The Southern plantation is a potent place in the American mind. From Margaret Mitchell’s Tara to Faulkner’s Sutpen’s Hundred and Tennessee Williams’s Belle Rive, antebellum Greek Revival mansions are the focus or backdrop of epic, lavish, not to mention macabre (Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte) stories in American fiction, drama, and film.
No big surprise then that when Knopf first published Alabama writer Lella Warren’s 1940 historical novel Foundation Stone about a family of early Alabama settlers, the jacket designers illustrated the book with a hoop-skirted belle languidly floating on the twilight lawn of a white, Southern manse (see left). Just smell the jasmine and mint juleps! This handsome jacket helped propel the book to a good, long run on the best-seller lists of the day alongside Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls.
Foundation Stone came to UAP some years ago, and our paperback edition has a fine introduction by Nancy Anderson of Auburn University at Montgomery about the enduring legacy of both Warren and Foundation Stone. This winter we’re in the process of giving the jacket a makeover. “Retro” designs are back in style, so I thought I’d write Knopf to see if they would let us reuse the 1940 cover. Before I did, I phoned UA’s Hoole Special Collections to ask if they had a copy on hand, whose cover we could scan for that purpose.
They do have a cover, but there was one important snag. Our friends at Hoole said that not only did Warren’s Whetstones not live in a mansion in a locust grove, but that the Alabama life described in the book was miles away from a genteel idyll.
What I needed to find, they said, was the image of a classic “I-house,” a style of house typical across many American states. In Alabama, many settlers constructed rough dogtrot houses, and sometimes a later generation converted the dogtrot house into an I-house by covering it in clapboards and putting on additions.
With that in mind, I went looking for images of I-houses in Alabama. The Library of Congress’s extensive catalog of photographs included this fine specimen of a classic I-house located in Dallas County, Alabama. This is much more like what Warren’s scrappy Whetstones inhabited. Our designers are now creating a new cover, one that, we hope, will for the first time authentically reflect the setting of Warren’s seventy-five-year-old novel.