June 28, 2005

WALKER'S GOT COMPANY: (via M Ali Choudhury):

Historian, Novelist Shelby Foote Dies (WOODY BAIRD, June 28, 2005, Associated Press)

Novelist and historian Shelby Foote, whose Southern storyteller's touch inspired millions to read his multivolume work on the Civil War, has died. He was 88. [...]

Foote was born Nov. 7, 1916, in Greenville, a small Delta town with a literary bent. Walker Percy was a boyhood and lifelong friend, and Foote, as a young man, served as a "jackleg reporter" for Hodding Carter on The Delta Star. As a young man, he would also get to know William Faulkner.

During World War II, he was an Army captain of artillery until he lost his commission for using a military vehicle without authorization to visit a female friend and was discharged from the Army. He joined the Marines and was still stateside when the war ended.

"The Marines had a great time with me," he said. "They said if you used to be a captain, you might make a pretty good Marine."

He tried journalism again after World War II, signing on briefly with The Associated Press in its New York bureau.

"I think journalism is a good experience, having to turn in copy against deadline and everything else, but I don't think one should stay in it too long if what he wants to be is a serious writer," Foote said in a 1990 interview.

Early in his career, Foote took up the habit of writing by hand with an old-fashioned dipped pen, and he continued that practice throughout his life.

He kept bound volumes of his manuscripts, all written in a flowing hand, on a bookshelf in a homey bedroom-study overlooking a small garden at his Memphis residence.

Though facing a busy city street, the two-story house was almost hidden from view by trees and shrubs.

"If I were a wealthy man, I'd have someone on that gate," he said.

It's a curious thing--what Mr. Foote really wanted was to be a novelist, like Faulkner or Flaubert, but his fiction isn't very good and his Civil War Trilogy reads like a great epic novel. Indeed, if you're going on a Summer vacation you could do worse than bring the Trilogy along to read.

-ESSAY: Introduction to Anton Chekhov's short stories selections (Shelby Foote, Modern Library)
-INTERVIEW: Shelby Foote (The American Enterprise, January/February 2001)
-REVIEW: of The Correspondence of Shelby Foote and Walker Percy (Scott Walter, American Enterprise)
-OBIT & ARCHIVES: Shelby Foote (NY Times)
-ARCHIVES: "shelby foote" (Find Articles)
-OBIT: Civil War author Foote, 88, dies (Joyce Howard Price, June 29, 2005, THE WASHINGTON TIMES)

Mr. Foote worked on the Civil War history for 20 years, using his skills as a novelist with six books to his credit to write in a flowing, narrative style.

"I can't conceive of writing it any other way," Mr. Foote once said. "Narrative history is the kind that comes closest to telling the truth. You can never get to the truth, but that's your goal."

Civil War historian John M. Taylor praised Mr. Foote's "delightfully fluid writing style," adding, "No one exceeded his depth of knowledge on the Civil War."

"He had a gift for presenting vivid portraits of personalities, from privates in the ranks to generals and politicians. And he had a gift for character, for the apt quotation, for the dramatic event, for the story behind the story," said James M. McPherson, a Pulitzer Prize-winning Civil War historian. "He could also write a crackling good narrative of a campaign or a battle."

Though a native Southerner, Mr. Foote did not favor the South in his history or novels and was not counted among those Southern historians who regard the Civil War as the great Lost Cause. He publicly criticized segregationist politicians and was the principal speaker at a 1993 ceremony in Gettysburg, Pa., that commemorated the 130th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's Gettysburg Address.

"It is an awesome, indeed, a daunting thing to stand here, where, perhaps, the greatest American -- in or out of public office, high or low -- stood 130 years ago and delivered what he later called 'my little speech,' " Mr. Foote said.

In those remarks, Mr, Foote pointed out that he had been required to memorize the Gettysburg Address as a Mississippi schoolboy and was grateful. He described Mr. Lincoln's two-minute speech honoring those killed in the Battle of Gettysburg as an "imperishable page in the highest rank of American prose."

Gabor Boritt, director of the Civil War Institute at Gettysburg College who arranged for Mr. Foote's appearance that day, called Mr. Foote "a beautiful writer ... a shy man who became a public figure."

Posted by Orrin Judd at June 28, 2005 6:27 PM


Agreed as to the weakness of his fiction. Finished the last volume of his Civil War trilogy on a Kauai beach years ago, and reread the entire trilogy last summer. Its a masterful work.

Posted by: Fred Jacobsen (San Fran) at June 28, 2005 9:10 PM

What is Ken Burns going to do for his next PBS series

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at June 28, 2005 10:19 PM