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A Safe Distance: Robert Penn Warren’s Introductions to All the King’s Men

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Part of the New Directions in Book History book series (NDBH)

Abstract

This chapter explores the introductions that Robert Penn Warren wrote for various American editions of All the King’s Men (1946), over a twenty-eight-year period (1953–1981). In prefaces for the Modern Library (1953), Time, Inc. (1963), the Franklin Library (1977), and the Book-of-the-Month Club (1981), Warren describes how and why he wrote the novel and who and what inspired him. However, the most important element of his introductions is the influence of Huey P. Long, populist Governor (1928–1932) and US Senator (1932–1935) from Louisiana, on Wille Stark, the fictional populist governor in the novel. I focus on Warren’s treatment of origins, followed by a survey of “Huey,” whose treatment drives, to a great extent, the success and staying power of the novel.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Robert Penn Warren, Brother to Dragons: A Tale in Verse and Voices (New York: Random House, 1953), xii.

  2. 2.

    William Kennedy, “Robert Penn Warren: Willie Stark, Politics, and the Novel,” 1973, in Conversations with Robert Penn Warren, eds. Gloria L. Cronin and Ben Siegel (Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2005), 85; 89.

  3. 3.

    Ernest Hemingway, Death in the Afternoon (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1932), 278.

  4. 4.

    Roy Newquist, “Conversation: Eleanor Clark and Robert Penn Warren,” 1967, in Conversations with Robert Penn Warren, eds. Gloria L. Cronin and Ben Siegel (Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2005), 58.

  5. 5.

    Gerard Genette, Paratexts: Thresholds of Interpretation, 1987, trans. Jane Lewin (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997), 253.

  6. 6.

    On 15 July 1979, President Jimmy Carter, in a nationally televised address to the nation, referred to the fundamental threat to American democracy as “a crisis of confidence. It is a crisis that strikes at the very heart and soul and spirit of our national will. We can see this crisis in the growing doubt about the meaning of our own lives and in the loss of a unity of purpose for our nation. The erosion of our confidence in the future is threatening to destroy the social and the political fabric of America.” See Jimmy Carter, “Crisis of Confidence,” 15 July 1979, PBS, https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/features/carter-crisis/.

  7. 7.

    Genette, Paratexts, 253.

  8. 8.

    Keith Perry, The Kingfish in Fiction: Huey P. Long and the Modern American Novel (Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 2004), 42.

  9. 9.

    Perry references an article that American writer Hamilton Basso wrote for Life magazine about his and other depictions of what he called “Hueys-who-aren’t-Hueys.” See Perry, The Kingfish in Fiction, 32–33.

  10. 10.

    Perry, The Kingfish in Fiction, 42.

  11. 11.

    Robert H. Chambers, “Introduction,” in Twentieth Century Interpretations of All the King’s Men, ed. Robert H. Chambers (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1977), 6.

  12. 12.

    Robert Penn Warren, All the King’s Men. 1946 (New York: Time, Inc. 1963), xi.

  13. 13.

    Tom Vitale, “A Conversation with Robert Penn Warren.” 1985, in Conversations with Robert Penn Warren, eds. Gloria L. Cronin and Ben Siegel (Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2005), 222.

  14. 14.

    Frank Gado, “A Conversation with Robert Penn Warren,” 1966, in Conversations with Robert Penn Warren, eds. Gloria L. Cronin and Ben Siegel (Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2005), 38.

  15. 15.

    Gado, “A Conversation with Robert Penn Warren,” 44.

  16. 16.

    Warren also wrote an introduction for an English edition of the novel in 1974. It does not necessarily strike out into any new territory; therefore, I restrict my analysis to the American edition introductions.

  17. 17.

    Robert Penn Warren, All the King’s Men. 1946 (New York: Modern Library, 1953), vi.

  18. 18.

    Warren, All the King’s Men, 1963, xi.

  19. 19.

    Robert Penn Warren, All the King’s Men. 1946 (Franklin Center, PA: Franklin Library, 1977), vi.

  20. 20.

    Robert Penn Warren, All the King’s Men. 1946 (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1981), xiii.

  21. 21.

    Genette, Paratexts, 239.

  22. 22.

