Melisandre Backus Stevens

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Melisandre Backus Stevens
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Stevens, Melisandre Stevens
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Although through most of the 1930s and 1940s Gavin Stevens looks like a confirmed bachelor, in four late fictions Faulkner decided to add love and marriage to his biography. The woman he marries was born Melisandre Backus, the descendant of the Melisandre who married a Backus in the middle of the Civil War ("My Grandmother Millard") and more immediately the only child of a Yoknapatawpha plantation owner. By the time she marries Gavin, she is the widow of a New Orleans gangster and the mother of two children. When she first appears in "Knight's Gambit" she is "the softly fading still softly pretty woman in the late thirties" (148); to Gavin, who turns out to have been the unknown local man to whom she had been mysteriously engaged at sixteen, she has "been created for simple love and grief" (156). Curiously, even after she and Gavin are married, the story never gives her any name but that of her first husband - she is "Mrs. Harriss." Nor is she named when she briefly appears in "By the People," except as the "new aunt" of Charles Mallison (88). In both The Town and The Mansion, however, she is identified as Melisandre Backus, a childhood friend of Gavin's sister Maggie. For most of her adult life she traveled in Europe, and the lives she led in Yoknapatawpha - as girl, wife, widow and wife again - are barely discussed.