Shelby Foote dead

Discussion in 'History Forum' started by rsr, Jun 28, 2005.

  1. rsr

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    Civil War historian and novelist Shelby Foote died Monday. The country has lost one of its finest writers about the Civil War.

    SHELBY FOOTE DEAD AT 88
     
  2. KenH

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    Sorry to hear of this.
     
  3. 4His_glory

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    Shelby Foote was one the most influencial historians in beggining my great interest in the Civil War. I am sorry to here he has died.

    Mr. Footes works on the Civil War are some the finest once can read.
     
  4. KenH

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    Book TV on C-SPAN2

    Sat., July 2, 4 pm ET - Shelby Foote, interview from 2001
     
  5. PastorSBC1303

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    I am sorry to hear of this, I have his work on the Civil War, he was a great writer.
     
  6. TexasSky

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    I am sorry to hear this. He was an amazing Historian.
     
  7. rsr

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    Thanks for the heads up on the C-SPAN show, Ken. He was already suffering terribly from emphysema at the time.
     
  8. KenH

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    This tribute was the editorial in today's Arkansas Democrat-Gazette:

    EDITORIALS : Shelby Foote
    The Wah is over


    I began it in the spring of ’54 and finished in the spring of ’74. I did not do anything else, during that whole time, of any import. I didn’t write a novel; I didn’t do any of those things. Just worked on the war. — Shelby Foote.

    OF COURSE Shelby Foote, the Southerner’s Southerner, was born and raised in Greenville, Mississippi. Where else would he be from? And of course his boyhood pal was Walker Percy, raised by the famous, and slightly notorious, Mississippi Percys—as opposed to the Alabama Percys. (See the Mississippi branch’s William Alexander Percy’s once-classic Lanterns on the Levee, which is now considered practically scandalous, its prose much too ornate. And of course Shelby Foote and his best friend, a pair of budding Southern writers, would make a pilgrimage to Rowan Oak to see. . . him.

    And that’s where our story begins.

    It was the early ’30s, and Shelby Foote and Walker Percy were on their way from Greenville to Sewanee, Tennessee. They were young, 20 ish, and full of their own promise. Their route would take them right by Oxford, Mississippi, home of William Cuthbert Faulkner.

    Shelby wanted to stop by. Walker said no. "I’m not going to see that man," Mr. Percy said. "I don’t know him. I’m not gonna knock on his door." Mr. Foote replied, "Hell, he’s a writer. It’s all right. He belongs to us."

    Ah, youth.

    They stopped at Rowan Oak. Shelby Foote went to the door. Walker Percy stayed in the car. A few minutes later, Shelby comes walking down that double line of cedars standing sentry over Rowan Oak’s brick walk, William Faulkner by his side. Like old chums.

    "That’s Will Percy’s son over there in the car," Shelby Foote said, introducing his friend. But all Walker Percy could muster was a shy nod. Faulkner nodded back and then went back to the house.

    The way Shelby Foote told the story to the Oxford American, for years Walker Percy insisted he did the gentlemanly thing by not getting out of the car and bothering Mister Bill. Then he got a little older, and Walker Percy, the author of The Moviegoer and great Southern novelist in his own right, "wished he’d had the chance to exchange some words with Faulkner."

    That’s how some of us felt last week when word came that Shelby Dade Foote—historian, novelist, chronicler of The War, unlikeliest of television stars, and Southern Gentleman—had passed on at his home in Memphis. Just across the river. So close and now so far.

    WHAT IF we’d pulled a Shelby Foote and showed up on the doorstep of our era’s Edward Gibbon, the chronicler of the South’s rise and fall? He probably would’ve told us to scat. Because he had work to do.

    He’d have been scribbling on that great unfinished novel, putting in his 500 or 600 words a day written with that old-fashioned dip pen.

    He’d have been re-reading Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past for the ninth or 10th time.

    He’d have been sitting for Ken Burns, the documentarian, giving voice to The War he knew and wrote about and lived for two decades in some 1.65 million words. (Twice the size of the Bible.)

