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Shelby Foote, R.I.P.

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Shelby Foote, the author of a three volume history of the Civil War and late blooming TV star, is dead at 88.

http://www.nytimes.com/2005/06/29/books/29...=all&oref=login

What began as a Random House proposal for a short account of the Civil War as its centennial approached turned into an opus. Writing in an ornate script with an old-style dip pen in his rambling magnolia-shaded house in Memphis, where the Footes had moved in 1953, he produced the 2,934-page, three-volume, 1.5 million-word military history, "The Civil War: A Narrative." At 500 to 600 words a day, with times out to visit battlefields on the anniversaries of the battles, it took him 20 years. The volumes appeared between 1958 and 1974.

Clay Risen comments on Foote and the Southern culture in which he lived and worked, in The New Republic.

http://www.tnr.com/doc.mhtml?i=w050627&s=risen063005

Indeed, for Foote--and Faulkner and Welty and Percy and Morris--the culture was not restrictive at all; it only appeared that way to their Northern friends. What seemed like a narrow adherence to tradition was to them a fascination with a rich history, and if that history wasn't always positive then all the better for the writer or poet or historian plumbing the depths of human nature. To be sure, there was--and is--racism and fundamentalism, but horrid as these things are, they provided Mississippi intellectuals with moral and aesthetic stimulation. One wonders if Percy's lifelong struggle to understand the nature of God within a meaningless universe would have had quite the same meaning had he settled among like-minded aesthetes in the West Village.

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The Reuters obituary for Foote.

An easy storyteller and quick with a quip, he once said of his transient father, who died of blood poisoning when Foote was 5: "(He) never had any intentions of doing anything with his life, so far as I know, until he married my mother and lost all of his money."

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Foote's particular genius was in telling the story of the history. His graceful renderings of quotations placed in witty prose kept clear of the ordinary documentary history of the Civil War, and rendered what was already noteworthy to nearly classic heights.

"Who knows but that, after this life, we shall come into the old camps once again, to rise up early at the trumpet's call, and there will be drill, and draughts, and in the afternoon, we all gather on our sides to fight the old battles again? There will be cheers as the banners race back and forth across the fields, and cries of "Victory" rend the air. And after the fight, all will rise up whole and well, and go back underneath the shade of the trees, and there will be jokes, and laughter, and songs, and all will say, "Was it not just the way it was? Was it not just as in the Old Days?"

Now that's not perfect, but only to the best of my recollection. It's Sgt. Berry Benson of the 2nd South Carolina, writing of his idea of the perfect afterlife for the Old Soldier.

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Foote had wonderful material to work with -- seems as if almost everyone in the nineteenth century had a knack for writing expressively – but he also had the gifts to make the most of it.

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