Books by Robert Penn Warren

NONFICTION
Released: May 1, 2000

" Useful for scholars and for admirers of Warren's work who are very familiar with the author's life and career. (b&w photos, not seen)"
Ten years of essentially unrevealing letters from a formative period of the poet and novelist best known for All the King's Men and as the first Poet Laureate of the United States. Read full book review >
NEW AND SELECTED ESSAYS by Robert Penn Warren
NONFICTION
Released: March 29, 1989

Elegantly written—and elegantly imagined—critical essays on literature and the love it breeds; by the octogtenarian American poet laureate. Ranging over half of his literary life, from the 1940's to the present, these selected essays show off Warren as the versatile man of belles-lettres that he is. Sandwiched between opening and closing meditative essays on poetry are easy-moving studies of literary heavyweights and answers to timeless questions about books. In "Why Do We Read Fiction?," Warren answers, "because we like it," looking to novels not for "meaning" but escape. He does find meaning elsewhere, in Hemingway, for example, where the "shadow of ruin" behind his stories is given yet another new turn. In "Hawthorne Revisited," Warren wriggles out "the irremediable askewness of life" from The Scarlet Letter. A bio-graphically minded essay on Twain matches up the contradictions of the life and the writing and refreshes understanding of the pure "expression" of his language. Elsewhere, Warren takes up the overlooked. "Melville the Poet" rescues his verse from obscurity and opprobrium, and a long, reflective essay on Whittier incites some strong, old feelings on abolitionism. Other tributes go out to John Crowe Ransom and Robert Frost; Warren has almost nothing bad to say about anyone. The book ends with his well-known 1946 essay on Coleridge's "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner." Like everything else here, it still stands up and merits rereading. No slips of taste or shoddy judgments, yet no surprises, either. Just great, old-fashioned musing by a brilliant man. Read full book review >
Released: Aug. 12, 1981

Increasingly prolific with age, Robert Penn Warren—poet, novelist, gut-historian—here regards mortality with his familiar passionate eloquence, and a new ferocity. In "Dead Horse in a Field": "At evening I watch the buzzards, the crows/ . . . / Forgiveness/ Is not indicated. It is superfluous." Sometimes, however, his great rhetorical and narrative power, his mastery of the long line, give way to glibness—and many of the autobiographical events which sparked the poems are cloudily (though of course sonorously) evoked: "Side by side, stroke by stroke, in a fading light they move./ The sea pours over each stroke's frail groove./ Blackly, the headland looms. The first star/s declared." Warren's rush to say something—about Time, Death, God, History—carries hint too quickly into abstraction (though some of these poems, notably "Going West" and "Twice Born," do succeed in balancing ideas and things). Warren claims an oracular authority which his poems cannot quite fulfill—the experience of reading him is that of nearly getting swept away. But his language is evocative, at times reminiscent of Wordsworth—in the lovely "Millpond Lost": "As now you stand dreaming, one leaf, slow, releases/ Its bough, and golden, luxurious, an image of joy not grief,/ Scarcely in motion, descends, till even that motion on the water ceases. . . . In darkness, I've tried to imagine the pond after such time-lapse,/ Or name the names of the boys who there shouted in joy, once." At its best, dark and moving work. Read full book review >
Released: July 12, 1980

This latest collection of Robert Penn Warren's poems give more evidence of his deficiencies—his affection for abstractions, like God, Truth, and Time, and his passion for the rhetorical question—than of his strengths. Instead of defining experience within the poem, he more often than not asks what it is or why it is indefinable. "Alone, alone,/ What grandeur here speaks? . . . What,/ Long ago, did the world try to say?"; "Why have I wandered the asphalt of midnight and not known why?"; "What kind of world is this we walk in?" "Lesson in History," no lesson, is nothing but rhetorical questions ("Why did Boone at sunset sing?" "What did Hudson see on that last night?" "What did Anne Boleyn think as the ax rose?"). Either Warren wishes to suggest the Mystery of Everything without further responsibility for penetrating it, or he's developed a bad habit from a lingering refusal to accept the finite world. None of the poems in these pages approaches the few definitive poems Warren wrote years ago: "Notes on a Life to be Lived" (1966), "Bearded Oaks" (1942), or "History" (1935). Nor are there a dozen lines that pose cosmic questions about private destiny with as grand a flourish as the opening paragraph of his period novel, World Enough and Time (1950). Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 5, 1979