    We never made our pilgrimage. But we liked the idea of Shelby Foote being there, just across the Mississippi in Memphis, in that same small room where he wrote about Lee looking through his spyglasses across the Rappahannock at an oak tree in the yard of a house where he would court his wife. Shelby’s dog Booker would be napping by his feet, as he dipped that pen in ink every three or four words. It was a comfort, knowing Shelby Foote wasn’t just a Southern character in a Civil War series on PBS, but a real Southerner. He wasn’t playing a role. He was.

    His great book, all three horse-choking volumes of it, might have gone largely unread, but his turn on that Civil War documentary made him a national figure and the Old South real again.

    "Any Deep South boy, and probably all Southern boys, have been familiar with the Civil War as a sort of thing in their conscious going back," the gentleman author told the gentleman interviewer Brian Lamb on C-SPAN. "I honestly believe that it’s in all our subconsciouses. This country was into its adolescence at the time of the Civil War. It really was; it hadn’t formulated itself really as an adult nation, and the Civil War did that. Like all traumatic experiences that you might have had in your adolescence, it stays with you the rest of your life, certainly in your subconscious, most likely in your conscious, too."

    By the end of Ken Burns’ series on the Civil War in 1990, Shelby Foote had become our national narrator, certainly a regional one. His was history’s voice, the drawl that one critic dubbed the sound of "molasses over hominy." It sounded plain ol’ gentrified Mississippian to us. That critic must’ve been from the New York Times or some place up there. Because to a native of these latitudes, Shelby Foote sounded familiar enough.

    MAYBE IT’S a good thing for Shelby Foote that he went when he did, leaving us his Homeric narrative of our adolescence. For the black-and-white glow of Ken Burns’ special had begun to fade, and Shelby Foote with it. He was true to himself and his history and personal experiences, though even the slightest exploration of his words-and-world would make one realize how totally unacceptable they were becoming in what now passes for polite society. He was on the verge of becoming a relic, too, like some Confederate accoutrement you might find in a curiosity shop in Vicksburg.

    Even the way he worked represented a different era. The man spent twenty solid years writing about The Wah. And nothing else. He worked the old-fashioned way. Pen on paper. When he was satisfied with his daily output of 500 words, he copied it over on a typewriter. An old artilleryman—he was a battery captain in the European theater during the late unpleasantness there—he wrote history with precision, locating his target exactly, then firing for effect with calculation aforethought. You won’t find many, if any, misfires in those three volumes. He didn’t bother with footnotes, shocking academics more concerned with impedimenta than words and story. Footnotes? Why? A Southerner, he knew honor was enough. He wrote as a novelist, which he had been, including a novel set in 1957 Little Rock, September, September.

    According to one account, Mr. Foote allowed himself only two breaks from his daily writing routine—one for lunch and one for the soap opera As the World Turns. Hey, a fella needs his downtime. At day’s end, he read aloud what he’d written over a glass of bourbon. What we wouldn’t have given to hear that. Imagine Shelby Foote’s bourbon-soaked voice going on about Lee or Lincoln. Then again, there are those of us who will always be of the Walker Percy school. We’d just nod respectfully and not burden him with our presence.

    No wonder Ken Burns had the author appear 89 times during his PBS series. "Getting Shelby," Mr. Burns once said, "was almost like getting Bobby Lee himself."

    These days a fella has to point out that Ken Burns was offering a compliment, however irreverent. These days any mention of The War may offend. Yes, it’s probably best that Shelby left when he did.

    A few years before Faulkner died in 1962, the Dixie Limited was asked if he’d read anything good. Here’s how The Southern Writer replied: "There’s a young man, a Mississippian, Shelby Foote, that shows promise, if he’ll just stop trying to write Faulkner and will write some Shelby Foote."

    He did. And that is why a whole country mourned him. And certainly that whole country that once was. Faulkner’s was great advice for any promising writer below Mason-Dixon’s line. Put down the Faulkner and be yourself. Shelby Foote did, and The War became his War. Now his words belong to the ages.
     
  9. Baptist in Richmond

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    I heard about this on NPR when I was driving through Arkansas on my whirlwind tour of the Natural State. Very sad, indeed.
     

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