    Robert Penn Warren (RPW) to William T. Bandy, October 2, 1983. See Randy Hendricks and James A. Perkins, eds., Selected Letters of Robert Penn Warren: Toward Sunset, at a Great Height, 1980–1989 (Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 2013), 183.

  23. 23.

    James A. Grimshaw, Robert Penn Warren: A Descriptive Bibliography, 1922–1979 (Charlottesville, VA: University Press of Virginia, 1981), 38.

  24. 24.

    For more on the Modern Library, see Jay Satterfield, The World’s Best Books: Taste Culture, and the Modern Library (Amherst, MA: University of Massachusetts Press, 2002) and Lise Jaillant, Modernism, Middlebrow and the Literary Canon: The Modern Library Series, 1917–1955 (London: Routledge, 2014).

  25. 25.

    Grimshaw, A Descriptive Bibliography, 43.

  26. 26.

    RPW to Max Shulman, July 29, 1963. See Randy Hendricks and James A. Perkins, eds., Selected Letters of Robert Penn Warren: New Beginnings and New Directions, 1953–1968 (Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 2008), 386.

  27. 27.

    Grimshaw, A Descriptive Bibliography, 47.

  28. 28.

    RPW to T. S. Rosenthal, April 6, 1976. See Randy Hendricks and James A. Perkins, eds. Selected Letters of Robert Penn Warren: Backward Glances and New Visions, 1969–1979 (Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 2011), 299.

  29. 29.

    RPW to Katherine Anne Porter, June 15, 197[6]. See Hendricks and Perkins, Backward Glances and New Visions, 305.

  30. 30.

    RPW to Allen Tate, July 25, 1976. See Hendricks and Perkins, Backward Glances and New Visions, 312.

  31. 31.

    RPW to Allen Tate, July 25, 1976. See Hendricks and Perkins, Backward Glances and New Visions, 312.

  32. 32.

    RPW to Louis D. Rubin, Jr., October 8, 1976. See Hendricks and Perkins, Backward Glances and New Visions, 328.

  33. 33.

    RPW to Allen Tate, October 10, 1976. See Hendricks and Perkins, Backward Glances and New Visions, 330.

  34. 34.

    RPW to Katherine Anne Porter, November 8, 1976. See Hendricks and Perkins, Backward Glances and New Visions, 333.

  35. 35.

    All inflation adjustments were made using the Consumer Price Index (CPI) Inflation Calculator, provided by the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, https://www.bls.gov/data/inflation_calculator.htm.

  36. 36.

    RPW to Donald E. Stanford, February 27, 1981. See Hendricks and Perkins, Toward Sunset, at a Great Height, 83.

  37. 37.

    RPW to Cleanth Brooks, March 2, 1981. See Hendricks and Perkins, Toward Sunset, at a Great Height, 84–85.

  38. 38.

    Genette, Paratexts, 239.

  39. 39.

    Warren, All the King’s Men, 1981, xiii.

  40. 40.

    Joseph Blotner, Robert Penn Warren: A Biography (New York: Random House, 1997), 173.

  41. 41.

    Blotner, Robert Penn Warren, 177. The Warrens lived first in Sirmione near Lake Genoa, then Capri and Rome, returning to the United States in June 1940. See Blotner, Robert Penn Warren, 176–184.

  42. 42.

    William Bedford Clark, ed. Selected Letters of Robert Penn Warren: The Southern Review Years, 1935–1942 (Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 2001), 226.

  43. 43.

    Clark, The Southern Review Years, 229.

  44. 44.

    Clark, The Southern Review Years, 232.

  45. 45.

    Clark, The Southern Review Years, 242.

  46. 46.

    Clark, The Southern Review Years, 244.

  47. 47.

    Clark, The Southern Review Years, 269.

  48. 48.

    See Blotner, Robert Penn Warren, 181.

  49. 49.

    David Madden, “Preface,” in The Legacy of Robert Penn Warren, ed. David Madden (Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 2000), xiv.

  50. 50.

    RPW to Kenneth Burke, Fall 1939. Quoted in Blotner, Robert Penn Warren, 179.

  51. 51.

    Blotner, Robert Penn Warren, 179.

  52. 52.

    Warren, All the King’s Men, 1953, i.

  53. 53.

    Warren, All the King’s Men, 1953, ii.

  54. 54.

