Set this house on fire, p.66
Set This House on Fire, p.66William Styron
It was while traveling as the manager of his high school football team that William Styron, top left in the photograph above, first saw the historical marker commemorating the 1831 Nat Turner slave rebellion that would ultimately inspire his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Confessions of Nat Turner.
Styron as a young Marine circa 1944. In training at Parris Island, South Carolina, Styron proved to be a subpar marksman because of a congenital cataract in his right eye, a condition he did not report when enlisting in the military. Determined to avoid getting discharged, the right-handed Styron learned to shoot his M1 rifle left-handed so he could use his left eye as his shooting eye.
In a January 24, 1951, letter to his father, Styron says of his recently completed first novel, “now … I can truthfully feel that I’ve not only written a novel, but a good novel, perhaps even a really fine novel … and I hope it gives some people a pleasure in inverse proportion to the pain it’s caused me in the writing.”
The first galleys of Lie Down in Darkness, 1951, signed by the author. Styron based the novel’s matriarch, Helen Loftis, on his stepmother, Elizabeth Buxton, whom he depicted as a self-righteous, angry, intolerant woman. Other characters in the novel were collages of people Styron had known in his youth.
In a letter to his father dated April 8, 1953, Styron says, “I think it will probably interest you further to know that I am going to get myself married to [a] girl named Rose … suffice it to say that she’s the girl from whose presence I get the greatest sense of well-being and fulfillment that I’ve ever had.”
The announcement of Styron’s wedding to Rose Burgunder at the Campidoglio in Rome on May 4, 1953. The couple spent the early days of their marriage in Ravello, above the Amalfi Coast of southern Italy, hiking, playing tennis, swimming in the ocean, reading, writing, and hosting friends.
The Styron and Peyton families at the Styron home in Connecticut in 1960. Styron named the character Peyton Loftis in Lie Down in Darkness after these close family friends. In front are Thomas Styron, William Styron, Susanna Styron, and Paola Styron. Rose Styron stands behind William on the left.
Styron later in life, when he spent much time outdoors on long walks with Rose or his dogs. His health deteriorated gradually until his death in 2006.
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
copyright © 1960 by William Styron
copyright © renewed 2010 by the Estate of William Styron
All photographs courtesy of the Duke University Archives, except photograph of Styron in later years, courtesy of Susanna Styron, and photographs of Styron’s childhood house and the Hilton Village Movie Theater, both © 2010 Open Road Integrated Media, LLC.
Published in 2010 by Open Road Integrated Media, Inc.
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