Warren's novels, with one or two exceptions, are terrible; his early poetry, though estimable for its linguistic ripeness and its heart and its astonished American innocence, was often a clustering mess of eloquence. But in the last dozen years or so, Warren has simplified, toned down—at least in his poetry—and achieved a directness many find extremely affecting. This narrative poem in different voices, first published in 1953, has been reworked to conform to the chaster Warren. It takes occasion from the real-life 1811 crime, described in Boynton Merrill, Jr.'s Jefferson's, Nephews (1976), in which two Kentucky nephews of Thomas Jefferson, Lilburne and Isham Lewis, hacked a Negro slave to parts, Speaking as himself—R.P.W.—and giving speaking roles to Jefferson, to Lilburne, to Isham, and to others connected, Warren probes not only the agony and violence of the act, but chiefly Jefferson's from-the-grave response to the across-the-board brutality and blood that accompanied his democratic vision. Innocence denied by history and evil, seems to be the theme, and though it's larded here and there with hyped-up eloquence ("this period of the final tumescence/From fat oubliettes of inwardness/ Let Lilburne speak"), Warren has done well in this new version; the marriage of narrative and decreased poetic assertion produces a strong work. Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 8, 1978

This small book is a showcase for the many varieties of Robert Penn Warren's talent, proving not only that the talent is still very much alive, but that the man using it is the same man. The volume contains some of the vivid, neatly rhymed ballads Warren made so much his own in earlier years. "Here [in the graveyard] the Indian crouched to perfect his arrowhead./ And there was a boy, long after, who gathered such things/ Among shiny new tombstones recording the first-planted dead,/ Now and then looking up at a buzzard's high sun-glinting wings. . . . " And there are disquisitions, free-form but not formless, on topics as various as landscapes (New England, Greece), tennis shoes, old flames. In every poem the poet's mind is focused on eternity and its relation to time—on what may be constant, in the body or the universe. The first poem, "American Portrait: Old Style," is "about" a man going back to the scene of his childhood hopes and happenings. It ends: ". . . And the world's way is yet long to go,/ And I love the world even in my anger,/ And love is a hard thing to outgrow." Near the book's close comes what is probably its most gripping and memorable piece, "Heart of the Backlog." No shotguns here, no rabid dogs, no moral blows to the solar plexus. Only the poet reflecting by the fire one deep winter night on his own comfort, the owl whose hunting call he hears, the small furry vole he imagines in the snow, and their mortal encounter. Now and then—then and now—reads the title, its occasional tone complementing the weight of the classic questions raised. This is a book to please the poet's many admirers. It is also for those who think poetry boring or "difficult," because its impact is immediate, to be felt as well as pondered. Read full book review >
A PLACE TO COME TO by Robert Penn Warren
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: March 14, 1977

If you stop and think about Robert Penn Warren's most ambitious novel in years (Instead of going right on reading it), the two central characters don't really carry it: namely Jed Tewksbury with his identitylessness; or the hedonistic, sluttish Rozelle whom he loves for most of his life—who's right out of the same Alabama small town of Frank Yerby. There's a strong and eye-catching opener when Jed's "booze-bit" father dies, pissed and pissing on a mule. This confirms his mother's decision to make Jed leave this sumphole—"git what's to git, then git." Jed gits, on to a small college, then graduate school in Chicago where, with the sponsorship of a refugee scholar, he works on his important paper dealing with Dante's metaphysic of death. Will it be the death warrant of the quiet girl he marries? (A gentle double take here.) After that Jed goes to Nashville to teach and enters into the long carnal conjunction with Rozelle, Rozelle always on the make and the take. Jed finally shucks his enslavement to her when he learns of her possible complicity in her sick husband's drowning. In the uncertain years that follow, he is seen married, a father, divorced, in Europe where Rozelle (now with a black swami) turns up briefly, and finally returning to his mother's grave in the hope of finding his "final self, long lost." After all, he had never known "happiness, only excitement." These are, after all, unoriginal ideas which do not lend any distinctive heft to Warren's unfashionable, overt itinerary. Read full book review >
Released: Jan. 1, 1977