    Warren, All the King’s Men, 1953, ii.

  55. 55.

    Warren, All the King’s Men, 1953, iv.

  56. 56.

    Warren, All the King’s Men, 1953, iv–v.

  57. 57.

    “Editor’s Preface,” in Warren, All the King’s Men, 1963, vii.

  58. 58.

    Genette, Paratexts, 224.

  59. 59.

    Warren, All the King’s Men, 1963, xvi.

  60. 60.

    Warren, All the King’s Men, 1963, xvi.

  61. 61.

    Warren, All the King’s Men, 1963, xvi.

  62. 62.

    Warren, All the King’s Men, 1963, xvii.

  63. 63.

    Warren, All the King’s Men, 1963, xvii.

  64. 64.

    Warren, All the King’s Men, 1963, xvii.

  65. 65.

    Warren, All the King’s Men, 1963, xvii.

  66. 66.

    Gado, “A Conversation with Robert Penn Warren,” 39.

  67. 67.

    Warren, All the King’s Men, 1977, iv.

  68. 68.

    Bill Moyers, “A Conversation with Robert Penn Warren,” 1976, in Conversations with Robert Penn Warren, eds. Gloria L. Cronin and Ben Siegel (Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2005), 93.

  69. 69.

    Warren, All the King’s Men, 1977, iv.

  70. 70.

    Warren, All the King’s Men, 1977, iv.

  71. 71.

    Warren, All the King’s Men, 1953, v.

  72. 72.

    Warren, All the King’s Men, 1963, xi.

  73. 73.

    Warren, All the King’s Men, 1963, xiii.

  74. 74.

    Warren, All the King’s Men, 1977, vi.

  75. 75.

    Warren, All the King’s Men, 1953, i.

  76. 76.

    Warren, All the King’s Men, 1963, xvi.

  77. 77.

    Warren, All the King’s Men, 1977, iv–v.

  78. 78.

    Warren, All the King’s Men, 1977, vii.

  79. 79.

    Warren, All the King’s Men, 1977, vii.

  80. 80.

    Warren, All the King’s Men, 1981, ix.

  81. 81.

    Warren, All the King’s Men, 1981, ix.

  82. 82.

    Warren, All the King’s Men, 1981, xiii.

  83. 83.

    Warren, All the King’s Men, 1953, vi.

  84. 84.

    Warren, All the King’s Men, 1963, xv.

  85. 85.

    Warren, All the King’s Men, 1977, v.

  86. 86.

    Warren, All the King’s Men, 1981, xv.

  87. 87.

    Warren, All the King’s Men, 1981, xix.

  88. 88.

    Warren, All the King’s Men, 1981, xv.

  89. 89.

    Warren, All the King’s Men, 1953, iii.

  90. 90.

    Warren, All the King’s Men, 1981, xx.

  91. 91.

    Warren, All the King’s Men, 1981, xx.

  92. 92.

    Warren, All the King’s Men, 1953, v.

  93. 93.

    Perry, The Kingfish in Fiction, 194. For a thorough analysis of Warren’s treatment of Long in the introductions, see Perry, The Kingfish in Fiction, 186–195.

  94. 94.

    Perry, The Kingfish in Fiction, 195.

  95. 95.

    Ladell Payne, “Willie Stark and Huey Long: Atmosphere, Myth, or Suggestion?” in Twentieth Century Interpretations of All the King’s Men, ed. Robert H. Chambers (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1977), 100.

  96. 96.

    Payne, “Willie Stark and Huey Long,” 115.

  97. 97.

    Perry, The Kingfish in Fiction, 208–209.

  98. 98.

    Warren, All the King’s Men, 1953, v.

  99. 99.

    Perry, The Kingfish in Fiction, 209.

  100. 100.

    Perry, The Kingfish in Fiction, 221.

  101. 101.

    Hugh Ruppersburg, Robert Penn Warren and the American Imagination (Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press, 1990), 11.

  102. 102.

    William Bedford Clark, The American Vision of Robert Penn Warren (Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 1991), 83.

  103. 103.

    Clark, The American Vision of Robert Penn Warren, 89.

  104. 104.

    John Burt, Robert Penn Warren and American Idealism (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1988), 171.

  105. 105.

