& # 8217 ; s Life And Career Essay, Research Paper

Charles Bohner

WARREN, Robert Penn ( 24 Apr. 1905-15 Sept. 1989 ) , writer and

pedagogue, was born in Guthrie, Kentucky, the boy of Robert Franklin Warren, a man of affairs,

and Anna Ruth Penn, a school teacher. Throughout Warren & # 8217 ; s childhood on a Kentucky baccy

farm he heard narratives of the Civil War from his grampss, both of whom had fought for

the Confederacy. These narratives provided a rich beginning of memories and images that, he

subsequently remarked, nurtured his art. The determining influence of this southern heritage is

ineluctable in any consideration of Warren & # 8217 ; s life. Although he left the South for good

when he was 37 old ages old, he ne’er left it in spirit, and much of his artistic

energy was expended in an attempt to accommodate his trueness to the part with the claims of


During the summer of 1920, while waiting to take up an assignment to the U.S. Naval

Academy, Warren lost the sight of one oculus when he was by chance hit by a rock

heedlessly thrown by his younger brother Thomas. As important as his southern upbringing,

this event determined the way of his life. Merely in late in-between age could he convey

himself to discourse its lay waste toing effects. “ I felt, ” he wrote, “ a

sort of shame & # 8211 ; shame is non the word & # 8211 ; but disqualification for life & # 8230 ; some sense of

being maimed “ ( Watkins, p. 55 ) . In a century that offered immature work forces unparalleled

chances for action, he was destined to play the function of perceiver and observer.

Forced to abandon a naval calling, he enrolled at Vanderbilt University in Nashville,

Tennessee, meaning to analyze technology.

Warren & # 8217 ; s matriculation at Vanderbilt coincided with a assemblage of immature authors in

Nashville, work forces brought together by an involvement in composing poesy and a nostalgia for the

civilization of the agricultural South. Although they seem ne’er to hold aspired to be an

rational motion, they have been linked of all time since by the rubric of the magazine they

published, The Fugitive. Warren & # 8217 ; s college roomie, Allen Tate, and one of his

instructors, John Crowe Ransom, were at the beginning of their distinguished literary

callings. Prominent among the Fugitives, they exerted a strong influence upon the

waxy Warren and found a topographic point in their magazine for his first attempts at poetry.

By the clip he graduated from Vanderbilt in 1925, he had determined on a calling as a


Following the illustration of his Vanderbilt instructors who had supported their literary

aspirations by college instruction, Warren pursued alumnus survey at the University of

California and Yale University and in 1928 entered Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar.

In 1930 he returned from England with a grade in English literature, married Emma

Brescia, and took up a place as teacher of English at Southwestern College in

Memphis, Tennessee.

Warren & # 8217 ; s calling as a university instructor was a theoretical account of upward mobility. After a twelvemonth at

Southwestern, he accepted an offer from his alma mater Vanderbilt and three old ages subsequently

moved to Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge. During the undermentioned eight old ages,

1934-1942, he established a repute as one of the most influential faculty members of his


At Oxford Warren had been drawn to the thoughts of a new coevals of literary critics.

Reacting to the charge that the survey of English literature was a soft option, they wished

to present a greater asperity into their schoolrooms. Insisting on the holiness of the text

and promoting an increased consciousness of figure of speechs such as sarcasm and paradox, these

“ close readers, ” as they came to be called, found themselves grouped together as

practicians of a New Criticism. In 1938 Warren and a co-worker at Louisiana State

University, Cleanth Brooks, published a text edition, Understanding Poetry, which

codified many of the alleged New Critical thoughts into a consistent attack to literary

survey. Their book, and its comrade volume, Understanding Fiction ( 1943 ) ,

revolutionized the instruction of literature in the universities and spawned a host of

impersonators who dominated English sections good into the sixtiess.

While a module member at Louisiana State University, Warren was besides instrumental in

establishing the Southem Review. Its rubric was, as its editors said, an look of

their “ regional and sectional piousness. ” The magazine rapidly became one of the

foremost literary and cultural quarterlies in the state, and finally it had a list of

subscribers and a circulation that belied any charge of provincialism. It did non,

nevertheless, survive the urgencies and economic systems of World War II. After its suspension by the

university disposal in 1942, Warren left the South to take up a place at the

University of Minnesota in Minneapolis as manager of originative authorship.

Warren & # 8217 ; s new station called his attending to a concern that had preoccupied him during his

old ages learning in the South ; as he put it, “ my deep and staying desire was to compose

poesy and fiction, and even though I felt no competition between this desire and the

profession I enjoyed, I turned most of my energies, when I left the schoolroom and the

duties of the schoolroom, toward composing verse forms and narratives and novels. ” A adult male of

singular energy and subject, he managed to happen clip from his instruction and redaction to

write three novels. Two of these were ne’er published, but the 3rd, Night Rider, appeared

in 1939. It was the first of 10, and its success with readers established his repute

good beyond the walls of the academy.

Warren & # 8217 ; s 10 novels are unified in both locale and subject. They are works about the

South and Southerners and, while draw a bead oning to exceed their clip and topographic point, are

however marked by a southern specialness that is calculated, repetitive, and

unmistakable. They fall into two groups: the first group is historical and evokes a doomed

universe recaptured through the inventive usage of documental grounds ; the 2nd group


modern-day and constitutes a history of Warren & # 8217 ; s ain times.

