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The Last Gentleman (1966)

de Walker Percy

Altres autors: Mira la secció altres autors.

Sèrie: Will Barrett (1)

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National Book Award Finalist: A lonely Southerner forges a surprising bond with a New York family in this "brilliant" novel by the author of The Moviegoer (Time).   Will Barrett has never felt at peace. After moving from his native South to New York City, Will's most meaningful human connections come through the lens of a telescope in Central Park, from which he views the comings and goings of the eccentric Vaught family.   But Will's days as a spectator end when he meets the Vaught patriarch and accepts a job in the Mississippi Delta as caretaker for the family's ailing son, Jamie. Once there, he is confronted not only by his personal demons, but also his growing love for Jamie's sister, Kitty, and a deepening relationship with the Vaught family that will teach him the true meaning of home.… (més)
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Having recently reread Walker Percy's first novel, The Moviegoer, I was looking forward to his second foray into the world of the novel. In many ways I was not disappointed. We meet on the first page, an immature Will Barrett, who has spent five years in psychoanalysis; he is a native southerner serving as a “humidification engineer” at Macy’s department store in New York City. An introspective educated man, vaguely aware of his own despair, Barrett is “dislocated in the universe.” Percy’s opening description of Barrett introduces his character: “He had to know everything before he could do anything. . . For until this moment he had lived in a state of pure possibility, not knowing what sort of a man he was or what he must do,".

His paralysis toward commitment to abstract knowledge before making decisions leads Barrett to world pervaded by ordinariness. He despairs of clear answers to his nagging questions about the purpose of life—both for himself and others—but he has some dim hopes that his quest will eventually bear fruit.

One day, as he contemplates his station in life while at Central Park, he opts to become, as Binx Bolling had in The Moviegoer, an observer and not merely the observed. He spots a beautiful young woman, Kitty Vaught, through his newly purchased telescope and sets out to meet her. Smitten, Barrett traces her to a New York hospital, where he discovers that she and the Vaught family are comforting her younger brother, Jamie, who is dying. In a somewhat improbable sequence of events, Will Barrett’s southern charm and gentlemanly pose win over each of the Vaught family members, and he is invited to accompany them back home to Atlanta, mostly as companion and confidant to Jamie as he lives out his remaining days. Barrett agrees, interested as he is in staying as close to Kitty Vaught as possible.

During his stay, Kitty’s sister, Valentine, who has joined a Catholic order of nuns that takes care of indigent children, enters Barrett’s life and coerces him to seek Jamie’s conversion, believing that he alone can ensure that Jamie enters eternity as a “saved” person. Soon thereafter, Sutter Vaught, Jamie’s brother, arrives on the scene. Barrett finds in him a curious but appealing sense of daring and courage. He seems to be someone who has lived life and not merely hypothesized about it.

Sutter and Jamie disappear, and it becomes Barrett’s duty to track them down and return Jamie home—a task made all the more alarming and tenuous when Barrett discovers in Sutter’s New Mexico apartment, along with some helpful maps, a stenographic notebook recording Sutter’s jaded outlook on life and community. Barrett familiarizes himself with the notebook during his subsequent trek, as Percy interweaves excerpts from Sutter’s painful explorations with Barrett’s unfolding search for the two brothers. Percy pushes the reader to diagnose the debilitating malady from which both Sutter and Barrett suffer: an utter sense of homelessness in the world that seems to make errant materialism or suicide the only options for the thoughtful individual.

Sutter’s notebook contains some key observations. If man is a wayfarer, he never stops anywhere long enough to hear that there is hope that conquers despair, salvation that conquers death. Will’s amnesia is not a symptom but the human condition: Man struggles to make the world anew at every moment; because he is ill-fitted for this Godlike task, it is not ennobling but pitiable. Sutter’s solution involves extremes of emotion and choice, as if they could somehow exalt a man to the stature necessary to reconstruct the world. Will, however, becomes a preserver of continuity growing from telescopic observer and wayfarer in a Trav-L-Aire named Ulysses, to comforter of a dying friend and agent of salvation for a living one.

