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Shelby Foote Biography

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Nationality: American. Born: Greenville, Mississippi, 1916. Education: The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, 1935-37. Military Service: Served in the United States Army, 1940-44: Captain, and Marine Corps, 1944-45. Career: Novelist-in-residence, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, November 1963; playwright-in-residence, Arena Stage, Washington, D.C., 1963-64; writer-in-residence, Hollins College, Virginia, 1968. Awards: Guggenheim fellowship, 1955, 1956, 1957; Ford fellowship, for drama, 1963; Fletcher Pratt award, for non-fiction, 1964, 1974; University of North Carolina award, 1975; Dos Passos prize for Literature, 1988; Charles Frankel award, 1992; St. Louis Literary award, 1992; Nevins-Freeman award, 1992; New York Public Library Literary Lion, 1994, 1998; Ingersoll-Weaver award, 1997; Richard Wright award, 1997. D. Litt.: University of the South, Sewanee, Tennessee, 1981; Southwestern University, Memphis, Tennessee, 1982; University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, 1992; University of South Carolina, 1991; University of Notre Dame, South Bend, Indiana, 1994; College of William & Mary, 1999; Loyola University, 1999. Member: Society of American Historians, 1980; American Academy of Arts and Letters, 1994.

PUBLICATIONS

Novels

Tournament. New York, Dial Press, 1949.

Follow Me Down. New York, Dial Press, 1950; London, HamishHamilton, 1951.

Love in a Dry Season. New York, Dial Press, 1951.

Shiloh. New York, Dial Press, 1952.

Jordan County: A Landscape in Narrative (includes stories). NewYork, Dial Press, 1954.

September September. New York, Random House, 1978.

Ride Out. New York, Modern Library, 1996.

Plays

Jordan County: A Landscape in the Round (produced Washington, D.C., 1964).

Other

The Civil War: A Narrative:

Fort Sumter to Perryville. New York, Random House, 1958;London, Bodley Head, 1991.

Fredericksburg to Meridian. New York, Random House, 1963;London, Bodley Head, 1991.

Red River to Appomattox. New York, Random House, 1974;London, Bodley Head, 1991.

The Novelist's View of History. Winston-Salem, North Carolina, Palaemon Press, 1981.

Conversations with Shelby Foote, edited by William C. Carter. Jackson, University Press of Mississippi, 1989.

Stars in Their Courses: The Gettysburg Campaign, June-July 1863. New York, Random House, 1994.

The Beleaguered City: The Vicksburg Campaign, December 1862-July 1863. New York, Random House, 1995.

The Correspondence of Shelby Foote and Walker Percy, edited by JayTolson. New York, Norton, 1997.

Editor, Anton Chekhov: Later Short Stories, 1888-1903, translated byConstance Garnett. New York, Modern Library, 1999.

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Manuscript Collection:

Southern Historical Collection, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

Critical Studies:

"Shelby Foote Issue" (includes bibliography) of Mississippi Quarterly (State College), October 1971, and Delta (Montpellier, France), 1977; Shelby Foote by Helen White and Redding Sugg, Boston, Twayne, 1982; Shelby Foote: Novelist and Historian by Robert L. Phillips, University of Mississippi Press, 1992.

* * *

Shelby Foote appears to succeed as a historian, not as a novelist; his multi-volume history The Civil War: A Narrative shows his ability to best advantage. However, one should remember that his entree into the literary world came as a promising novelist. His novels show a serious craftsman at work.

Foote experimented with technique. Tournament is a character study—approaching biography—with an objective omniscient point of view. Follow Me Down takes a single plot but incorporates a multiple point of view. This method is interesting because it allows eight characters—including protagonist and minor characters—to comment in a limited first person viewpoint on their reactions to a violent murder. Love in a Dry Season is a tour de force in which the author links two separate stories centered on the subject of money by a character who tries and fails to obtain a place in the financial elite of a small delta town. Shiloh enters the domain of historical fiction as the author recreates that Civil War battle through the eyes of six soldiers from both camps. Unlike the viewers in Follow Me Down, these narrators describe different aspects of the three-day confrontation, and only by adroit maneuvering does the author bring the respective narratives into contact. The battle, therefore becomes the hero of the novel. Jordan County is a collection of seven tales or episodes ranging from 1950 backwards to 1797. In each case the locale is Bristol, Jordan County, Mississippi. As his previous novel focused on a single battle, so this chronicles human drama of a fictional area, which becomes the only constant in a world of flux.

With the exception of his historical novel, all of Foote's novels are located in his microcosm, the delta country around Lake Jordan. This fictive locale includes two counties, Issawamba and Jordan, Solitaire Planatation, and the town of Bristol on the Mississippi River. Through a habit of cross reference, Foote links episodes from one novel to another. For instance, the novella "Pillar of Fire" (Jordan County) relates the story of Isaac Jameson, founder of Solitaire Plantation and a patriarch of the delta, while Tournament supplies information about the man, Hugh Bart, who brought Solitare back from devastation by war and reconstruction.

Foote's use of setting, as well as style, subject matter, themes, and characterization, invites comparison with his geographical neighbor, Faulkner, but Foote's accomplishments suffer thereby. Foote is competent, not great. Normally his style is simple, lean, and direct; it seldom takes on richly suggestive qualities. Most of his themes move in the negative, anti-social direction: violence instead of peace; lust rather than love; avarice, power, and pride instead of self-sacrifice; and loneliness rather than participation in community. At his best Foote deals effectively with dramatic situations and characterizations, for example, the concatenation of episodes in the life of Hugh Bart or Luther Eustis's murder (Follow Me Down); however, Harley Drew's career (Love in a Dry Season) of lust and avarice seems an exploitation of violence rather than art. Foote chronicles events in the realistic tradition without conveying a larger insight than the particular—an insight necessary for him to achieve a significant place in southern literature.

During the 1990s, Foote produced Ride Out, which attracted little critical attention—particularly when compared to his nonfiction efforts. The latter included, in addition to his writing on the Civil War, a book of correspondence with Walker Percy and a collection of Chekhov's stories, which Foote edited.

—Anderson Clark

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