The House of Percy

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

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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 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 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 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 Levee-and 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 more

Product details

  • Paperback | 504 pages
  • 152.4 x 220.98 x 30.48mm | 635.03g
  • Oxford University Press Inc
  • New York, United States
  • English
  • Reissue
  • 0195109821
  • 9780195109825

Review quote

"Absolutely riveting history."-Los Angeles Times "The House of Percy is a fascinating read. Wyatt-Brown is taken by his subjects and his great empathy for them compels the reader to feel the same. Moreover, Wyatt-Brown's sensitive presentation of one Southern family's trials provides some regional variation to the growing literature on the history of emotions."-Journal of Social History, Carnegie-Mellon University "The lives of all these men and women make spellbinding stories-their beginnings and their ends."-Raleigh News-Observer "Poignant and fascinating."-The State (South Carolina) "The family itself is depicted in depth, with sympathy and understanding, and in that depiction is accorded something closer to its proper place in American history."-Jonathan Yardly, The Washington Post Book World "Meticulous."-The New York Times Book Review "In this powerful and engrossing book, Bertram Wyatt-Brown provides a penetrating examination of one of the South's most fascinating and enigmatic families. The Percy tradition embodied self-conscious dedication to honor and gallantry as well as persistent struggles with crippling and self-destructive melancholy and a recurrent impulse toward creativity. Wyatt-Brown fits these seemingly disparate elements together adeptly and convincingly to offer impressive insights into the Percy puzzle."-James C. Cobb, University of Tennessee, Knoxville "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 emotional depression 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: The Family and the Clinic "The Percys of the American South may or may not derive from Shakespeare's Harry Percy (Hotspur). But in each generation they have displayed remarkable personal qualities, not the least of which, as we know from the novelist Walker Percy, has been their disposition to melancholy and tragedy. In The House of Percy, Bertram Wyatt-Brown tells the whole story in all its historical detail. A splendid book."-Alfred Kazin "Bertram Wyatt-Brown sensitively chronicles six generations of the talented and tormented Percy family. Combining a rare depth of research and breadth of interdisciplinary analysis, he narrates the Percy saga with candor and compassion-and with a grace of style that secures his place among the leading Southern writers, whether of fiction or of fact."-Charles Joyner, author of Down by the Riverside: A South Carolina Slave Community and Remember Me: Slave Life in Coastal Georgia "The House of Percy is a wonderful book: it traces, in a fascinating and eloquent way, the history of dark moods, suicide, and imagination in one of America's great-and most interesting-Southern families. Professor Wyatt-Brown has done an extraordinary job of weaving together literature, history, and psychology, and in doing so, has made a major contribution to each of these fields."-Kay Redfield Jamieson, author of Touched with Fire: Manic-Depressive Illness and the Artistic Temperament and The Unquiet Mind "Engrossing and thought-provoking, as much for Wyatt-Brown's fresh insights into the connections between melancholy, family history, and storytelling, as for his perceptive account of a fascinating American family who also happens to be the family of one of the writers of this century whom I admire most: Walker Percy."-Gail Godwin, author of Remembering Felix and Anna Margarita's Will "A major contribution to the history of the South, the family, and the deeper recesses of the mind."-Lexington Herald-Leader "An impressive history of the Percy family....The manic-depressive history of the Percys has been particularly useful to so imaginative a historian as Wyatt-Brown; for again and again their wildly shifting moods brings into relief the often contradictory tendencies-generosity, family pride, and acquisitiveness among them-that are embedded in the history of the Southern gentry."-C. Vann Woodward, The New York Review of Books "Bertram Wyatt-Brown imaginatively explores some two hundred years of an elite, literary southern family."-Georgia Historical Quarterly "This complex work is a stunning contradiction to stereotypes of wealthy southerners....Bertram Wyatt-Brown has reconstructed the house of Percy in extensive detail, with close attention to the impressive edifice of its achievments and sympathetic examination of its shortcomings."-The Journal of American History "A meticulously researched and probing interdisciplinary analysis."-Register of the Kentucky Historical Societyshow more

About Bertram Wyatt-Brown

About the Author: 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 more

Rating details

24 ratings
3.87 out of 5 stars
5 25% (6)
4 50% (12)
3 12% (3)
2 12% (3)
1 0% (0)
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