The novels in the first group & # 8211 ; World Enough and Time ( 1950 ) , Band of

Angels ( 1955 ) , and Wilderness ( 1961 ) & # 8211 ; were the consequence of three decennaries in which

Warren said he “ besotted ” himself in American history. A life published when

he was 25 old ages old, John Brown: The Making of a Martyr ( 1929 ) , had

signaled Warren & # 8217 ; s involvement in the half-century taking to the Civil War. The three

historical novels, set in that period, are marked by the wise handling of grounds

and the attending to detail feature of the scholarly historiographer.

The seven novels of the 2nd group span Warren & # 8217 ; s ain life-time and follow one another

in approximately chronological order. Night Rider is the universe of his boyhood ; At

Heaven & # 8217 ; s Gate ( 1943 ) is the Nashville of his college old ages ; All the King & # 8217 ; s Men ( 1946 )

is the Louisiana he knew as a immature university instructor at Baton Rouge. The following three

novels & # 8211 ; The Cave ( 1959 ) , Flood ( 1964 ) , and Meet Me in the Green

Glen ( 197l ) & # 8211 ; cover the old ages in his subdivision of the South from merely before World War II

through the sixtiess. His last novel, A Topographic point to Come To ( 1976 ) , is written in a

spirit of drumhead. As he approaches old age, the hero, a professor of English, looks back

with nostalgia over a calling that spans three-fourthss of a century, a period paralleling

Warren & # 8217 ; s ain life.

Among these plants, All the King & # 8217 ; s Men was the most widely read and generated the

strongest critical and popular response. The fresh chronicles the rise and autumn of a

homegrown fascist, Willie Stark, as told by one of his confederates, Jack Burden. Its first

readers praised its intervention of the political procedures of democracy as practiced in the

South of the 1930s. More recent surveies have stressed its advanced construction and its

philosophical nuance. It is the novel in which Warren & # 8217 ; s particular gifts are most in

grounds & # 8211 ; his sense of history, his imaginative linguistic communication, and his ability to dramatise a

big dramatis personae of characters against a vividly realized background. By and large considered his

chef-d’oeuvre, All the King & # 8217 ; s Men won Warren the first of three Pulitzer awards. Made

into a drama, a gesture image, and an opera, the novel was finally translated into

20 linguistic communications.

In 1950 Warren radically redirected his life. He left the University of Minnesota to

take up a chair of playwriting at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. The

following twelvemonth his matrimony to Emma Brescia Warren ended in divorce, and in 1952 he

married Eleanor Clark, with whom he had two kids. One effect of this turbulence in

his personal life was his return to the authorship of poesy.

After roll uping his early work in Selected Poems, 1923-1943 ( 1944 ) , Warren

found himself unable to compose poesy. He published a long, autobiographical narration in

poetry, Brother to Dragons ( 1953 ) , but for a decennary he did non complete a lyric verse form.

The visual aspect of Promises, Poems 1954-1956 ( 1957 ) , a group of interconnected wordss

in which his new household figured conspicuously, introduced a new stage. Readers who had found

the early work derivative and academic were delighted by the freshness and energy of the

new volume. The qualities so conspicuous in his novels, the compelling narrative line and

the racy usage of the slang, were present but in more concentrated signifier. He had found a

new voice and a new way, and the spring of poetry that followed finally filled

a twelve volumes. The experimental nature of the ulterior work is emphasized by the extremist

alterations of verse forms in subsequent aggregations. The poesy is in a sense a work-in-progress,

and Warren subsequently remarked that his poesy was his “ autobiography. ”

As Warren & # 8217 ; s repute grew, he was invited to lend his sentiments on the societal

issues of the twenty-four hours. In 1956 he published Segregation: The Inner Conflict in the South, an

analysis of the quandary Southerners faced in covering with entrenched attitudes toward

race. This essay was followed in 1965 by Who Speaks for the Negro? , a volume of

interviews conducted with leaders of the civil rights motion.

Like any successful author who lives to a great age, Warren became an establishment, a

repute, and a presence. He carried off most of the literary awards, and the honorary

grades and ranks in rational societies necessarily followed. His productiveness

was equal to his versatility, and he made a distinguished part to fiction, poesy,

history, literary unfavorable judgment, and societal commentary. Shuning the blaze of promotion, he

was content to be a adult male of letters in an age of famous person. In a century when art has frequently

been enlisted in the service of one cause or another, Warren spoke his head freely on the

inquiries of the twenty-four hours yet managed to retain the regard of all parties. His preeminent rank

among the authors of his clip was recognized by the cosmopolitan acclamation that greeted his

assignment, three old ages before his decease at his holiday place in Vermont, to be the first

poet laureate of the United States.

Robert Penn Warren & # 8217 ; s documents are in the Beinecke Library, Yale University. For

manuscripts in other depositaries see James A. Grimshaw, Jr. , Robert Penn Warren: Angstrom

Descriptive Bibliography 1922-79 ( 1981 ) . An autobiographical essay, Portrait of a

Father ( 1988 ) , covers the writer & # 8217 ; s early old ages in Kentucky, and there is much personal

information in Floyd C. Watkins and John T. Hiers, eds. Robert Penn Warren

Talk: Intervews 1950-1978 ( 1980 ) . Floyd C. Watkins, Then and Now ( 1982 ) ,

written with Warren & # 8217 ; s cooperation, is accurately described by its caption, The

Personal Past in the Poetry of Robert Penn Warren. For a reappraisal of Warren scholarship

and a sampling of unfavorable judgment see William Bedford Clark, Critical Essays on Robert Penn

Warren ( 1981 ) . An obituary is in the New York Times, 16 Sept. 1989.

From American National Biography. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Copyright? 1999 by the American Council of Learned Societies.


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