According to Fred Smith, appraiser for Mississippi State University’s archives and former proprietor of Choctaw Books in Jackson, “When it comes to the ‘Holy Grail’ of Mississippi book collecting, Faulkner’s The Marble Faun is it.”
“For one thing, he’s the most important literary figure this state has ever produced, and this book of poems is his first work,” Smith explained. “Faulkner thought he wanted to be a poet, and Phil Stone had it printed or helped him to get it printed. Stone bought many of the unsold copies and stored them in the attic at his home in Oxford, but they were destroyed when the house burned. I’ve only had one copy in my 31 years in business, and it wasn’t in good shape; the spine was really fragile, and the binding had come off. Whatever the print run was, and I’m sure it wasn’t big, a lot of the original copies didn’t survive.”
“Signed copies are worth tens of thousands of dollars,” Smith said. “The absolute best copy came up for sale at Christie’s, a copy he had inscribed to his mother and father. Ole Miss has a couple of copies, and someone donated one to Mississippi College a few years ago. But that book is one thing that I’ve kept searching for all these years. I did buy one from a lady in Oxford some twenty years ago, but because of its poor condition it wasn’t worth a lot then. I think I sold it for $750, but if I had one to resell now, it would bring ten times that much, probably up to ten thousand, because there just aren’t any around.”
The Christie’s first edition of Faulkner’s The Marble Faun (Four Seas Press: Boston, 1924) sold for $95,600 in October, 2002. In the lot description, Christie’s adds:
“Four Seas agreed to issue Faulkner’s collection of poems in 1923, provided he pay for the manufacturing costs (their standard arrangement). They offered him a royalty arrangement, but Faulkner declined to proceed, at the time not having enough money to carry the costs. Within six months, though, he’d received the encouragement and financial support of Phil Stone and the twenty-seven year old Faulkner contracted for the printing of 500 copies of The Marble Faun. The book sold poorly and quickly was remaindered. No records survive detailing the number of copies Four Seas actually sold prior to disposing the stock on the remainder market, but an early estimate suggested 100 copies. William Boozer, in William Faulkner’s First Book: The Marble Faun (Memphis, 1975), specifically located 56 copies. Boozer considered the existence of other floating copies for a total of near 70, and has since found more, but his total is still short of the 100 copies initially assumed.”
Best known for her work The American Way of Death, Jessica Mitford was a British aristocrat, writer and political activist who came to Mississippi in 1951 to publicize the unjust execution of Willie McGee, a black man from Laurel who was sentenced to death in 1945 for the rape of Willette Hawkins, a white housewife. McGee’s legal case became a cause célèbre. William Faulkner wrote a letter insisting the case against McGee was unproven, and Mitford sought him out in her effort to rally support against a travesty of justice that many find has striking similarities to the trial Harper Lee wrote about in To Kill a Mockingbird nine years later. This excerpt is from Mitford’s memoir A Fine Old Conflict.
‘We had already overstayed our time in Mississippi. The four weeks allotted for the trip stretched into five, as we did not wish it to appear we had been chased out by the Jackson Daily News. But we decided we could not leave the state without attempting to see Mississippi’s most (indeed its only) illustrious resident, William Faulkner. The reserves having drifted back to their respective homes, it was the original four of us who drove down to Oxford. We asked a gangling, snaggle-toothed white boy for directions to Faulkner’s house. “Down the road a piece, past the weepin’ willa tree,” was his response, which I took as augury of our arrival in authentic Faulkner country. We turned through a cast-iron gate into a long avenue of desiccated trees leading to a large, run-down plantation-style house, its antebellum pillars covered with grayish moss. Through the window we saw Faulkner, a small man in a brown velvet smoking jacket, pacing up and down, apparently dictating to a secretary. We gingerly approached and rang the front doorbell. Faulkner himself came to the door, and when we explained the reason for our visit, greeted us most cordially, invited us in, and held forth on the McGee case for a good two hours. Faulkner spoke much as he wrote, in convoluted paragraphs with a sort of murky eloquence. I was desperately trying to take down everything he said in my notebook, and frequently got lost as he expatiated on his favorite themes: sex, race, and violence.
The Willie McGee case, compounded of all three, was a subject he seemed to savor with much relish; it could have been the central episode in one of his short stories. Later it was my job to edit down his rambling monologue as a brief press release to be issued by our national office. He said the McGee case was an outrage and it was good we had come. He cautioned us that many people down here don’t pay much attention to law and justice, don’t go by the facts. He said in this case they are giving obeisance to a fetish of long standing. He expressed fear for McGee’s safety in jail. When we left he wished us good luck. William Patterson was jubilant when I telephoned to tell him of our interview with Faulkner. It was a major break- through, he said. The release would certainly be picked up by the wire services and flashed around the world! But he insisted we show it to Faulkner and ask him to initial it, for fear that pressure from his Mississippi compatriots might later induce him to repudiate it. This time I drove alone past the weepin’ willa tree to find Faulkner in dungarees and hip boots, up to his knees in dank manure, working alongside one of his black farmhands. I showed him the release and explained why I had come: “Mr. Patterson thought I should ask you to sign this, for fear you might later repudiate it.” He read it through, initialed it, and as he handed it back murmured softly, as though speaking to himself, “I think McGee and the woman should both be destroyed.” “Oh don’t let’s put that in,” said I, and clutching the precious document made a dash for my car. One can only conclude that Faulkner gave expression, in his own distinctive voice, to the deep-seated schizophrenia then endemic among white liberals and racial moderates of the region.’
