University of Virginia Library


The publication history of Willam Faulkner's The Wishing Tree is byzantine and highly curious. To be precise, it spans two months more than four decades from the date of its very private, officially recorded "publication" as a personally-typed, hand-bound, single copy Faulkner gave as a birthday gift on February 5, 1927,[1] to its initial magazine appearance as a


Page 331
short story, "The Wishing Tree," in the April 8, 1967 number of Saturday Evening Post vol. 240, pp. 48 ff., followed three days later by the Random House first printing as a self-contained novella, replete with elaborate illustrations commissioned for the simultaneously-issued trade and specially-bound and slip-cased, numbered edition entitled The Wishing Tree.[2]

According to definitions adopted and promulgated by the United States Copyright Office,[3] it was Faulkner himself who fixed the official dates of creation, and, by implication, publication of The Wishing Tree when he typed the phrase, "single mss. impression / oxford-mississippi-/5-february-i927", at the foot of the verso of the title page, then bound and presented his gift booklet to Lida Estelle Franklin's daughter, Victoria de Graffenried, presumably on that same day. Officially, this date satisfies the terms of the Copyright Office's statute which asserts that "a work is 'created' when it is fixed in a copy . . . for the first time." Understood is the fact that the text itself could not have sprung spontaneously and completely intact on February 5, 1927; rather, that its gestation and the revisionary process leading up to the typing and binding of this "single mss. impression," had seemingly culminated on that date.

Accepting the Copyright Office's statutory definition of "publication" as that date on which the first "distribution of . . . a work to the public by sale or other transfer of ownership . . ." is made, it would appear that February 5, 1927, also should be considered the "official" recorded date for The Wishing Tree. On the title page, below the title, THE WISHING TREE, Faulkner added the following first of two dedications: "For his dear friend / Victoria / on her eighth birthday / Bill he made / this Book". Victoria Franklin, who, with the marriage of her mother to William Faulkner on June 20, 1929, would become the author's step-daughter, had been born in Honolulu, Hawaii, on February 5, 1919. Implied in his dedication is the fact that Faulkner had made the book for the occasion of the little girl's birthday, not that he had actually "made" it on that day. Two additional assumptions as well may be extrapolated from Faulkner's wording: first, that on the actual day of the birthday, February 5, 1927, Faulkner would have physically given Victoria the book; and secondly, that in giving her the book, he would have fulfilled the dedication's promise to cause a transfer of ownership to be accomplished.

Ironically, six days later at the outside, possibly even before February 5, 1927, Faulkner would either repeat the magnanimous gesture he had made to Victoria Franklin, or make the first of what would become two such similar deeds, by personally delivering to the house of Dr. and Mrs. Calvin S. Brown, of Oxford, Mississippi, a differently typed copy of a story he had titled The Wishing-Tree.[4] Although it is impossible to date with absolute


Page 332
precision the exact day on which Faulkner brought to the Brown house his gift for daughter Margaret, we do know from the entry Dr. Brown made in his diary for February 11, 1927, that he "Read a story by William Faulkner called The Wishing-Tree which he brought over to Margaret."[5] Unfortunately, the usually fastidious diarist failed to record the actual day on which Faulkner dropped off the manuscript; Dr. Brown could have been coming to the task of reading the story days after, rather than on that very day the gift arrived. Nonetheless, the fact remains that Faulkner did present Margaret Brown, who was dying of an irreversible disease, with a gift of friendship and consolation, a newly-written fairy tale entitled The Wishing-Tree (note the hyphen), which he suggested he had composed especially for her. In the upper left portion of page "1," Faulkner had inscribed in ink what amounted to a dedication: "To Margaret Brown / from her friend, / Bill Faulkner."

Unquestionably, Faulkner's two separate gifts, The Wishing Tree and The Wishing-Tree, would go unremarked for thirty years; so too would the awareness, or even the slightest suspicion by any single party, other than Faulkner himself, that more than one copy of The Wishing Tree existed. Both recipients, and, later, Margaret Brown's surviving family members, would continue to believe that the copy each possessed not only had been written exclusively for her by William Faulkner, but that it was uniquely hers to do with as she might see fit.

A first printing of Intruder in the Dust [6] which Faulkner inscribed for Mrs. Maud Morrow Brown, Margaret Brown's mother, dated December 10, 1948, may document the day on which the author came to the Brown house in Oxford to borrow the typescript of The Wishing-Tree which in 1927 he had originally given to the now long-deceased Margaret. The inscribed copy of the recently published book may have been a token of politeness for a favor he anticipated rightly Mrs. Brown would grant him. Doubtless, Faulkner's reason for his request was neither exacted by Mrs. Brown, nor was it proffered by the borrower. In fact, Faulkner's purpose for taking the typescript home was to type from it two copies, ribbon and carbon, which he could give as Christmas gifts to the children of two intimate friends: Phil Stone and Ruth Ford. Presumably, when he finished his retyping chore, Faulkner delivered to the Stone residence the recently typed 44-page, bound ribbon copy


Page 333
he had made from the 47-page "Brown" carbon copy. On page "1," in the upper left hand corner, Faulkner had inscribed in ink: "For Philip Stone II, / from his god-father. / William Faulkner / Oxford. / Xmas 1948".[7] The corresponding unbound, carbon copy was mailed to its recipient. Its ink inscription read: "For Shelley Ford. / Xmas, 1948 / William Faulkner."[8]

Except for the conscious omission of the verse epigram that accompanied in slightly altered form[9] the copies Faulkner had made in 1927 for Victoria Franklin and for Margaret Brown, these two new copies resembled the original "Brown" text he had recently borrowed from Maud Morrow Brown. In fact, except for accidentals variants caused by typographical errors and not a half dozen minor alterations in diction, and with only one obviously mistaken transposition of two lines of dialogue with its concomitant misattribution of speaker in one of the two lines, the text of the Philip Stone and Shelley Ford copies remained true to the Margaret Brown copy.

