Reviews:Bertram Wyatt-Brown's The House of Percy
The House of Percy
By Bertram Wyatt-Brown
Bertram Wyatt-Brown presents a compelling case that genetics predisposed at least six generations of my family to clinical depression. He 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, a provocative and convincing read, a true 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, who only barely outed Uncle Will, author of Lanterns on the Levee a bestseller in 1941 and still in print falls victim to a common error, "the presumption of heterosexuality." Of our patriarch 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, 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 all routinely labeled as sinners, outlaws, and mentally ill, 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, his excellent book exalts our family.
There are two minor omissions. He neglects to mention that my great-grandmother Nannie Armstrong was George Armstrong Custers first cousin and that the Duchess of Windsor was also descended from "Don Carlos," Charles Percy.