When I decided on the title
of this talk, Topics for Warren Papers I No Longer Have Time to Write, I had
hoped to have time to create a slick, organized and amusing paper. Alas, it seems I
didnt have time for that either. What follows
Im afraid is a flood of notions, many of which may have occurred to you already,
about the works of Robert Penn Warren. There are a
number of reasons I no longer have time to follow these ideas to their fruition: I have
become the chair of the Department of English and Public Relations at Westminster, a task
that is not its own reward; I have committed myself to a number of larger projects; and I
have become a grandfather twice. As I said, I
dont have time to pursue these notions. I
offer them all to you.
Lets begin with All the Kings Men. When the Noel Polk edition of that novel is published,
it will offer many interesting areas of comparison with the 1946 version. For example, to
Bedford Clarks dismay, Willie Stark will be known as Willie Talos in the Polk
version. Warren, in several interviews, identified
the source of this allusion from Spensers The Fairie Queen, but no one has
attempted read the novel through the prism that the allusion implies. The identity of Jack Burdens father will be much
more murky in the Polk version. As late as 19
November 1945, Warren was calling Cass Mastern Jacks relative in the setting copy of
the novel. It was Lambert Davis who urged Warren
to remove the confusion about Jacks parentage. Davis
The Cass Mastern passage has troubled me in the way in which it is introduced. Jack
burden is quite dead-pan, introducing this episode, in calling Cass his Great Uncle, and
yet Cass is not his Great Uncle. The reader [,] finishing this story, can legitimately say
he has been tricked.
By reintroducing ambiguity
about the identity of Jacks father, the Polk edition puts even more pressure on the
question: How can we know the past? It also changes
the tone of Jack's parenthetical musing about Ellis Burden near the end of the novel.
(Does he think that I am his son? I cannot be sure. Nor can I feel it matters, for
each of us is the son of a million fathers.)
publication of Polks version will also require vigilance on our part lest the
publisher try to foist this version off on the unsuspecting public as Warrens novel. It should come out under the title Robert Penn
Warrens All the Kings Men: The Setting Copy, for truly that is what
it is. We must be ready to identify the Polk
version not as Robert Penn Warrens All the Kings Men but as a useful
tool for scholars who want to read it in conjunction with the novel and the various
dramatic versions of the Willie Stark material to see the full scope of Warrens
creative genius at work.
end of this summer I should have finished rewriting my manuscript Robert Penn Warren
and the Cass Mastern Material for LSU. When
that book is published, we should have available to scholars just about everything they
might need to use in reconsidering All the Kings Men.
are looking at Warren and drama let me mention two items that have received little
attention. I really dont know what could be done with these, but I will point them
out in the hope that some of you are brighter than I am. One
is a 29-page treatment for a screenplay entitled Dont Bury Me At All written
by Robert Penn Warren and Max Shulman, whom, Blotner tells us, Warren met at a party in
Minneapolis. In her autobiography A Talent for Luck, Helen M. Strauss, who served
as Warrens Agent at the William Morris Agency, tells us that the Minnesota meeting
led to a continuing friendship and that Warren was visiting Shulman in Westport at a time
when both writers were between tasks when the notion to collaborate on a screenplay came
up. They wrote a treatment and she flew off to
Hollywood, as she says, clutching the hilarious offspring of the literary marriage
of the decade to my bosom. Although four
major studios put in bids for immediate adoption, they all wanted to see a
finished script. By the time Strauss got back to
the east coast the two vacationing writers had resumed their primary
interests. This is the Max Shulman who created Dobie Gillis and Maynard G. Krebs in The
Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, the Max Schulman who wrote Barefoot Boy with Cheek, The
Tender Trap, Rally Round the Flag boys!, and I Was a Teenage Dwarf. I cant, off hand, think of a more unlikely
collaborator for Robert Penn Warren. Perhaps
Strauss has told us all that can be known about this escapade, but I want to know more. Their relationship and their desire to do something
together evidently continued. The first paragraph
of a letter of 17 June 1958 from Shulman to the Warrens reads:
Now lets see if Ive got it all straight: When you return from Italy, Red
and I will go to work on the John Brown play. If
Red is not available, I will go to work with Eleanor. If
I am not available, Red will go to work with Carol. If
neither Red nor I is available, Carol and Eleanor will do the play.
other item is a 60-page television script authored in 1952 by Warren and his publishing
friend David M. Clay to whom along with his wife All the Kings Men is
dedicated. I was able to locate this script only at the Library of Congress. This script entitled The Conway Cabal was
intended as the pilot for a series called This Very Spot. The script is particularly interesting because of its
concept and its timing. The umbrella concept is
the historical dramatization of little-known events.