“Jack,” I said, “I’ve been reading this article about juke joints . . . “
“You shouldn’t read things like that,” he said, turning his head from a football game to growl at me. “It always gets me in trouble.”
Jack is my first cousin, a really great guy and the only friend I have in the family. We’ve seen one another through thick and thin. I helped him back up on his feet out of a really bad marriage, and he rescued me from a crack house in Atlanta. We take care of each other, Jack and I do, but lately he’s been feeling like he’s doing all the work, which isn’t fair of him at all. For one thing, I’m always the designated driver, and if it weren’t for me, his jeans would look like denim accordions.
“What’s that place you always go to? ‘Hippy Dick’s’?
I could hear Jack groan all the way in the kitchen. “No!” he said.
“You said it had a juke box?”
“It doesn’t have any ABBA on it!”
“You can’t play mahjong on a pool table!”
“Pickled eggs, pigs’ feet and jerky?”
“Jack,” I said, “Be fair.
I heard a long sigh. “What are you wearing?” he asked.
“I thought khakis and a button-up Oxford, hushpuppies . . .”
Jack held his hand up. “If you go in there looking like a reject from Rush Week at Ole Miss, you’re going to end up in the Yalobusha River with a trot line tied around your feet.”
So I left the house wearing jeans, flannel, a pair of Jack’s old boots and a cap that said “Embry’s Bait Shop” with a Marine insignia. At least he let me pick out which of his flannel shirts to wear.
“Lucky for you pink don’t look good on me,” he said. Jack’s got a sharp sense of humor.
Hippy Dick’s was on the side of a long winding road that twisted through the backwaters of a nearby reservoir. It had big a gravel parking lot that Jack said the county kept up because Dick was the supervisor’s second cousin. It had a neon sign on top that said DICKS and a bait shop on the side. The bar had two television screens, a large one near the back wall, which seemed continually tuned to ESPN, the other, smaller one, set up near one end of the bar tuned to “E!” with a bucket of iced beer on a towel in front of it. The jukebox was blaring out Faith Hill. It was crowded, about forty people. You had the sports guys crowded around a big screen television, about a dozen guys playing pool and a little more than that bellied up to the bar.
Jack ordered our drinks: a Miller Lite for him, an O’Doul’s for me. “He’s driving,” Jack explained to the bartender, a handsome redhead with a spade beard.
“Is this your date?” he asked Jack with a wink.
“Rick, this is my cousin Andy,” Jack said. Rick reached a muscular arm over the bar, smiled and shook my hand. I couldn’t help but giggle. Jack kicked me in the knee and dragged me over to a table.
“You’re going to get my ass kicked if you don’t straighten up. Why don’t you sit here and try not to fluff your hair while I play a game of pool?”
“Now I’m going to have to go to the men’s room to look at my hair.”
“Make sure that’s all you look at,” he said.
Having checked in the rear view mirror before I got out of the car, I knew my hair looked fine, so I wandered over to the jukebox. Sure enough, there wasn’t any ABBA, but a couple of tunes did stand out: “YMCA”, “Don’t You Want Me, Baby?” and two tunes by Madonna. I saw Jack looking at me from the corner of my eye, played it safe and picked out Reba. I was just straightening up when this woman at the bar said, “Yeah, he gave me a little rock and a little cock!”
Naturally, I froze, but nobody else seemed to notice. I turned to look at her. She was in her mid-30s, brunette, big tits, freckled cleavage. I turned to Jack, who shrugged and sank the three ball in a side pocket.
“Hey, you at the jukebox!” she said. “Come here!”
Jack miscued and stood up, glaring at me. I just shrugged at him, turned to the lady at the bar, smiled and walked up to her.
“Are you Jack’s cousin?”
“Yes, I am,” I said. “His momma is my daddy’s big sister.”
“Well, y’all sure do look alike,” she said. “Just handsome as you can be.” She laid her hand on my arm. “I just want you to know that song you played is my favorite one in the world.”
“Yes, honey. And do you know why?”
“Because my husband had a little cock, and he gave me a little rock.”
“That would piss anybody off,” I said.
I heard someone behind me choke on a beer, but I paid no attention, went to the other end of the bar and asked for a refill. Rick obliged with a stunning smile, but before I could thank him, a guy on a stool next to me poked me in the ribs.
I turned and found myself facing a thin, scruffy blond wearing a Saints jersey. “I like them jeans you got on,” he said. “What size you wear?”
“Uh, on a good day, a 32,” I said.
“I used to be fat, too,” he said, and before I could protest, he said, “But I got on that Atkins diet. You know, the one that Ozzie’s wife is always doin’ ads for.”
“I’m not fat!”
“Oh, I didn’t think I was either, but you got this here,” and he patted my stomach and started rubbing on it. “Nice little beer belly …”
He let his hand linger a little too long, and I got to feeling a little uncomfortable. “Yeah, well, that’s mostly pizza,” I said, backing away.
“Hey, I like pizza, too, but I really like them bratwursts,” he said, with what can only be interpreted as a leer.
“Andy!” Jack’s voice rang across the bar. “You’re up!”
I certainly was. “Be right there!” I said over my shoulder. “I’ve got to go,” I said to the thin guy.
“Maybe you can come over for a brat sometime,” he said.
Jack soon decided it was time to go. He’d lost forty bucks at pool and the lady who liked “Little Rock” had her hand on his arm. I was ready to go myself. As we were driving off, Jack asked me if I had a good time.
“I sure did,” I said. “Rick gave me his phone number.”