Warfield, Catherine Anne

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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 authors in the U.S.A.

Born in Natchez, Mississippi, but 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). Their 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, Catherine married Elisha Warfield and settled in his Kentucky home. She spent the summers in Natchez with her sister and recently relocated mother, where the two sisters 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 Warfield published anonymously, as “A Southern Lady”, The Household of Bouverie, a gothic fiction in two volumes. It achieved great popular success. A young orphan, who comes from England to live with her grandmother in America, 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 potion. Their relationship unfolds 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”.

Walker Percy’s Lancelot bears more than a slight resemblance to The Household of Bouverie, and, despite Walker’s disclaimer, Percy biographer Bertram Wyatt-Brown and William Armstrong Percy III believe that he 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.

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