Robert Penn Warren is a moral realist in his novels and a lyric moralist in his poems. He is fascinated by man's obsessions and imperfections—circumscribed by custom, limited by having to make choices, alternately exalted and dismayed by experience. "The recognition of complicity" as "the beginning of innocence" and "the recognition of necessity" as "the beginning of freedom"—this apposition is the persistent theme throughout his work. The best of the Selected Poems, then, are memorable primarily as examples of moral sensibility, poems whose cultural touchstones reflect philosophy, religion, art, but whose ultimate emotional allegiance is with the claims of history and the contradictions of human nature. His panoramic re-creations—the American South, New York, Washington, the old world of the Mediterranean, childhood, marriage, family life—are full of magnanimity, local color, ironic portraiture; they have a genuine thoughtfulness and raw beauty which strikingly project an intelligent and gifted poet's attempt to make sense of the chaos of past and present. If at times a certain rhetorical crudity or imaginative heaviness damage his style, the earnestness of Warren's moral concerns is continually apparent. Both in the novels and the poems, during a long and exemplary career, he has blended modernism and romanticism, dreams and responsibilities, in a manner that we can now see is distinctly his own. Read full book review >
Released: Sept. 12, 1974

Conceived, perhaps, as a single long poem, yet all these sections really have in common is time and the American poet who voices them — nay, narrates them — nay, declaims them. For these are surging epical verses that rush ecstatically from natural images to philosophic observations and beg for dramatic reading. Central concerns are the pursuit of knowledge and the vicissitudes of aging. Warren returns more than once to a past that expired before he knew "the truth, which is: Seize the nettle of innocence in both your hands, for this is the only way. . . ." He recalls a white Christmas out of his childhood and a drunken adolescent spree in New Orleans spouting Milton enthusiastically; there are visions of long-dead parents and a flash of the continuity of tense — his own son grown old and in his good turn remembering what was. "Is was but a word for wisdom, its price? . . . meaning [we might read 'poetry'] inheres in/ The compulsion to try to convert what now is was/ Back into what was is." But then certain cameo poems intrude into this very personal sequence — "Homage to Theodore Dreiser," "Flaubert in Egypt," the very impressive "News Photo" of a man acquitted of murdering a minister "Reported to Be Working up the Niggers" — that break up its unity at random. An uneven work by a distinguished man of letters, better known for his achievements in other genres. Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 4, 1971

Life was the way things went away from you, and left you standing," indeed abandoned in the loneliness which shrouds this new novel. It is however a melodrama and perhaps even more so than any of the later works — Flood, The Cave, etc. Although the first half begins slowly, insistently set in another small Tennessee backwater where the living is not only Poor but slack and shapeless, it cumulates extravagantly and even the overuse of certain mystical words (such as white) cannot reclaim it. Down in Spottwood Valley Cassie lives alone in the ruined house with the ruined specter of the older man she had married, Sunderland; he has been motionless for twelve years following a stroke. Angelo, a Sicilian with a prison record, walks down the road in the rain and into her life. Before long he shares her bed, gets her out of her gray nightgowns and omnipresent sweaters into black lace panties, and makes a woman of her — in fact "made her feel beautiful." But then there's his assault of a black girl (Sunderland's by-product) and the killing — Sunderland is knifed in bed — and the trial which leads to Angelo's execution even though Cassie, now institutionalized, confesses. The tragedy and violence linger on and on to the final coda — a suicide. And in spite of the "luminous" (another favored word) overcast, the air is thick with loss, regret and failure. Read full book review >
NONFICTION
Released: July 12, 1971