Walker Percy takes ample opportunity to observe the passing scene. He wryly comments that though the North has never lost a war, Northerners have become solitary and withdrawn, as if ravaged by war. In sharp contrast, the South is invincibly happy. Will feels most homeless when he is among those who appear to be completely at home: “The happiness of the South drove him wild with despair.” Percy presents no simple solution to the plague of homelessness. If Will is to reenter the South and marry Kitty, he wants Sutter with him. Perhaps Will is still a wayfarer, yet in The Last Gentleman he has stayed around just long enough to hear something of the honest truth. ( )
1 vota jwhenderson | Jun 24, 2021 |
This book was placed on my To Read list so long ago that I no longer remember why it was added. The Last Gentleman follows displaced southerner Williston Bibb Barrett from New York City to Alabama to New Mexico as he falls in with a southern family loosely connected to his own southern roots. Barrett suffers from a "nervous condition" and experiences occasional losses of memory, deja vu, and "fugue states," accompanied by an overwhelming feeling that he is lost, or "dislocated" from the rest of the world. The overarching theme of Walker Percy's second novel appears to be what I have seen described elsewhere as Christian Existentialism, as Barrett's relationships throughout his physical journey south coincide with a personal quest for identity and purpose. Through Percy's characters, the reader is introduced to his philosophical quandaries regarding American and Southern culture, religion, faith, morality, identity, and death, but does so without preaching a gospel or pretending to have answers to any of the important questions. In fact, Percy might even admit to not knowing all of the questions. Definitely not a casual read, but a good read nonetheless. ( )
1 vota smichaelwilson | Jul 19, 2019 |
This book was placed on my To Read list so long ago that I no longer remember why it was added. The Last Gentleman follows displaced southerner Williston Bibb Barrett from New York City to Alabama to New Mexico as he falls in with a southern family loosely connected to his own southern roots. Barrett suffers from a "nervous condition" and experiences occasional losses of memory, deja vu, and "fugue states," accompanied by an overwhelming feeling that he is lost, or "dislocated" from the rest of the world. The overarching theme of Walker Percy's second novel appears to be what I have seen described elsewhere as Christian Existentialism, as Barrett's relationships throughout his physical journey south coincide with a personal quest for identity and purpose. Through Percy's characters, the reader is introduced to his philosophical quandaries regarding American and Southern culture, religion, faith, morality, identity, and death, but does so without preaching a gospel or pretending to have answers to any of the important questions. In fact, Percy might even admit to not knowing all of the questions. Definitely not a casual read, but a good read nonetheless. ( )
1 vota smichaelwilson | Jul 19, 2019 |
I like Percy because he's not preachy, and this is my favorite of his novels (I've read four of them). The characters transform themselves through interaction - would that this could always be something that happens in all our lives...Finally, it's also good plot-wise -- I love the way it unfolds. And who wouldn't want to encounter someone like Percy's last gentleman? ( )
  dbsovereign | Jan 26, 2016 |
Story stops rather than ends, but what a writer. Expressions like "it was the silence of the time after". Very olfactory - writes more about how things smell than any other writer I've read. ( )
  Jeannine504 | Jan 23, 2016 |
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Walker Percy had a theory about hurricanes. “Though science taught that good environments were better than bad environments, it appeared to him that the opposite was the case,” he wrote of Will Barrett, the semi-autobiographical title character of his second novel, “The Last Gentleman.” “Take hurricanes, for example, certainly a bad environment if ever there was one. It was his impression that not just he but other people felt better in hurricanes.”
 

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Nom de l'autorCàrrecTipus d'autorObra?Estat
Walker Percyautor primaritotes les edicionscalculat
Handke, PeterTraductorautor secundarialgunes edicionsconfirmat
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If a man cannot forget, he will never amount to much.-- Soren Kierkegaard, Either/Or (1843)
...We know now that the modern world is coming to an end . . . at the same time, the unbeliever will emerge from the fogs of secularism. He will cease to reap benefit from the values and forces developed by the very Revelation he denies . . . Loneliness in faith will be terrible. Love will disappear from the face of the public world, but the more precious will be that love which flows from one lonely person to another . . . the world to come will be filled with animosity and danger, but it will be a world open and clean.

--Romano Guardini, The End of the Modern World
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For Bunt
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One fine day in early summer a young man lay thinking in Central Park.
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But if there is nothing wrong with me, he thought, then there is something wrong with the world.  And if there's nothing wrong with the world, then I have wasted my life and that is the worst mistake of all.
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National Book Award Finalist: A lonely Southerner forges a surprising bond with a New York family in this "brilliant" novel by the author of The Moviegoer (Time).   Will Barrett has never felt at peace. After moving from his native South to New York City, Will's most meaningful human connections come through the lens of a telescope in Central Park, from which he views the comings and goings of the eccentric Vaught family.   But Will's days as a spectator end when he meets the Vaught patriarch and accepts a job in the Mississippi Delta as caretaker for the family's ailing son, Jamie. Once there, he is confronted not only by his personal demons, but also his growing love for Jamie's sister, Kitty, and a deepening relationship with the Vaught family that will teach him the true meaning of home.

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