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

Paperback | April 30, 1999

byBertram 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. Twocenturies 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, aneighteenth-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 "GrayEagle"), 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 befriendingJefferson 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 deply stung the family pride, but inspired his bolddefiance 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 Levee--and in the works of Walker Percy, who was reared in hiscousin 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 andthoughtful insights into a riveting, unforgettable story.

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From Our Editors

Although the novels of Walker Percy represent some of the most prominent work in 20th-century Southern fiction, the Percy family itself has a history that is arguably as compelling as anything he could have created. Behind Percy's prose lurks a legacy of wealth, literary accomplishment, political leadership, depression, and suicide tha...

From the Publisher

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. Twocenturies of wealth, literary accomplishment, politi...

Bertram Wyatt-Brown is Richard J. Milbauer Professor of History at the University of Florida. His books include Southern Honor: Ethics and Behavior in the Old South and Yankee Saints and Southern Sinners.

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Format:PaperbackDimensions:504 pages, 8.82 × 5.94 × 1.22 inPublished:April 30, 1999Publisher:Oxford University Press

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0195109821

ISBN - 13:9780195109825

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From Our Editors

Although the novels of Walker Percy represent some of the most prominent work in 20th-century Southern fiction, the Percy family itself has a history that is arguably as compelling as anything he could have created. Behind Percy's prose lurks a legacy of wealth, literary accomplishment, political leadership, depression, and suicide that spans two centuries. In this compelling biography, Wyatt-Brown skilfully combines intensive research and telling insights to produce the unforgettable story of this gifted family. 48 halftones

Editorial Reviews

"Once again Bertram Wyatt-Brown has prepared a brilliant and probing volume. Gracefully written and painstakingly researched, this is a wonderfully rich and insightful study of the evolution of the Percy family. We come to understand clearly how that family dealt with constant emotionaldepression and suicides, and how it transmitted its unique sense of identity within the conventions of the South. In brief, this is one of the best interdisciplinary scholarly examinations of an American family to be published in recent decades."--Lawrence J. Friedman, author of Menninger: TheFamily and the Clinic