The particular example in The Conway Cabal is the attempt by a General
Conway and the members of the Board of War of the Continental Congress to replace George
Washington as Commander-in-Chief with General Horatio Gates. The plot fails when the young Marquis de Lafayette
refuses to go along with it and forces General Gates to toast George Washington,
Commander-in-Chief of the American Armies. This
occurred in the York Tavern on Continental Square at 157 West Market Street in York,
Pennsylvania at THIS VERY SPOT.
interesting about the manuscript is that Warren and Clay wrote this pilot two years before
the airing of You Are There on CBS. That
half hour dramatic recreation of historical events, which was narrated by Walter Cronkite,
ran from 1954 through 1957.
there is the possibility to compare All the Kings Men to the rash of novels
that borrow from it, rip it off, or praise it through imitation. Recently these have included White Noise by Don
DeLillo, Primary Colors by Anonymous, and Deep Background by David Corn.
I would like to see a paper written about Warrens John Brown in which
Brown, as presented by Warren, is studied as the prototype of the modern fund-raising
public relations man.
Warren and Thornton Wilder are our only two writers to win the Pulitzer Prize in
two different genres. Warren won it in fiction in
1947 for All the Kings Men, in poetry in 1958 for Promises: Poems
1954-1956, and again in poetry in 1979 for Now and Then: Poems 1976-1978. Wilder won the Pulitzer Prize in 1928 in fiction for The
Bridge of San Louis Rey, in 1938 in drama for Our Town, and again in drama in
1943 for The Skin of Our Teeth. In addition
to this obvious connection, I feel there are many other areas of comparison that may
connect these two writers. For example, both seemed
always to experiment in their fiction. They never wrote the same book twice.
There are some things that are missing in the Warren manuscripts that would, if
found, make dandy papers. In an interview in which
Warren is explaining how he happened to write Audubon: A Vision, he says that he
remembered one line from an unfinished attempt at the material from twenty years before. He goes on to say that he didnt stop and go look
up the earlier version at that point. This implies
that the earlier version was extant at least at the time of the composition of the poem. It has not turned up. It
would be a major document from Warrens period of poetic silence when he says
he was unable to finish a poem. It would also be
interesting to compare it to the final poem.
Then there is the that sonnet two lines of which survive in Old Nigger on
One-Mule Cart Encountered Late at Night When Driving Home From Party in the Back
. . .And remember
Now only the couplet of what
Had aimed to beJesus Christa sonnet:
One of those who gather junk and wire to use
For purposes that we cannot peruse.
What did the other dozen
lines look like?
(John Burt told me in Boston
when I presented this paper that he found the poem and printed it in his The Collected Poems of Robert Penn Warren, Louisiana State
University Press, 1998. You can find it on page 813 of that volume.)
the mass of materials in the Beinecke as well as those at UK and Western Kentucky, I would
suggest that you keep these fragments in mind so you will know what you are looking at if
you ever run across one of them. In the same
category, although much less easy to describe, is the missing 8th Chapter of Gods
Own Time, one of Warrens two unpublished novels.
The best I can suggest here is that you read the rest of the novel to prepare
yourself for the possibility of discovery.
Another possible topic is suggested by John Burts decision not to publish any
unpublished Warren poems in his The Collected Poems of Robert Penn Warren. My guess
is that many of these would be fragments from the silent period. I think a study of these unpublished and
unfinished poems from the forties would be quite revealing.
I would like to see someone follow up on the great early work of Allen Shepherd and
write a book on Warrens Development as a prose writer. This would involve trying to document alleged help from
Katherine Ann Porter and Caroline Gordon through visits to the Princeton University
Library and the library at the University of Maryland. It
would involve reading Warrens unpublished novels and following Shepherds lead
in realizing they are the source of several of his early stories. Finally it would involve understanding Warrens
concept of fiction as expressed in his criticism as well as in his fiction.
Warrens poetry suggests many areas of investigation. I will mention only two.
I would like to see someone study the relationship of Warrens sight to his
poetry. Since he had but one eye, I wonder how that
affected what he saw and how what he saw affected his poetry. There are instances enough in the poetry of eyes and of
blindness, and these should be noted. I would be
interested in a paper that used perceptual psychology and an understanding of the
interplay between mind and eye that creates such things as depth perception. A knowledge of Warrens driving habits, especially
night driving, would be useful.
