The Last Gentleman (Modern Library)

ISBN: 0679602720
ISBN 13: 9780679602729
By: Walker Percy

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About this book

Williston Bibb Barrett, the last gentleman of the story, is a displaced Southerner who has dropped out of Princeton owing to a nervous condition that his psychoanalyst associates with an inability to fit into groups. While living in New York City, our wayfarer-hero falls in love with a young woman he spies through a telescope...and sets out on a cross-country odyssey in search of home, identity, and the meaning of contemporary life.

Reader's Thoughts

Sandra Willey

Technically should be about a 3.87. I'm glad I read it, but don't know who I'd recommend it was a book group selection. I initially thought, "Oh, no, not another Southern author with Russian literature plot advancement techniques (but wait! I must be losing my mind!) After the discussion, and after noting when it was written, and after letting it stew in its own juices a while, I think Percy demonstrates real skill at weaving in and through an almost existential quest for definition of self as well as self definition, characters with an archetypal halo just a few steps this side of Jungian, and sort of reminiscent/suggestive of Pinter and Albee (I know, different genre)

Chris Gager

I'm sure there's stuff going on in WP's books that I don't get but I love them anyway. This was my first and I've read all of them twice except for the last two. Will shows up again years later in "The Second Coming". Will is pretty much confused and "fugued" out by life. Favorite part: Will is traveling across Mississippi and comes to Oxford while the James Meredith integrating was taking place. As he's crossing the town at night with rioter's fires blazing in the streets he's confronted by a running wild-faced young man who screams at him "He's here!" and runs off. Date read is approximate for the second read.

Natalie Moore

I love Walker Percy and thought I would be as captivated here as I had with The Moviegoer and Lancelot. I was faintly disappointed as I'm not sure I "got" what he was trying to say. It ended remarkably like Lancelot, with an unanswered question. I prefer his novels where he writes from the first person-- I find them more engaging. There was just a distance here that I didn't expect. But the way he writes about the South, of a Southerner living abroad and coming home, and the nuances of Southern living-- pitch perfect.


I read this at 17, but found that, ten years later, I couldn't remember it at all except for the opening scene in Central Park. I haven't changed that much in ten years. I just re-read it and really wanted to like it, took my time with it, trying to understand the metaphors and trying to picture the scenes in my mind - but I just didn't get much out of it. Maybe I'm not philosophical enough...I do like the descriptions of Southern culture as a New Yorker with some Southern experience...


Read the whole thing for the reward of the last 20 pages --a true and honest depiction of the moments just prior to death after a prolonged illness. What will you do with your life? What will you do with your death? There's a lot to think on here: memory, identity, recognizing who we are and our place in the world, home and not-home. Challenging, but worthwhile.

Osvaldo Ortega

Wow! Just finished this wonderful journey of a book. Barrett is a wonderful surreal character living on the edge of his own life. He holds in his soul the confusion and disorientation that comes from living old in a modern world. Incredible. Percy is a master of both dialogue and the stream of consciousness. This last gentleman is a tragic but enviable character. For those living in the South, or familiar with this strange place facing the Gulf, Percy's references will truly hit home. The author is a master of his native domain. Looking forward to the sequel.


I really enjoyed this book. It was strange; the author made some interesting choices, like calling his narrator "the engineer" all the time, instead of by his name. This was odd, because all the characters called him by his name, but for the first part of the book he doesn't interact with anyone, so you don't learn his name until 50 pages in or so. Odd. (p.s. the narrator shared my surname.) There's a ton of philosophy in here, no surprise from Percy, and overall the story is mostly compelling and the characters are somewhat interesting. The middle sagged for me, though, I found myself drifting off into La La Land while reading. Barrett is a meanderer for the ages, so the plot is, well, meandering, and nothing really seems to have much gravitas. He finds himself with less than a dollar to his name, yet this doesn't bother him, and later in the book he has more money than he knows what to do with, though this doesn't seem to affect him either. And not in a "money isn't important" sort of way. Also, he sometimes seems to be deeply in love with a woman named Kitty, though at times fairly ambivalent toward her. There just seemed to be a lot of nonchalance inherent in the characters, which made me care less about what happened to them. Often I couldn't tell if the narrator was meant to be liked or pitied or if he was just meant to seem pathetic. Anyway, though, the final scene -- in fact the entire last section of the book -- is great. Barrett's doting relationship with Vaught is compelling.I liked The Moviegoer a lot more than this, but I'll keep reading Percy's stuff. He's a unique writer.