A centennial celebration, which like Ellen Moers' excellent Two Dreisers (1969), reaches beyond the vast blunders and dramatic miseries of Dreiser's career (so exhaustively documented by Swanberg in his 1965 biography) to the central tensions in Dreiser's life and work. Through a melding of brief biographical chronologies and an explication of the major novels, Warren probes for Dreiser's overriding obsessions, less to comprehend the man than to explain the significance of the novelist's vision. Dreiser was the perennial outsider, always cosseting the experience of yearning beyond the "'tall walls' of his world." But because of Dreiser's acute consciousness of the glittering lures of a secularized, industrialized America, he was also a novelist of the "metaphysics of society." And always there was the threat of "namelessness," of an absence of identity. Warren follows this malaise through a stimulating investigation of the character Clyde in An American Tragedy, emphasizing the recurrent Aladdin theme — where dreams of riches given, of what would now be called "instant satisfaction," filled a terrifying vacuum. Warren now and then considers Dreiser's "art," but he does not use the word without a wry comment. Nonetheless, his appreciation of Dreiser's dialectic thrust through character is illuminating. A full-dress homage, introduced by three fervent poems by Warren. Read full book review >
AUDUBON by Robert Penn Warren
NONFICTION
Released: Nov. 12, 1969

A long poem, based on Warren's vision of Audubon, a poem of "great distance and stars." With rugged lyricism and great narrative strength (put to devastating effect in the section concerning a nightmare execution), Warren dips and careens about themes involving time, reality and the intuition of self. "How thin the membrane between himself and the world," begins the wanderer, but the "world declares" its truth in enactment—a boar grumbles, a jay calls. One can only wait for a sign, never really knowing anything except oneself. Warren has been accused of a derivative drift in the past (to an extent this still applies), and lines like: "The dregs/Of all nightmare are the same, and we call it/Life," drop like a stone in the applejack. But this is nonetheless a poem of pristine breadth and power. Read full book review >
Released: Oct. 12, 1968

Robert Penn Warren has always been wedded to history, both in his novels and poems. He has always sought to understand the present through the past, or vice versa. What man is and what man could be, the mythology of the Self and "the awful responsibility of Time"—these are his themes. A radical in delineating the intensity of his own personality, and a conservative in his respect for and understanding of tradition, he brings together, when he is good, a compelling sense of the individual fate and the larger issues behind it, a feeling for the truth of his own subjectivity and anguish coupled with a heady insistence on the values of knowledge and moral definition, those transfiguring forces which give meaning to the dark and the isolate. Unfortunately, he is not at his best in his latest work, and his very commendable concerns often sound hortatory and hollow, Lucretius updated with existentialist heroics: "The world/ Is like wind, and the leaves clash. This knowledge/ Is the beginning of joy. I/ Tell you this explicitly as I can, for/ Some day you may find the information/ Of crucial importance." No poet should be that explicit, and the various colloquial echoes of Hemingway, Goodman, and Elizabeth Bishop, along with the prosy philosophy, tough guy ironies, parabolic settings and character sketches, as well as the general absence of striking phrases and enveloping rhythms, hardly help. Warren still writes with great assurance, but "Night Is Personal" is the sole poem one can unreservedly admire. Read full book review >
WHO SPEAKS FOR THE NEGRO? by Robert Penn Warren
NONFICTION
Released: May 27, 1965

In 1929-30, Robert Penn Warren wrote from England an essay on the Negro in the South which he recalls as "a cogent and humane defense of segregation." Today he writes with certitude from a far different stance. His recording of the Negro Revolution indicates the reason why. He has taped the opinions of a number of Negroes representing the spectrum of endeavor. He has talked with Dr. Clark of Southern University in Baton Rouge, an older man heading a Negro institution, and with Ruth Turner, an impatient, dedicated young woman in CORE. He has sojourned in Mississippi at the time of the Beckwith trial and talked with Charles Evers, Medgar's brother, and Dr. Aaron Henry and Robert Moses (Harvard out of Harlem, now with Snick). He has interviewed all the major leaders, from Martin Luther King to Malcolm X; and some "role models" that distinguished members of the race become, especially authors—Baldwin, Ellison (the show biz leaders seem to be neglected here). He has listened to young people involved in the Movement. He has found some areas of agreement, noticably in the feeling that the Negro is acting in search of his identity; some areas of dispute, notably as to means and goals. His own conclusion: white should act to promote a society "operating by the love of justice and the concept of law" in his own self-interest and toward his own freedom. This montage portrait of a revolution in process has a cumulative effect. Read full book review >
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: May 18, 1964