    Jonathan S. Cullick, Robert Penn Warren’s All the King’s Men: A Reader’s Companion (Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 2018), 35.

  106. 106.

    Perry, The Kingfish in Fiction, 228.

  107. 107.

    Charlotte H. Beck, Robert Penn Warren, Critic (Knoxville, TN: University of Tennessee Press, 2006), 79.

  108. 108.

    Warren, All the King’s Men, 1953, v.

  109. 109.

    Warren, All the King’s Men, 1953, v.

  110. 110.

    Perry, The Kingfish in Fiction, 188.

  111. 111.

    Warren, All the King’s Men, 1953, vi.

  112. 112.

    Warren, All the King’s Men, 1963, xiii.

  113. 113.

    Warren, All the King’s Men, 1963, xvi.

  114. 114.

    Warren, All the King’s Men, 1963, xvii.

  115. 115.

    Perry, The Kingfish in Fiction, 193.

  116. 116.

    Warren, All the King’s Men, 1977, iv.

  117. 117.

    Warren, All the King’s Men, 1981, ix.

  118. 118.

    Warren, All the King’s Men, 1977, vi.

  119. 119.

    Warren, All the King’s Men, 1981, xii.

  120. 120.

    Warren, All the King’s Men, 1981, xiii.

  121. 121.

    Ruppersburg, Robert Penn Warren and the American Imagination, 22.

  122. 122.

    Warren, All the King’s Men, 1981, xiii.

  123. 123.

    Warren, All the King’s Men, 1977, vii.

  124. 124.

    Warren, All the King’s Men, 1963, xvi.

  125. 125.

    Warren, All the King’s Men, 1953, iii.

  126. 126.

    Perry, The Kingfish in Fiction, 209.

  127. 127.

    Warren, All the King’s Men, 1977, iv.

  128. 128.

    Payne, “Willie Stark and Huey Long,” 115.

  129. 129.

    Robert Penn Warren, All the King’s Men, 1946, ed. Noel Polk (New York: Harcourt, Inc., 2002), 609. This chapter does not address Warren’s initial decision to name his Long character Willie “Talos,” after Talus, the black knight of justice in Edmund Spenser’s The Faerie Queen. The restored edition of All the King’s Men, edited by Noel Polk and released in 2001, incorporates a number of emendations to the first edition, including Polk’s controversial decision to rename Willie Stark back to Willie Talos, citing Warren’s initial intentions. When citing passages from the novel, I refer to the restored edition. See Noel Polk, “Editing All the King’s Men.” Southern Review 38, no. 3 (2002): 849–860; and “The Text of the ‘Restored’ Edition of All the King’s Men.” RWP: An Annual of Robert Penn Warren Studies 2 (2002): 17–64.

  130. 130.

    Robert Penn Warren, “All the King’s Men: Preface to Franklin Library Edition,” Typescript, Robert Penn Warren Papers, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University, New Haven, CT.

  131. 131.

    Warren, All the King’s Men, 1981, x.

  132. 132.

    Warren, All the King’s Men, 1981, xiii.

  133. 133.

    Randy Hendricks and James A. Perkins, eds. Selected Letters of Robert Penn Warren: Triumph and Transition, 1943–1952. Baton Rouge, LA: Louisiana State University Press, 2006. 177. See RPW to Lambert Davis, February 7, 1946, note 1.

  134. 134.

    Grimshaw, A Descriptive Bibliography, 35.

  135. 135.

    Hendricks and Perkins, Triumph and Transition, 227. See RPW to S. Spencer Scott, December 23, 1946, note 1.

  136. 136.

    C. Van Woodward, “The Uses of History in Fiction,” 1968, in Conversations with Robert Penn Warren, eds. Gloria L. Cronin and Ben Siegel (Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2005), 70.

  137. 137.

    Peter Stitt, “An Interview with Robert Penn Warren,” 1977, in Conversations with Robert Penn Warren, eds. Gloria L. Cronin and Ben Siegel (Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2005), 116.

  138. 138.

    Robert Penn Warren, All the King’s Men, 1946, ed. Noel Polk (New York: Harcourt, Inc., 2002), 613.

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Tangedal, R.K. (2021). A Safe Distance: Robert Penn Warren’s Introductions to All the King’s Men. In: The Preface. New Directions in Book History. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-85151-4_6

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