The Cass Mastern Material

The Cass Mastern Material

The Core of Robert Penn Warren's All the King's Men


Edited, with an Introduction, by

James A. Perkins

2005, LSU Press, Baton Rouge


One of the most striking parts of Robert Penn Warren's novel All the King's Men is Chapter 4, in which narrator Jack Burden tells the story of his distant relative Cass Mastern. A Confederate soldier, Mastern betrays his best friend by falling in love with the man's wife and then out of guilt tries repeatedly to get killed in battle but ironically becomes a hero for his daring, before finally attaining a mortal wound. In The Cass Mastern Material, James A. Perkins fully explores how this episode supplies the crucial piece to a puzzle surrounding Warren's novel, tracing the story's evolution through several versions and genres over almost twenty years.

Found here are both the earliest, short-story rendition of the Cass Mastern episode, originally published in 1944, and Warren's final dramatic version, completed in 1961 and now made available in print for the first time. The play was finally staged in 1999, and Perkins appends related letters, production notes, and an interview that provide a context for understanding the work's importance in Warren's career.

"I have always felt that the section is central to [All the King's Men]," Warren wrote, concerning the Cass Mastern material. This unique volume affords a view of Warren's restless creative process and throws new light on the story that formed the core of his masterly novel.

"This is assuredly the definitive book on the Cass Mastern story, tracing its gestation through two decades of genre mutations  from short story to play to the 'core' of Robert Penn Warren's greatest novel. The scholarship is meticulous, the explication lucid, making this book a worthy addition to the cannon of Warren studies."

Victor Strandberg, author of The Poetic Vision of Robert Penn Warren

In bringing together the 'matter' of Cass Mastern, Perkins has performed an invaluable service for Warren studies, and his learned and daring introduction is certain to provoke spirited discussion. This volume both broadens and deepens our appreciation of Warren's protean genius, especially his penchant for the theatrical."

William Bedford Clark, author of The American Vision of Robert Penn Warren

"This haunting story hounded its author throughout his career, and Warren returned to it repeatedly, thinking of it as an independent short story, as a chapter in All the King's Men, and as a play. Painstaking edited by James A. Perkins, The Cass Mastern Material recovers a moving and important drama that deserves to be seen in its own light both as a major contribution to Warren's oeuvre and as a key drama about guilt, race, and slavery in the era of the American Civil War."

John Burt, editor of The Collected Poems of Robert Penn Warren

James A. Perkins, coeditor of Robert Penn Warren's "All the King's Men": Three Stage Versions, and Selected Letters of Robert Penn Warren, Volume Three: Triumph and Transition, 1943-1952. He is a professor and chair of the Department of English and Public Relations at Westminster College in New Wilmington, Pennsylvania.