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

4 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0195109825
ISBN-10: 0195109821
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Editorial Reviews

From 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
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

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. Mary Carroll --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 504 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (November 21, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195109821
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195109825
  • Product Dimensions: 5.9 x 1.2 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,294,116 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

16 of 19 people found the following review helpful By William A. Percy on November 14, 2005
Format: Paperback
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.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Kurt Grussendorf on April 24, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The book is a tour de force of the literary and political efforts of the Percy family. It is certainly of more interest to those who combine psychology with literary criticism. The Freudian analysis is a bit heavy. The author clearly knows the topic. When you are not in England, New England, or Italy you return to the South--my primary interest. It did give me an insight into the planter aristocracy of the Delta and the conflict it had with the less affluent Baptistic white and black population. At their best, the Percys represented a type of stoicism reminiscent of the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius--honor, duty, and noblesse oblige. At their worst, the aloofness and paternalism of a social class that claimed a superiority in the name of Social Darwinism. When Will Percy dismisses his trusted black valet after the man saw him naked in the shower and proclaimed, "Why, you are just a fat white man!"--it sort of says it all. It is true that Walker did his best to overcome even such "enlightened prejudice" that made the Percys foes of violence and the lynch mob, but in the end even Walker did not entirely escape his heritage. His conversion to Roman Catholicism was less a repudiation of Southern ethnocentricity and more a yearning for tradition and order in the modern world. Yet, the Percys no doubt made a positive contribution to their Mississippi Delta home. They did not have the "tortured howl" of the Blues so aptly put by Gerard Helferich in his book, High Cotton, but they certainly possessed the brooding and foreboding of a decaying and gothic Southern gentility. On the cover is the statue of the exhausted crusader knight with a worldly tired face still standing in the Greenville cemetery. An impressive work of the sculptor, but as the author points out--"hollow inside"--a tortured soul yearning to be filled with God's Peace.
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Having read several of Walker Percy's novels I thought this might be interesting....it was WONDERFUL. There is quite a bit of depression/bipolar disorders in the maternal side of my family and I suffer from major depression myself. How fortunate I feel that there is treatment available to prevent the horrible consequences of untreated depression. So many brilliant members of this renown family committed suicide because there was simply no way out...and the stigma of seeking therapy still exists, no matter how much light is brought to bear on it. If you are interested in Mississippi and Louisiana (as I am; family from New Orleans and good friends from NE Mississippi) you will find this a very enlightening, interesting read.
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1 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Buenoslibros.es on May 6, 2009
Format: Paperback
A high-brow and confussing narrative of the members of the two branches of the Percy family, from its founder in the middle of the eighteenth century to recent times. This kind of story is certainly hard for the historian to tell because it envolves many characters, geographically as well as chronologically. And it has to make a neat one story out of many. But it has been done before. I can remember The House of Rothschild by Niall Ferguson; or the Arms of Krupp, by William Manchester, as the most remarkable ones . This one is nothing like them.

It has a high-brow stench that puts off any general reader's interest. Specially after the page 100, when both branches of the family start expanding. I must admit that I was more interested in the social background and the times than in the members of the Percy family, and little of this if to be found, not worth digging for in the hay anyway.

It didn't start as bad: you get a general picture of the times and the things going on historically, but it dissolves. Bad history; perhaps good psychiatry, but I'm not interested.
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