Georgia literary magazine features 1940 letter by William Faulk

Sunday, December 16, 2001

ATLANTA -- William Faulkner learned to tell the truth and care for the weak from Caroline Barr, the black woman who raised him and his brothers in Oxford, Miss.

An emotional, six-page typed letter in which Faulkner recounted the relationship has been published for the first time in the latest edition of the literary quarterly, The Georgia Review.

"She remained one of my earliest recollections, not alone as a person, but as a court of authority for my conduct and security for my physical well-being and of an active and constant affection and love," he wrote.

The letter was sent to Methodist Bishop Robert Jones of Columbus, Ohio, who was planning to write a book about Southern black women who worked as nannies and raised white children. It was written in 1940, six weeks after Barr died at age 100.

Faulkner memorialized her in his novel "Go Down Moses" as Mollie Beauchamp and as Dilsey Gibson in "The Sound and the Fury."

"It's really possible Faulkner was writing this letter and remembering fully what Miss Barr was like," said Tom McHaney, a professor of Southern literature at Georgia State University.

"She's a remarkable figure in his life. It's almost impossible to calculate how much she represents to him."

Aunt Callie, as Faulkner called her, taught him "to tell the truth, to refrain from waste, to be considerate of the weak and respectful toward age," he wrote in the letter.

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