Coincidentally, the previously mentioned copy of Intruder in the Dust may also contain information which documents the occasion on which Faulkner returned the borrowed typescript to Mrs. Brown. The first free front end-paper of the book not only contains the presentation inscription which Faulkner made "For Mrs. Calvin Brown / Bill Faulkner" with its accompanying provenance appearing on the title page, "William Faulkner / Oxford Miss / 10 Dec 1948", but bears beneath his first inscription, a second one to Mrs. Brown's visiting daughter, Faulkner's childhood friend, Edith Brown Douds: "For Edith / Xmas 1948 / Bill Faulkner." Quite possibly, on his appearance with the typescript, Mrs. Douds, a collector in her own right, could have requested of Faulkner his signature on the book he had left with her mother a few weeks earlier.

Neither Phil Stone nor Ruth Ford imagined that their child had received a Christmas gift from William Faulkner that was anything other than totally unique; certainly, they never questioned its originality. In fact, it was not until Maud Brown saw a copy of the Princeton University catalogue[10] high-lighting


Page 334
a copy of The Wishing-Tree among the entries on display for the vast Faulkner exhibition running from May 10 through August 30, 1957, that she even surmised what Faulkner's intention had been for borrowing her copy of The Wishing-Tree that Christmas of 1948. The exhibited copy was the one Faulkner had given to Philip Stone, and had been reluctantly loaned for the occasion by Phil Stone. On July 16, 1958, expressing consternation and hurt over having become aware of the existence of a "second" copy of her daughter's story, Mrs. Brown wrote a letter to Faulkner, imploring him to grant her permission to publish the story:

Dear Billy,

You told me, I know, that The Wishing Tree was mine to do with as I pleased. Through all these years I've cherished it as something personal because Margaret loved it so much. The manuscript is yellow and dogeared from her handling of it. I have never before considered publishing it but now I believe it should be published. Since a copy was on exhibit at Princeton it has become an object of public curiosity.[11]

After numerous unsuccessful attempts on Mrs. Brown's behalf by Professor James W. Silver to interest Life, then Random House, in publishing The Wishing-Tree, Faulkner himself finally learned of the escalating attempts and with provocation wrote to his publisher, Bennett Cerf, instructing him emphatically not to proceed:

Dear Bennett:

This story was written as a gesture of pity and compassion for Mrs. Brown's little girl who was dying of cancer.
I would be shocked if Mrs. Brown herself wanted to commercialize it. But it belongs to her. I will not forbid her to sell it, but I myself would never authorize it being published, unless perhaps, the proceeds should go to save other children from cancer.[12]

It is apparent that even at this late date Faulkner maintained his stance in having made for and given to Margaret Brown The Wishing-Tree: his gift had been given outright; it belonged to her, except for its copyright. Possibly at this juncture, Faulkner may have realized the potential embarrassment that could arise from publication of this story, especially were it to be discovered by his step-daughter, for whom, surely, he might have uneasily recalled, he also had made the story thirty-two years earlier.

During the Fifties, Professor James W. Silver had become friends with William Faulkner; much earlier, he had nurtured an intimate friendship with Faulkner's two step-children, Malcolm and Victoria. As coincidence would have it, Silver, who had already become quite familiar with the Brown typescript of The Wishing-Tree, was shocked to discover yet another copy of the


Page 335
story. In a letter to John Cook Wyllie, dated September 1, 1961, Silver described this and other relevant revelations:

For a long number of years I assumed that Mrs. Maude Morrow Brown (who has known "Billy" since the moment he was born) had the original copy. She had an afflicted daughter who died a couple of years after Faulkner brought to her the story ... Faulkner borrowed it from "Miss Maude" in 1949 [sic] and made another copy for Phil Stone's son...

Anyway, in May of this year, I was talking one night with Faulkner's stepdaughter, Victoria Franklin Fielden, who accidentally remarked that she had a copy of a short story written for her by Faulkner when he was courting her mother. This was the "Wishing Tree" and was apparently given to Mrs. Fielden on her ninth [sic] birthday, in 1927 ... Mrs. Fielden was shocked to discover that there was another copy in existence, and I think a bit hurt, for she had treasured this story as being hers alone. Of course, Mrs. Brown has felt about the same way, particularly after the death of Margaret and after Faulkner had told her that she could do with it as she pleased.[13]

Neither Professor Silver, nor Victoria Fielden, dared mention this seemingly blatant disparity to Faulkner, who died fourteen months later. Yet, in 1964, Mrs. Fielden, fearing either Mrs. Brown or Phil Stone might press the issue of publication, thereby jeopardizing, possibly squandering her own proprietary rights to "her" story, and without any opposition from her stepsister, Jill Faulkner Summers, Faulkner's literary executrix, filed for and obtained complete copyright authority to the story, The Wishing Tree. Three years later, Random House published what soon became apparent was not merely just another copy of the story, but a distinct version of The Wishing Tree: The "Victoria" version.