Again Mr. Penn Warren has his way with a Southern town — from the forlorn green with the statue of the Confederate soldier to the sightless shop fronts- but in this case the characters are lyric shadows from other Warren main streets, and the rotagonist is a half-realized remnant of the artist's ruminations. Learning of the imminent annihilation of Fiddlersburg, Tennessee, writer Brad Tolliver, accompanied by screen director Yasha Jones, returns to the home town to find in his roots the immutable, creative self he had lost. On wanderings through the town, and feverish sights, the past returns to Brad — his tumultuous marriage to beautiful Lettice and its dissolution; the Spanish civil war and the Village; the tragic marriage of his sister Maggie, whose husband murdered her lover one night and fled away from life; the savage mystery of Brad's father whom he hated. During the long summer, patience, pain and gloomy dedication are made manifest through the outcast brilliant lawyer; the suffering Baptist preacher; a young Negro minister plagued by a clear vision of humanity; and Frog Eye, a swamp primitive, croaking doom upon the waters. A blind face of innocence (almost an impossible innocence) finally fails to shield Brad from his isolation. The symbolic characters are all familiar, and the hero's search for the life of the heart brittle, but Mr. P.W. can write up a storm. Read full book review >
WILDERNESS by Robert Penn Warren
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Nov. 15, 1961

If this 'novel' had been written in verse form it would have been easier to assess, for the prose virtually scans, the images come crystal clear, the concepts have the almost fragile quality of poetic imagery. As a novel, one is somewhat at a loss, for the plot- if such there is — lies in the search of Adam Rosenweig for 'what a man must know to be a man'. The fight for freedom — that was his creed, inherited from the father who betrayed it on his deathbed that he might die in his faith. The right to fight, despite his club foot, despite the insistence of his uncle that as a Jew he must stand aside and wait, despite the unsavory reputation pinned on Germans as fighters, because one company fled at Chancellorsville. And so Adam signed up, his deformity unnoticed, until the sea betrayed him to the officer in charge of recruits, as the shores of America seemed almost within reach. He escaped — in the turmoil of New York; he found a way to serve- as aid to a sutler. He learned — through seeing death, experiencing man's betrayal of himself and his fellows, finally through killing a man himself, on the battlefield. He knew he was ready then to walk out of the Wilderness. Here-as only Robert Penn Warren could do it- is another aspect of the Civil War. Read full book review >
Released: Aug. 31, 1960

Robert Penn Warren is a Pulitzer prize winner and a versatile writer in many genres. Some of this variety is reflected in this latest book of poetry whose tone ranges from the abstrusely modern to some jingle interpretations of nursery rhymes. Perhaps the most successful poems are the traditional ones, on nature, love, time, the poetic retrospect, etc. But the poems concerned with the present, or with personalities, contain some fairly jarring colloquialisms. It is disturbing to find Ogden Nash rhymes- "Jantzen pants on" following "In time's concatenation and/ Carnal conventicle I". In theory, the juxtaposition of languages and styles is more fruitful than it would seem here where the mixture is not entirely successful. Read full book review >
THE CAVE by Robert Penn Warren
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Aug. 24, 1959