Gail Jeidy

This one didn't do it for me. There were some interesting trains of thought and ideas and some lovely description. Interesting that the main character suffers from mental issues and goes into spurts of amnesia and fugue states, but the way this is written is too difficult, cumbersome, annoying for the reader to follow. I did not relate to nor care for any of the characters. Or rather I did not feel emotionally invested in their journeys. The journey of the main character, the engineer, felt random. This plotless book teaches me the importance of including a plot in my fiction.


The Last Gentleman is difficult to review and I kind of think that I should reread it to really get a grasp of many of the ideas presented within. The book follows a young man who somewhat lacks an identity and constantly suffers from bouts of amnesia. Through him the author explores themes of identity, society, and religion. The book often feels as aimless as its protagonist and can be somewhat difficult to follow but about halfway through I thought it became easier to follow (or perhaps I became more interested and therefore tried harder to follow it). I related to the protagonist's confusion, lack of ambition, and lack of definite identity. I found the other characters odd yet fascinating. Its an odd book that I am glad I read and will probably read again.

Lance Kinzer

I liked this book the first time I read it ten years ago, but it stuck me much more profoundly upon this recent re-reading. Percy tackles many issues in this book, all of which ultimately relate to how meaning and thus life itself can be possible in a demystified and inverted modern world. There is a fair amount of farce in The Last Gentleman, but it is farce in service of a serious purpose - the exploration of the absurdity of so much that is taken for granted. The path forward Percy suggests requires a merging of the immanent with the transcendent, In Percy's world this is what everyone is searching for, haltingly, wrongly even absurdly. But where this merging is found in its true and ultimate form there is yet hope.

Jo Ann Hall

Walker Percy creates the insider's sense of what it is like to be a Southerner, but more importantly, what it means to be a sensitive soul destined to be an observer only, if he cannot find the means to disconnect from the observer position and move into one in which he lives his life. Themes present in The Moviegoer are explored and enhanced here. The Last Gentleman is funny, poignant, and hopeful, even though the characters don't always inspire our sympathy. I read this slowly, savoring the dreamy language and ideas which often pulled me up short because I had thought them myself. Deja vu, indeed.


Huh. The official description of this book seems a little lacking. The Last Gentleman was about so much more to me.Walker Percy really captured this certain state of mind so well--of being lost, not quite in your body, not quite rooted, constant low level anxiety, lonliness--and the way it resolved itself at the end was very powerful to me. This is a very moving and beautiful book, one of my favorites. After reading other people's reviews of the book I want to read it again very much.


I am a Percy addict, I admit it, and a vein full of this didn't help. Percy's novels are like non-fiction disguised as fiction, which I think throws a lot of people. He has ideas, and fiction is a vehicle for them. But just like with O'Connor, you can read his books without having a clue about the author's ideas and still love them for the literature they are. Percy's turns of phrase alone make his stuff worth reading. And boy, did this one get me. Starts out like a quaint, good-ish book, perfect for a Sunday afternoon between moments of American ease; but then, Percy does his ol' sneak-up and catches you off guard with an ending that feels like you have just witnessed something so astoundingly important that you MUST figure it out. But I read the last section eight more times (after standing up from the table with my hands grasping my head, every emotion possible coursing through me), and I can't say I know EXACTLY what affected me the way it did. But it did. And this surprising, divinely confusing effect is what draws me back to Percy again and again.

Jeff Miller

What more can you say other than it is a Walker Percy novel. Just stunningly well written. The story of the young man referred to as the "engineer" or "sentient engineer" who has episodes of amnesia and is finding his way through life. As an observer he is very insightful about people and comes to easily know them, yet does not know him self and seeks guidance. The family he comes to be involved with both deepens and confuses his search. Such great characters and writing and I have know started the followup novel The Second Coming.


I have pretty mixed feelings on this one.It started out beautifully, reminding me of the first part of Winter's Tale: an early 20th century urban fantasy set in New York; a romance triggered by stealth and coincidence. But the romance was just a gateway to the rest of the novel, which alternately frustrated and charmed me. More often the former. The weak plotting and characters ultimately felt like mere devices for Walker Percy to pontificate about spirituality (immanence vs transcendence anyone?), but it never felt clear to me what exactly was the point. Nevertheless, something about Percy's writing was appealing to me. I picked up a used copy of The Moviegoer while reading this one. Though The Last Gentleman frustrated me, I'm intrigued enough to give Percy another read, somewhere down the line.

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