House of Percy: Honor, Melancholy, and Imagination in a Southern Family

House of Percy: Honor, Melancholy, and Imagination in a Southern Family

by Bertram Wyatt-Brown
     
 

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The novels of Walker Percy - The Moviegoer, Lancelot, The Second Coming, and The Thanatos Syndrome to name a few - have 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… See more details below

Overview

The novels of Walker Percy - The Moviegoer, Lancelot, The Second Coming, and The Thanatos Syndrome to name a few - have 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 reach 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 Davis - a married man - and 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 deeply stung the family pride, but inspired his bold defiance to the Ku Klux Klan in the 1920s. The author then tells 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 classic memoir, Lanterns on the Levee - and in the works of Walker Percy, who was reared in his cou

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
In this work, prominent Southern historian Wyatt-Brown (Univ. of Florida) presents a family biography of one of the South's most enduring families, the Percys of Mississippi, whose status approaches that of such families as the Adamses, Lowells, Lees, and Jameses. Wyatt-Brown makes masterly use of Percy family papers and a variety of collateral primary sources to trace the truimphs and tragedies that bedeviled five generations of Percys, starting with Charles Percy, who established the dynasty two centuries ago but fell victim to mental illness, down to and including writer Walker Percy, adopted son of William Alexander Percy. Wyatt-Brown's exposition is clear and his analysis superb. This work surpasses Lewis Baker's The Percys of Mississippi (Louisiana State Univ. Pr., 1983) as the standard work on the family. Recommended for specialized scholars and advanced undergraduate and graduate students.-Charles C. Hay III, Eastern Kentucky Univ. Archives, Richmond
Mary Carroll
Novelist Walker Percy, who died in 1990, may today be the most noted member of the Percy clan, but other Percys have played significant roles in the political, social, and cultural life of the Deep South since the American Revolution. In tracing the life experiences of generations of Percys--as settlers and slaveholders, Civil War officers and post-Reconstruction politicians, and writers in several genres--Wyatt-Brown establishes the Percys' inherited predisposition to what would today be diagnosed as clinical depression and to an enduring reverence for the ethic that Wyatt-Brown analyzed in "Southern Honor" (1982). The eighteenth-century founder of the North American Percy line claimed (but never proved) kinship with the noble Percy family of Northumberland. "The House of Percy" pursues the consequences of that doubtful claim in one Southern family's myths and sense of "noblesse oblige", brings to light unacknowledged literary accomplishments of several female Percy relatives, and presents a moving multicentury portrait of a family scarred by repeated tragedies but intent on doing what its members saw as their duty.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780198022305
Publisher:
Oxford University Press
Publication date:
11/21/1996
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
Format:
NOOK Book
File size:
5 MB

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