Here is one of the South's most gifted and versatile writers with a new theme, handled in- for him- a wholly new vein. It is a powerful and haunting and often distastefully crude portrait of a Kentucky hill community, caught up in mass hysteria when one of their young men, war hero Jasper Harrick, disappears in a newly discovered cave. He and the almost vicious son of the parson, Isaac Sumpter, had planned to make a commercial venture of it, a tourist trap- and Jasper goes exploring on his own- and does not come back. The story builds to a wicked crisis; in the process the venalities, the emotional instabilities, the susceptibility of the crowd to a taste for disaster and violence, and the capitalizing of overstrained emotions for virtually a religious revival as they wait at the cave entrance, add up to a cross-section of the people and a revelation of the skeletons in the cupboards-past and present. The Harricks- parents and sons- are central to the action, and much of their story one gets in flashbacks, recriminations; old man Sumpter, playing on the emotional hysteria, gets his converts, his public confessions — and then, put to the test himself, finds he cannot betray his son in the elaborate lie he has built about Jasper, with himself as hero taking in food and medicine to a man caught by a falling rock way back in the cave. For Isaac has not gone far enough to see; his father goes beyond, and learns the truth- Jasper is dead, but only just dead. Isaac, his son, is really his murderer. It is a tale of muted violence, uninhibited in language and raw sex, but absorbing in the subtle play of human emotions. Read full book review >
GODS OF MOUNT OLYMPUS by Robert Penn Warren
NONFICTION
Released: June 15, 1959

The Greek myth of creation, the genealogy of the gods, are given new vitality in Warren's handling. He has chosen to sustain a sparseness and clarity, a style appropriate to the classical theme. With this as a basis of understanding of the classic myths-a heritage fundamental to understanding the literature of the West, Warren has performed signal service, an invaluable aid to grounding student understanding of all literature. Read full book review >
REMEMBER THE ALAMO! by Robert Penn Warren
HISTORY
Released: Aug. 28, 1958

This factual account of the Battle of the Alamo brings more vigorous personalities to life and effects more dramatic contrasts than many of its fictional competitors. Not only does Robert Penn Warren delineate battle strategies; he clarifies the ambitions and personal histories of the adversaries who met at Bexar and lays bare the stakes for which the battle was fought. The claims and crises of both Mexico and of the American settlers, desperadoes, and outlaws who lived in the no-man's-land state are dissected. Texas, hoping for equal rights in the new Mexico, after Spanish dominion was ousted, was settled 4-1 by ex-Americans. Then American immigration was halted by law — bringing to an end hopes of prosperity. And the rise of dictator Santa Anna meant an end to hopes for impartial jurisprudence. Boys and girls with any appetite for historical information will endorse this. Read full book review >
PROMISES: 1954-1956 by Robert Penn Warren
Released: Aug. 15, 1957

Robert Penn Warren was known as a poet long before he was known as a novelist, but this is the first collection of fugitive verse that has been made for many years. He has collected here the poems of the past three years, lyrics for the most part. This reader found them uneven in execution, though throughout there was the singing note of the true lyric poet, and an extraordinarily vivid sense of form, life, color and an ability, in sharply selective choice of words, to share the sensual values. In this he seems more effective than in the emotional content or in any particularly new note of form or versification. A few of these poems have appeared in periodicals. Read full book review >
HISTORY
Released: Aug. 31, 1956

Kentucky born poet, novelist, journalist, Pulitzer prize winner, Robert Penn Warren will be listened to as the average Northerner with comparable acceptance would not. And what has he to contribute? He went back to the Deep South; he talked to Negroes, to whites, on both sides of the issue. He listened, with understanding of the deep inner splits that made kindly men turn bitter and violent, in opposition to what they felt was happening, was going to happen. He comes up with no conclusions, but somehow what he has to report clears some away of the cobwebs. One begins to see that for the most part, the aggressive opponents of desegregation do not represent the better element , but that those who know in their hearts that it will come , prefer to stand aside than to fight on either side. One feels that Warren himself accepts the difficulties as a tragic slowing down process, possibly even a set-back to what might have come anyhow, but feels that the "creeping progress" goes on. And he recognizes- as he turns North-a vast sense of relief at escape from responsibility, from the divisiveness that characterizes the Southerner. Read full book review >
BAND OF ANGELS by Robert Penn Warren
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Aug. 22, 1955

