All The King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren
All The King’s Men is Warren’s 3rd novel which won him the 1947 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Don’t be fooled though as Warren had already written a number of literary non fiction works and poetry by the time he wrote All The King’s Men and was a founder of New Criticism. He is the only person to have won the Pulitzer Prize for both Fiction and Poetry. All The King’s Men also made it onto the banned and/or challenged book list Radcliffe’s Rival 100 Best Novels List as it was challenged at the Dallas, TX Independent School District high school libraries in 1974. For what reason I don’t know but I’m pretty sure that only further advocates this book as worth reading.
This novel has been described as a political novel as it deals with the rise of political figure Willie Stark and his path to reform and power. But it also has to do with the theme that all actions have consequences and one cannot simply be an observer in life. This theme may be what people are talking about when they say that the story of Willie Stark the politician and the story of narrator, Jack Burden, Willie Stark’s personal aide, cannot be separated when reading this novel. That neither character is more or less important than the other because they must be taken together as if supporting one another’s stories.
GoodReads describes All The King’s Men as;
“more than just a classic political novel, Warren’s tale of power and corruption in the Depression-era South is a sustained meditation on the unforeseen consequences of every human act, the vexing connectedness of all people and the possibility—it’s not much of one—of goodness in a sinful world. Willie Stark, Warren’s lightly disguised version of Huey Long, the onetime Louisiana strongman/governor, begins as a genuine tribune of the people and ends as a murderous populist demagogue. Jack Burden is his press agent, who carries out the boss’s orders, first without objection, then in the face of his own increasingly troubled conscience. And the politics? For Warren, that’s simply the arena most likely to prove that man is a fallen creature. Which it does.”
I already feel quite compelled to read this novel but here is a last excerpt from Orville Prescott’s NYT review of All The King’s Men if you are not already convinced:
“It isn’t a great novel or a completely finished work of art. It is as bumpy and uneven as a corduroy road, somewhat irresolute and confused in its approach to vital problems and not always convincing. Nevertheless, Robert Penn Warren’s “All the King’s Men” is magnificently vital reading, a book so charged with dramatic tension it almost crackles with blue sparks, a book so drenched with fierce emotion, narrative pace and poetic imagery that its stature as a “readin’ book,” as some of its characters would call it, dwarfs that of most current publications. Here, my lords and ladies, is no book to curl up with in a hammock, but a book to read until 3 o’clock in the morning, a book to read on trains and subways, while waiting for street cars and appointments, while riding elevators or elephants.”
Have you read this novel? What did you think of it?