Wyatt-Brown (History/Univ. of Florida; Southern Honor, not reviewed, etc.) buries a good idea under an avalanche of...


"THE HOUSE OF PERCY: Honor, Imagination, and Melancholy in a Southern Family"

Wyatt-Brown (History/Univ. of Florida; Southern Honor, not reviewed, etc.) buries a good idea under an avalanche of scholarly detail. Too much of this study is concerned with the first Percys in America, an interesting but not exceptional bunch of slaveholding frontiersmen led by one ""Don Carlos"" Percy, an apparent bigamist who also seems to have shared the Percy predisposition to melancholia. His other legacies to future Percys were a fondness for Stoicism, Catholicism, conservatism, and an aristocratic sense of honor. Thus Wyatt-Brown's thesis (i.e., ax) to demonstrate (i.e., grind): that generations of Percys are linked by the ethics of chivalry, the tendency to chronic depression, and the predilection for mythmaking. Among the mythmakers were two 19th-century sisters (Wyatt-Brown calls them ""two Southern Brontës"") who churned out mediocre verse and commonplace gothic fiction. A later relative, Sarah Dorsey, achieved minor fame as a post -- Civil War romance novelist and major notoriety as the close friend of the married Jefferson Davis, with whom she bemoaned the decline of the South during Reconstruction. Real distinction came in the 20th century with LeRoy Percy, a US senator from Mississippi, who was an ardent foe of the Ku Klux Klan. His son, the poet William Alexander Percy, shared the same sense of noblesse oblige. ""A bachelor with severe inhibitions"" (i.e., a closeted homosexual), Will eventually published Lanterns on the Levee, a classic of the modern South. Walker Percy's grandfather (the senator's brother) and father both committed suicide, but the novelist worked through his existential melancholy, argues Wyatt-Brown, by creating many fine works of fiction. No literary critic, Wyatt-Brown forgets why most readers would pick up this book in the first place. He barely mentions Walker Percy until well over 200 pages into the book, by which time most nonhistorians are likely to have set it aside.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1994


Page Count: 496

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1994