Warren, Pulitzer prize winner, erratic genius, poet, philosopher, novelist, short story writer, has written a provocative, at times brilliant book, which attacks from a different angle, the always moot subject of miscegenation and its aftermath. Kentucky and Louisiana, spanning the pre-Civil War and Reconstruction years, once again provide a background. Manty Starr, only child of a "widowed" plantation owner, is now spoiled and cherished, now rejected. A stormy interlude at a school above the line fires her with abolitionist philosophy, which her father pushes aside. Then, at her father's grave, Manty learns that she is his chattel, child of a slave, subject to seizure for his debts. The balance of the book is her own tragic tale of a lifelong search for freedom, again and again with her grasp. But manumission papers prove insufficient to free her spirit. Escape from Hamish, the good man who had given her protection, is not the answer. The tie with Shaddy, grizzled old Negro whom her father had sold when he threatened her childhood security; with Seth Parton, twisted fanatic who would not allow himself to love her; with Rau-ru, free slave plantation manager, linked with old Hamish' unsavory past; with Tobias, northerner, trying to escape the net of his father's power, by taking over New Orleans' Freedman's Bureau all played their part in Manty's search for a way of life. She could not escape the fears and memories and suspicions of her past. Tobias, knowing- she is led to believe- her guilty secret, loves And marries her. But their life together, as he spirals downward, is her constant cross. It takes 25 years before they learn that freedom lies within themselves. The book is uneven in development, often confused in conveying the underlying philosophy. But when the words are found and the meaning comes through, the reader finds reward. The moods and passions of a tortured era provide parallel backgrounds; now and again rare beauty comes alive in poetic passages. As September Literary Guild selection, many of the hurdles will be taken. Read full book review >
WORLD ENOUGH AND TIME by Robert Penn Warren
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: June 20, 1950

Short story writer, poet and Pulitzer Prize Award winner with All the King's Men, Robert Penn Warren has established his right to speak for his native Kentucky — as well as for his adoptive Louisiana. And Kentucky is once again the background and integral part of this long novel, the story of Jeremiah Beaumont. The period — early 19th century, finds Kentucky still a frontier, with the inevitable conflicts between frontier viewpoints and those of an encroaching civilization. From a background representative of those conflicts comes Jeremiah, and the story tells of his brief journeys into the other world represented by his violent grandfather, of his chance for an education in the law, of his tutelage under the esteemed lawyer and politician, Fort. Then Rachel comes into his life. His passionate and erratic courtship culminates in first a promise to kill Fort, who had betrayed her, and then marriage, the promise unfulfilled. Jeremiah's twisted conscience drove him, this way and that; Rachel's abnormal and frustrated emotions — and their strange, perverted relationship —drove him further, and eventually he killed. Fort. A large portion of the book is concerned with the trial, while Jeremiah's confession and apologia is woven into the very texture of the story. Eventually, on the very verge of execution, his friend, (who is proved finally to have been his betrayer) Wilkie, engineers his escape, with Rachel, against whom his anger has turned. There's another strange interlude of seclusion in a western island colony — then Rachel's death and eventually Jeremiah's violent end. An unusual and difficult book —oddly dated in style and substance, but an authentic mirroring of the moods and passions of the times. Read full book review >
THE CIRCUS IN THE ATTIC by Robert Penn Warren
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Jan. 22, 1947

Kentucky and Tennessee provide the background for most of the fourteen stories that make up this collection — a sort of between the wars Winesburg, Ohio — or perhaps even closer in the types of characters and situations to a prose Spoon River Anthology. The title story and Prime Leaf are novelettes, — the first dealing with the dream life of a frustrated man whose one excursion into adventure in his boyhood, when he ran away to join a circus, is immortalized through his subsequent dull life, dominated by women, in the building of the circus in the attic. The twelve short stories are sketches, character bits, impressions, community cross sectioning, — stories that have been published over seventeen years by the Pulitzer Prize winner, author of All The King's Men. Read full book review >
ALL THE KING'S MEN by Robert Penn Warren
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: June 15, 1946

Once again Huey Long has provided the prototype for a novel built around a tycoon in the making. Warren's character, Willie Stark, a young lawyer from back country in the Deep South, abuses the gift of power as did the central figure in A Lion Is In the Streets by Adria Langley and Number One by Doe Passos. This conception of Willie Stark comes much closer to the Dos Passos character — and the method used of having his publicity man tell the story bears close parallels. But All the King's Men, while enmeshed in political chicaneries, is a much more highly personalized story than Number One, and at the same time never an emotional or sentimental story (as many found the Langley book). Its weakness lies in its very dispassionate presentation — one feels neither dislike nor sympathy for Willie Stark. His relations with the wife he used and pushed aside, with the son he idolized and ruined have no atom of depth in humanity. Even his numerous affairs stir no emotion in the reader, either for Stark himself or the women he used. There's a certain sureness of technique — objectivity of approach that has its value. But as a novel it provides limited entertainment for largely a male market. Read full book review >
AT HEAVEN'S GATE by Robert Penn Warren
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Aug. 19, 1943

