Walker Percy, Hitchcockian

In Walker Percy: A Life (1997), Patrick Samway relates an exchange that occurred on October 10, 1985 following a reading Percy gave in LSU’s Union Theater:

As he mingled with the audience, Walker asked graduate student Charles Fister, “Well, what do you want of me?” Fister replied, “Isn’t that what Raymond Burr says to Jimmy Stewart during the confrontation scene of Rear Window?” Walker laughed. “Yeah, I guess that’s true. Okay, I’ll talk with you.” (382)

Fra Samway provides that anecdote to show how awkward the novelist could be with admirers. For me, the point of the story is that by invoking RW the young man gained access to Percy. Maybe the film can unlock Percy’s novels as well?

It seems apparent that Percy was familiar with RW and Hitchcock’s films more generally. The title of Percy’s first novel, The Moviegoer (1962), could almost be an alternate title for RW. And the hero of The Last Gentleman (1966), interestingly enough, acquires a telescope with which he begins spying on people. . . .

It has been said that the standard Percy plot goes something like this: “a disturbed, alienated man meets a woman, younger, worse off than he: he solves all her problems, in so doing, solves his own and they live happily ever after.” That description fits a number of Hitchcock films as well, although sometimes it’s the woman helping the man, as in Spellbound . . . and RW.

In an interview included in More Conversations with Walker Percy , Percy acknowledged an affinity between his novels and the works of AH, as both mix romantic love and the threat of cataclysm.

Characters behave more interestingly both before the ultimate catastrophe and after. The prospect gets one’s attention. It removes the ennui of ordinary Wednesday afternoons. If the Bomb is going to fall any minute, all things become possible, even love. A novelist is always interested in boy-meets-girl, but not the great novelist, not even Shakespeare, could contrive to have boy meeting girl and falling in love on the regular 5:30 PM commuter train to Hackensack. But if the Bomb is going to vaporize New Jersey any minute and the boy knows how to get the girl to Delaware in time—we’re suddenly in the realm of the old master Hitchcock, if not the Bard. (131)

“. . . the ennui of ordinary Wednesday afternoons.” Hmmm, on which weekday, again, does RW begin?


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