From LSU Press, Baton
Photo used by permission of Jonathan S. Cullick.
|Without a sense of time, there can be no sense of identity.--Robert Penn Warren, "The Use of the Past" in New and
Selected Essays, ©1989, New York, Random House, edited by Robert Penn Warren.
Nothing we were,
Is lost. All is redeemed,
Robert Penn Warren, Brother
to Dragons-A Tale In Verse and Voices-A New Version, ©1979, New York, Random House
|History is the big myth we live, and in our
living, constantly remake.
Robert Penn Warren, Brother to
Dragons-A Tale In Verse and Voices-A New Version, ©1979, New York, Random House
|Note-Lines quoted immediately
above are reprinted by permission of William Morris Agency, Inc. on behalf of the Author
The Biographical Narratives of Robert Penn Warren
Jonathan S. Cullick
A newly detected correlation between
Warrens use of the past and his narrative techniques
From his first published book to his final works, Robert Penn Warren wrote novels, poetry,
biographies, and essays based on the lives of American historical figuresJohn Brown,
Jefferson Davis, Daniel Boone, Huey Long, Thomas Jefferson, Chief Joseph, John James
Audubon, Jereboam Beauchamp, and his own father, Robert Franklin Warren, among others.
Even some of his critical works take a biographical approach to their subjects, Nathaniel
Hawthorne, Herman Melville, John Greenleaf Whittier, and Theodore Dreiser.
In Making History, the first comprehensive survey of Warrens biographical
narratives, Jonathan S. Cullick tracks a clear development toward autobiography in
Warrens career. He then applies narrative theory to that provocative trend and makes
an intriguing discovery: Warrens discourse techniques dramatize his philosophy of
history and ethics. Cullick unearths what might be called the narrative syntax
of Warrens historical vision.
Warrens rejection of the conventional time-line view of history in favor of a
matrix paradigm that locates all people and time in a web of interconnected
action and responsibility is borne out, Cullick demonstrates, in the predominance of
biography, especially autobiography, in his canon. For Warren, understanding history
requires connecting with the people who lived it, and those two genres, through major
shifts in narrative voice and point of view, not only personalize history but restore the
narrators identity in context to the past. Autobiographyin which the narrator
inserts himself into the narrative, giving up his neutral or detached
stancerepresents the ultimate connection with the historical object of study and,
for Warren, becomes the modern alternative to conventional historical discourse. Genre
becomes vital in the attempt to reconcile American past and present.
Making History considers all of Warrens major biographical narratives and their
evolvement from detached reporting to doubtful self-examination. It offers a new reading
of Warrens famed novel All the Kings Men and close examination of
several neglected texts, including Warrens first book, John Brown: The Making of
a Martyr; his essay The World of Daniel Boone; and two of his final works,
Jefferson Davis Gets His Citizenship Back and Portrait of a Father, both
impressionistic collages of genreshistory, biography, meditation, portrait,
speculation, and autobiography.
Jonathan S. Cullick, PH.D. is
Assistant Professor; Director of the Writing Instruction Program, Department of Literature
and Language, Northern Kentucky University, Highland Heights, Kentucky. For
more about Jonathan S. Cullick, PH. D. click here.",