Shelby Foote Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Shelby Dade Foote, Jr., established himself as a novelist during the 1950’s, winning accolades from writers like William Faulkner. However, The Civil War, a Narrative, his landmark, three-part history of the American Civil War, has come to define him. Foote was born in Greenville, Mississippi, in 1916, to Shelby Dade Foote, Sr., and Lillian Rosenstock Foote. Partly the source for Foote’s fascination with the Civil War, his paternal great-grandfather was a cavalry commander at the battle of Shiloh. Although both parents’ families were at one time prestigious, Foote’s paternal grandfather gambled away his fortune, while his maternal grandfather’s finances were destroyed by the depression of the early 1920’s. With the aid of his father-in-law, Shelby Foote, Sr., gained employment with Armour and Company; while Shelby Foote, Jr., was very young his family relocated to Pensacola, Florida, and then Mobile, Alabama. After Foote’s father died of septicemia from a routine operation, Foote’s mother returned to Greenville with five-year-old Shelby, her only child. Although Foote’s mother moved them back to Pensacola briefly for employment with Armour and Company, Foote always considered Greenville his home, and by 1929 they were permanently located in the small Mississippi Delta town.

Growing up in Greenville, Foote befriended future novelist Walker Percy and his two younger brothers. The Percy boys had also lost their father, and in 1931 their mother died as well. Foote’s friendship with Walker Percy would be lifelong, and the two would spur each other’s intellectual and artistic growth. Furthermore, Foote’s constant companionship with the Percy brothers would place him within the direct influence of lawyer and writer William Alexander (Will) Percy, author of Lanterns on the Levee (1941). Will Percy adopted his three younger cousins after the death of their mother; they and young Foote were influenced by Percy’s love of language, literature, and the arts.

In 1935, Foote followed Walker Percy to the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill. The university did not accept Foote, but in a characteristic move, he argued his way into admittance. As a student, Foote was blackballed from pledging Percy’s prestigious Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity because of his...

(The entire section is 950 words.)