The American Vision of Robert Penn Warren

The American Vision of Robert Penn Warren

William Bedford Clark
Copyright Date: 1991
Pages: 176
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    The American Vision of Robert Penn Warren
    Book Description:

    In 1976 -- the bicentennial year -- Robert Penn Warren told Bill Moyers that he was "in love with America" but his love for the nation was more often than not troubled and angry. Warren once remarked that "any intelligent person is inclined to criticize his country more strongly than he will criticize anything else. And he should It's a way of criticizing himself, too.... Trying to live more intelligently, and more fully." InThe American Vision of Robert Penn Warren, a noted Warren scholar traces the evolution of our first poet laureate's distinctive stance toward the American experiment in democracy, showing how Warren sought to balance off the claims of self and society in the New World.

    This book surveys the full six decades of Warren's career, combining close reading with a historian's eye for social and political context. While pointedly avoiding the reductive pitfalls of the "new historicism," Clark documents the informing role the Great Depression played in shaping Warren's attitudes toward art and politics, and he demonstrates the necessity of regarding Warren's major achievements in fiction and verse as forms of "public speech." Read in this light, Warren's vision offers a set of possibilities for renego¬tiating America's covenant with its Founders on new and pragmatic terms.

    Based solidly on the best previous commentary on Warren and his work, Clark's study represents a new approach to its subject and incorporates insights and information garnered from the Warren Papers at Yale. A wide-ranging account of the interplay between an author's imagination and contemporary history, this book should prove of interest to all students of American culture, especially those concerned with the interrelationships of literature, politics, and ideology. Written in a lively and direct style, it will appeal to specialists and general readers alike.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5875-4
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-viii)
  3. Shortened and Abbreviated Titles
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiv)
  5. 1 Bicentennial in Babylon
    (pp. 1-19)

    Long before it arrived, 1976, as the bicentennial year, had been designated a time for retrospective contemplation of America’s past, an occasion for national self-congratulation and celebration. Nonetheless, the first half of the 1970s had been filled with events that were decidedly inauspicious. For the first time in history, an American president, under threat of almost certain impeachment, had been forced to resign his office (his vice-president had resigned in disgrace some time before), and the bitterly divisive war in Vietnam, the nation’s longest, had ended with the pathetic image of abandoned Asians clinging to the struts of the American...

  6. 2 A 1920s Apprenticeship
    (pp. 20-44)

    To Frederick Lewis Allen, impatient to chronicle the decade or so that had only recently come to a close in 1930, the period from the Armistice to the Great Crash already had the look of “a distinct era in American history.”¹ Indeed, even today the Twenties seem to exist in a kind of splendid isolation. Woodrow Wilson’s hopes for a new world order emerging from Versailles had been dashed, and at home Prohibition was a legal, though hardly effectual, reality. The Republicans were in, bringing with them prosperity and the promise to keep America free from burdensome foreign entanglements, but...

  7. 3 Out of the Thirties
    (pp. 45-68)

    In 1930, having taken the B. Litt. at Oxford, Warren returned to the United States, and in that year the little magazineThis Quartercarried his poem “Empire.” Clearly born of the same impulse that had given rise to earlier verse like “Iron Beach” and “To a Face in the Crowd,” it too seemed to presume that history—at least in the West—had come to an end. In a tone both epic and elegiac, Warren’s speaker charts the westward course of empire from the days of the Phoenicians, Greeks, and Romans through the discovery and exploration of the New...

  8. 4 Democracy and “Soulcraft”
    (pp. 69-98)

    Near the beginning ofNight Rider,Warren’s protagonist Percy Munn arrives in the tobacco-trading center of Bardsville aboard a railroad car densely packed with men who have come together in the hope of making a better life for themselves and their families. They want a fair price for their crop, which is to say that they have come to claim what the promise of America assures them is theirs by right—justice. A man of the law and himself a grower, Mr. Munn wants what his fellow passengers want, but he is set off from them by virtue of education...

  9. 5 Renegotiating the Covenant
    (pp. 99-130)

    In 1970, Warren brought out a Reader’s Edition of selected verse by Herman Melville, and like most of his ventures into scholarship and criticism, it was an act of self-revelation.¹ In his introduction, he asserted that the Civil War had had a “curative” effect on Melville. More particularly, “what it . . . did for him was to lead him to see that the fate of man is to affirm his manhood by action, even in the face of the difficulty of defining truth.” Warren added, “Man to be man must try to comprehend the density and equivocalness of experience...

  10. Postscript
    (pp. 131-132)

    On October 9-11, 1985, Louisiana State University was the scene of a major literary event, a conference celebrating the founding of theSouthern Reviewon its campus a half-century before.¹ The coeditors of the original series of theReview,Brooks and Warren, were there, as were Eudora Welty, Ernest Gaines, and Walker Percy, along with an impressive complement of distinguished authorities on modern letters. It was the presence of Warren, however, that clearly dominated the proceedings. Already visibly ravaged by the illness that would take his life a scant four years later, Warren purportedly came to Baton Rouge against his...

  11. Notes
    (pp. 133-154)
  12. Index
    (pp. 155-162)