Daughter of Sarah Percy and Nathaniel Ware, Catherine Anne Warfield (1816-1877), a Southern writer of poetry and fiction, who along with her sister Eleanor, was first in the line of Percy family authors.
Born in Natchez, Mississippi and raised primarily in Philadelphia after her mother’s hospitalization there for mental illness, she began writing poetry with her sister at an early age. They published two volumes together as “The Two Sisters of the West”, The Wife of Leon (1843) and The Indian Chamber (1846). The poetry met with moderate success, though it is today criticized as par for its time, relying heavily on many of the day’s gothic and sentimental contrivances.
In 1833 at seventeen, she married Elisha Warfield and settled in his Kentucky home, spending the summers in Natchez with her sister and recently relocated mother, where the two refined and composed the poetry which would later see the light in their published volumes.
After the death of Eleanor in 1849, Catherine ceased writing in a torment of melancholy. However, in the mid-1850s, she was encouraged by her niece Sarah Ellis (later to become Sarah Dorsey, herself a successful novelist and probably mistress of Jefferson Davis) to once again pick up the pen.
In 1860 she published anonymously as “A Southern Lady”, The Household of Bouverie, a gothic fiction in two volumes which achieved great popular success. It is the story of a young orphan who comes from England to live with her grandmother in America and encounters living in secret on the second floor her grandfather Erastus Bouverie – long since presumed dead – a reclusive mad man attempting to create a youth-restoring portion. The story deals with their relationship and the unfolding narrative of a dark and torrid family history. Warfield was praised as “Shakespearean,” one contemporary writer claiming, “Of living female authors, we can openly class Mrs. Warfield with George Sand and George Eliot.”
It is noteworthy to mention that, though he denied it, Walker Percy’s Lancelot bears more than a slight resemblance to The Household of Bouverie, and despite Walker’s disclaimer, both Percy biographer Bertram Wyatt-Brown and William Armstrong Percy, III believe that he heavily based the novel, so different from his others and so much better, on his predecessor’s work.
After the Civil War, Warfield, under her own name, wrote eight more novels, the two most popular being Ferne Fleming and its sequel The Cardinal’s Daughter; however, no work would ever again meet the same degree of success as her first hit.
She died in 1877.
Percy Family Writers
- Sarah Dorsey
- Kate Ferguson
- Eleanor Percy Lee
- Walker Percy
- William Alexander Percy
- LeRoy Percy
- Thomas George Percy
- Wyatt-Brown, Bertram. The House of Percy: Honor Melancholy and Imagination in a Southern Family. New York & Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994.
- Wyatt-Brown, Bertram. The Literary Percys: Family History, Gender, & the Southern Imagination. Athens & London: University of Georgia Press, 1994.