’s frequent visits to the family homestead in Holly Springs, Miss., throughout the 1930s, saying Faulkner was fascinated with the diary’s several volumes. Mr. Francisco said he saw them in Faulker’s hands and remembers that he “was always taking copious notes.”
I think it’s one of the most sensational literary discoveries of recent decades,” said John Lowe, an English professor at Louisiana State University who is writing a book on Faulkner. He was one of a handful of experts who met Dr. Francisco at the hand-hewn log house in Holly Springs last month. There they saw the windowpane where a cousin, Ludie Baugh, etched the letters L-U-D-I-E into the glass while watching Confederate soldiers march by — a scene that appears in several Faulkner works.
During the gathering Dr. Francisco, known in childhood as Little Eddie, described how Faulkner stood in front of that window and said, “ ‘She’s still here,’ like she was a ghost,” Professor Lowe recalled.
Dr. Francisco, speaking by telephone from his home in Atlanta, remembered hearing Faulkner rant as he read Leak’s pro-slavery and pro-Confederacy views: “Faulkner became very angry. He would curse the man and take notes and curse the man and take more notes.”
Sally Wolff-King, a scholar of Southern literature at Emory University who uncovered the connection between the author and the journal, called it “a once-in-a-lifetime literary find.”
“The diary and a number of family stories seem to have provided the philosophical and thematic power for some of his major works,” she added.
Names of slaves owned by Leak — Caruthers, Moses, Isaac, Sam, Toney, Mollie, Edmund and Worsham — all appear in some form in “Go Down, Moses.” Other recorded names, like Candis (Candace in the book) and Ben, show up in “The Sound and The Fury” (1929) while Old Rose, Henry, Ellen and Milly are characters in “Absalom, Absalom!” (1936). Charles Bonner, a well-known Civil War physician mentioned in the diary, would also seem to be the namesake of Charles Bon in “Absalom.”
Scholars found Faulkner’s decision to give his white characters the names of slaves particularly arresting. Professor Wolff-King said she believes he was “trying to recreate the slaves lives and give them a voice.”