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Atlanta resident reveals diary that inspired famous American author

William Faulkner was a close friend of the Francisco family and spent hours studying Leak's diary
William Faulkner was a close friend of the Francisco family and spent hours studying Leak's diary
Associated Press

It appears that there could be more fact than fiction in American writer William Faulkner's classic literary tales. A recent discovery made by Emory University professor Sally Wolff-King determined a correlation between a diary from the mid-1800s and several of Faulkner's most famous works.

Wolff-King has been studying William Faulkner for the past 30 years and contacted fellow Emory professor Edgar Wiggin Francisco III (aged 79) after discovering his family's close connection with the author. Dr. Francisco, whose father was a childhood friend of Faulkner's, revealed to Wolff-King the diary of his great-great-grandfather Francis Terry Leak, a Mississippi plantation owner.

The diary proved to influence more than just Go Down, Moses as originally thought by Wolff-King. The professor discovered that names of recorded slaves and others served as names of several characters in Faulkner's fictional Yoknapatawpha County. Caruthers, Moses, Mollie, Candis (Candace in The Sound and the Fury), Ben, and even the famous physician Charles Bonner (Charles Bon in Absalom! Absalom!) were all individuals mentioned in Leak's journal and used by Faulkner.

It appears that the author also used conversations with Dr. Francisco's father as the basis for conversations between characters and developed famous images like the ticking of Quentin's watch in The Sound and the Fury and the description of Thomas Sutpen's plantation in Absalom! Absalom! from the information provided in the diary.

As a young boy, Dr. Francisco recalls seeing the famous author reading the manuscript and frantically copying down information. He even remembers Faulkner's fascination with a certain windowpane in the family's Holly Springs, Mississippi, home where a cousin etched his name into the wood while watching marching confederate soldiers. This carving would inspire many scenes throughout Faulkner's works.

The diary was donated to the University of North Carolina in 1946 and a typescript copy given to the Francisco family. The original diary has since been used by scholars to study southern plantation life, but no one has made the correlation between its pages and Faulkner until recently.

Many scholars say the identification of Leak's journal as Faulkner's muse is an incredible find. John Lowe, an English professor at Louisiana State University who is also writing a book on Faulkner, called it "one of the most sensational literary discoveries of recent decades."

Sally Wolff-King's book on Faulkner (Ledgers of History: William Faulkner, an Almost Forgotten Friendship, and an Antebellum Diary) is due out in June of 2010 from Louisiana State University Press. A preview of her findings can be found in the fall 2009 issue of The Southern Literary Journal.

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