Another topic that appears often in Warrens poetry is geometry. Since Warren was headed for the Naval Academy before he
lost his eye and since he was headed, at Vanderbilt, for an engineering degree before he
wandered into John Crowe Ransoms English class, we can assume that he had a good
background in mathematics. That could all be
investigated. The writer of this paper should also
be aware of the fact that Warrens second unpublished novel, which is listed as
untitled in Grimshaws bibliography, but which is referred to as
But not the Lark in a Warren letter to David Clay dated November 8, 1941,
opens in a geometry class and that the protagonist, a good geometry student, is chosen to
tutor the young woman about whom the plot swirls.
Recently my reading of John Burts introduction to his notes on Warrens
poetry in his wonderful The Complete Poems of Robert Penn Warren, led me to a
thought that is too big for a paper. It is more
dissertation size. Burt explains that he usually
used the first book appearance of a Warren poem as the authors settled
intentions for that poem. In doing this he
chose not to use the first serial publication of the poem or the later revisions of the
poem that appeared in various selections Warren made. I
urge you to read his reasons and consider the possibility that most poets should be
handled this way. The first serial publication is
often only the latest draft in process that continues past that publication. The selected poem is often pulled out of its context by
the need to make room for other things. The author
may rewrite it to make it fit that space in the new book and thereby change
the nature and power of the work. Burt
maintains that in the first book presentation Warren paid particular attention to the
individual poems as well as to the way in which they fit together. I concur with his observation on Warren and suggest that
it could be made for many if not most 20th Century American poets.
Finally there are a number of questions concerning Warrens years at Oxford. There is
the matter of Warrens having been tossed out of New College. Blotner used a card on file in the Rhodes House to note
cryptically (kicked out of college).
Warren was removed from New College and had to find rooms in town at 3 Wellington Square. This whole affair is believed to have been over a
certain daughter of Britain whom Warren had in his New College rooms after
hours. Little is known of the affair. Caroline
Brown, the Archivist of the Rhodes Trust told me that if I were to write to her with
specific questions, she would read the files and provide answers. She suggested that John Burts permission for all
this would be needed. It may not be possible to
learn the identity of the daughter of Britain even from the Rhodes House
records, but that prospect is intriguing.
There is the matter of the overdue books that Warren was concerned with during his summer
break in 1929. As we discover in William Bedford Clarks wonderfully useful first
volume of the Selected Letters of Robert Penn Warren, on September 17th,
Warren wrote to Andrew Lytle:
must put an end [missing text] library fines. I
have nineteen books out [missing text] bye. Much love to your family. Do I see you in Guthrieor at
wondered for some time what books Warren had out over that summer. When we were in England in98, my wife and I went
to the New College Library. Of course we wrote
ahead so Caroline Dalton, the archivist there was waiting for us with an account of the
meeting of February 7, 1928 of the Warden and Tutors of the College at which R H.
Lightfoot speaking for the matriculation committee reported that they had accepted
R. P. Warren of Vanderbilt and Yale University.
She also brought down from the tower room where the archives are housed the huge
leather bound Record of the library in which each user wrote the titles he was
checking out and signed and dated the transaction. Those
of you who have worked with Warrens original holographs will be surprised to learn
that the young R.P.Warren who was checking books out of the New College Library, Oxford in
1928 wrote in a clear, strong, easy-to-read hand.
The first book Warren checked out was Scotts History of Scotland. From this library Warren read books on U.S.
History, Jefferson & Hamilton, The Federalist, the works of Thomas Nash,
John Donne and Gascoigne. There was no indication
there of overdue books.
went to Rhodes House where we discovered that the American History Collection that had
been housed there in Warrens time had been moved to the History Faculty Library. I thought at the time that Warren might have been
borrowing the19 books for Allen Tate who was then in Paris working on his life of
Jefferson Davis. In the spring of 1929, Warren wrote to Tate:
Im afraid that this will be a very unsatisfactory letter from several points of
view. First, I know your dislike
for reading any word of mine which does not come from a typewriter. Second, it is simply impossible to get the books you
want. The American History Library has been moved
to the new Rhodes House and no books can be taken out. In
fact, it is not even open now and I have had the devils own time getting permission
to go there and hunt up some references I needed. Besides,
your books arent there (Clark 157).
Clark speculates that the
books Tate wanted were related to his Jefferson Davis project. We trudged on to the History Faculty Library. There time ran out on us.
Someone could well contact the archivist at the History Faculty library and inquire
about possible records of Warrens borrowings.
it is. I hope I have provided you with some topics
to pursue or to have students pursue in the future. I
would like to leave you with a short list of useful information for researching in Oxford
and with copies of two of the poems I have written for my grandsons. I wish you the best.