There's brilliance here, power too, in a novel of the South in the late '80's which is sometimes scathing, sometimes militant, consistently incisive — and which — with a hard precision, presents a group of people in conflict. Dominating them is Rogan Murdock, smooth, successful financier speculator who with no scruples, no heart, has achieved a throttlehold on the State; in revolt against him are the labor organisers, the dispossessed farmers, the intelligentsia — and his own daughter, Sue. Reckless, hostile, restless, Sue breaks her engagement to Jerry because he is her father's man, drifts into a Mohemian group of University men led by a poet and a pervert, Milm, with whom she sleeps when he defies her father. Finally, she goes to live with a labor organiser, Sweetwater, and becomes pregnant. He wont marry her, and ilm, ridiculed once too often, strangles her, and Bogan Murdock's money empire is broken. Narsh, dynamic, convincing, but certainly not pleasant reading nor a book for a wide popular sale. Read full book review >
NIGHT RIDER by Robert Penn Warren
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: March 7, 1939

Here's a book that may prove important from the angle of critical acclaim but that will scarcely class as popular in its appeal. Warren is well known as critic, poet and editor of the Southern Review. His style is sensitive, rhythmical, with brilliant flashes of portraiture and description of the tobacco country. It is a story of a secret organization, formed to organize the growers into a cooperative group, but forced to adopt terroristic measures to achieve their results. The emotional side of the story is handled obliquely, and not very convincingly. The period is today — and the book as a whole is a challenge to our presumably modern social conscience. It is over-long, but has many passages of exceptional writing. Read full book review >
A SOUTHERN HARVEST by Robert Penn Warren
FICTION & LITERATURE
Released: Nov. 5, 1937

A collection of short stories by the foremost southern writers of today, which provides not only excellent reading but also a many-faceted picture of the South. Few of the stories are "physical action" or plot stories, the majority present one segment of southern life today. There is the static, decadent, genteel south of Allen Tate, Elizabeth Madox Roberts, Andrew Lytle and Stark Young; Roark Bradford, E. P. O'Donnel, and Julia Peterkin's Negro south: Elma Godchaux and Erskine Caldwell's poor Whites, etc. The Caldwell "Kneel To The Rising Sun" is far and away the most dramatic piece of writing, Thomas Wolfe's the most artistic. Others represented are Jesse Stuart, Faulkner, Caroline Gordon, Katherine Anne Porter, etc. Throughout there is a strong tendency towards self-scrutiny, self-definition through close observation, with a sacrifice of drama to analysis — but there is skill and poetry in the telling. Read full book review >

Robert Penn Warren's fame extends over a three-pronged front. As a novelist he has produced impressive, popular fiction, chiefly dealing with Southern themes, past and present. His criticism, especially that co-authored with Cleanth Brooks, affected a revolution in American academic taste. Only his various volumes of poetry, though always generously received, have not been an animating force. Indeed, covering more than forty years of careful activity, they have yet to emerge in imposing outline on the literary landscape. For Warren with all his gifts—wit, intelligence, pathos, technical command—never really achieves the excitement, singularity, imperilled self-exposure which traditionally bespeaks the personal style. There is, in short, the aura of failed stature throughout most of his work, as well as the trailing accents of other poets. Just as the early poems echo Marvell and Donne and the rediscovery of Metaphysical irony, the later exhibits suggest snatches of Berryman or Elizabeth Bishop. Of course, it's difficult holding out against Warren's tough, laconic lyricism, his grim humor, the sense of history and familiarity with cosmopolitan or provincial locales. Even so, one hopes for a shattering finality; one gets measured wisdom. Read full book review >