House of Percy; Honor, Melancholy and Imagination in a Southern Family / Edition 1by Bertram Wyatt-Brown
Pub. Date: 11/28/1996
Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
The novels of Walker PercyThe Moviegoer, Lancelot, The Second Coming, and The Thanatos Syndrome to name a fewhave left a permanent mark on twentieth-century Southern fiction; yet the history of the Percy family in America matches anything, perhaps, that he could have created. Two centuries of wealth, literary accomplishment, political leadership,
The novels of Walker PercyThe Moviegoer, Lancelot, The Second Coming, and The Thanatos Syndrome to name a fewhave left a permanent mark on twentieth-century Southern fiction; yet the history of the Percy family in America matches anything, perhaps, that he could have created. Two centuries of wealth, literary accomplishment, political leadership, depression, and sometimes suicide established a fascinating legacy that lies behind Walker Percy's acclaimed prose and profound insight into the human condition.
In The House of Percy, Bertram Wyatt-Brown masterfully interprets the life of this gifted family, drawing out the twin themes of an inherited inclination to despondency and an abiding sense of honor. The Percy family roots in Mississippi and Louisiana go back to "Don Carlos" Percy, an eighteenth-century soldier of fortune who amassed a large estate but fell victim to mental disorder and suicide. Wyatt-Brown traces the Percys through the slaveholding heyday of antebellum Natchez, the ravages of the Civil War (which produced the heroic Colonel William Alexander Percy, the "Gray Eagle"), and a return to prominence in the Mississippi Delta after Reconstruction. In addition, the author recovers the tragic lives and literary achievements of several Percy-related women, including Sarah Dorsey, a popular post-Civil War novelist who horrified her relatives by befriending Jefferson Davisa married manand bequeathing to him her plantation home, Beauvoir, along with her entire fortune. Wyatt-Brown then chronicles the life of Senator LeRoy Percy, whose climactic re-election loss in 1911 to a racist demagogue deply stung the family pride, but inspired his bold defiance to the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s. The author goes on to tell the poignant story of poet and war hero Will Percy, the Senator's son. The weight of this family narrative found expression in Will Percy's memoirs, Lanterns on the Leveeand in the works of Walker Percy, who was reared in his cousin Will's Greenville home after the suicidal death of Walker's father and his mother's drowning.
As the biography of a powerful dynasty, steeped in Sou8thern traditions and claims to kinship with English nobility, The House of Percy shows the interrelationship of legend, depression, and grand achievement. Written by a leading scholar of the South, it weaves together intensive research and thoughtful insights into a riveting, unforgettable story.
- Oxford University Press, USA
- Publication date:
- Edition description:
- New Edition
- Product dimensions:
- 5.93(w) x 8.81(h) x 1.22(d)
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Bertram Wyatt-Brown presents a compelling case that genetics predisposed at least six generations of my family to clinical depression. Bert also argues persuasively that nurture, the flip side of genes, produced its own persistent haunts in the family line--the Percy obsession with 'honor,' which he sees as aristocratic rectitude combined with a ruthless sense of entitlement to wealth and power. Exhaustively researched, methodically laid out, House is a solid work of history and a provocative and convincing text that often reads like a Southern-Gothic tale. It contains, however, a number of small errors, and one big blind spot: the question of homosexuality, its prevalence in the Percy family, and its relationship both to depression and to heredity. Bert falls victim to a common error, 'the presumption of heterosexuality.' Of Charles Percy's descendants through his son Thomas George, only four can be identified with certainty as lifelong Kinsey '6's' or near-'6's,' that is, as exclusively or almost exclusively homosexual: my first cousin once removed, the writer William Alexander Percy, my aunt, Lady Caroline Percy, my great-great uncle, Leroy Pope Percy, and me. But the family history is rife with suggestions that plenty of us were at least bisexual (Kinsey 2's-5's), and that these Percys, like so many other queers labeled as sinners, outlaws, and mentally ill, also grappled with depression, in some cases to the point of suicide. I can only speculate as to why Bert is not more open to this evidence, but nevertheless, he was written an excellent book.