Tebbetts’ Faulkner course steps into novels

By Samantha Jones

Dr. Terrell Tebbetts became a Faulkner scholar early in his career, having taught Absalom, Absalom! in a basic literature course. The novel piqued his interest in the Southern writer, and Tebbetts has studied Faulkner extensively ever since.

He offers a 400-level literature course in Faulkner every other year, this spring semester being one of those years. In the course, Tebbetts assigns four major novels to his students: The Sound and the Fury, Light in August, Absalom, Absalom!, and Sanctuary. But he doesn’t want his students to simply read the novels. Taking the class to Faulkner’s hometown – Oxford, Miss. – Tebbetts hopes to help his students “step into” the novels.

The Faulkner class took the trip April 5, visiting various sites in Faulkner’s work. Tebbetts said his favorite site – Faulkner’s home – is also the most major one, providing insight into the writer’s mind and, in turn, the motivations of his characters.

Located on a sprawling estate, the home features a room in which Faulkner outlined his last major novel on the wall. Senior Joey Gartin said this was his favorite part of the home, calling it “so cool” to see “what was going through Faulkner’s mind.”

“The trip was a great experience,” Gartin said. “Only Dr. Tebbetts can make a trip for a class be both educational and a lot of fun at the same time.” Gartin praised the time spent on the square, in which the class visited a local bookstore and Ajax, a famous Southern eatery.

Tebbetts said he began the trip with lunch at Ajax to allow the class to experience the Faulkner South with its “taste buds.”
“This is what Dilsey would have cooked in The Sound and the Fury,” Tebbetts said. “It kind of makes the literature come alive.”

Junior Kelby Newcomb enjoyed the visit to Faulkner’s home as well, describing the importance of the nature surrounding the home. “You never really know what the house looked like back then, but Faulkner definitely looked out at these trees when he was writing his novels,” Newcomb said. “I think that’s so fascinating.”

Tebbetts also took students to Faulkner’s gravesite, as well as the graves of his family and his “Mammy Callie.”

Because he teaches American Literature courses, Tebbetts does not get the opportunity to take students on Nichols trips. “But there are lots of places in the U.S. to visit,” he said, having taken students to Oxford, Miss. for nearly 30 years now. He also takes his American Literature course to the Hemingway House each year, hoping to illuminate Hemingway’s work just as visiting Faulkner’s hometown reveals more about the Southern writer’s life and work.

Tebbetts said that the best part of the trip is seeing how “humble” Faulkner was. “He wasn’t a man who liked showing off,” Tebbetts explained. “Even after he won the Nobel Prize in literature, he lived in a home without air conditioning.” 

Overall, Tebbetts enjoyed the trip as much as his students. “It was a great trip. It was great fun,” he said.