Stephen Vincent Benet Essay, Research Paper
Stephen Vincent Benet
Only in a time when the pressure of the world amounts to angst and the
fight for freedom can a world advance in it’s literary achievements. A writer,
just like an artist, builds his creations from the mood and settings of the
surrounding atmosphere. In the first half of the twentieth century, the
atmosphere was filled with resources to stimulate literary creativity, such as
the second World War and the Great Depression (Roache 102: 14). The social
genre of the time gave way to the broad appeal to American life and the focus of
freedom leading to original stories and historical themes (Folsom 3: 953). Of
course, the past would remain a constant influence. Some common topics were the
Civil War and the settlement of western U.S. frontier life (Magill 1: 174).
Stephen Vincent Benet took all these factors into mind during his life as a
twentieth century writer/poet. Keeping the times, the life, and the literature
of Stephen Vincent Benet a major part of his influence and achievements, he
helped push America towards a united cultural victory.
Stephen Vincent Benet was born in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania to James
Walker Benet, a career military officer, and Francis Neill Rose Benet on the
twenty-second of July 1898 (Roache 102: 11, 13). He described himself as a
positive-thinking and modest man, who is thin, attractive, vivacious, whereas
his wife and his mother-in-law would consider him a plain, tall, large biter-of-
nails who carries a foolish expression, but whose intellect is too much for
words (Parsekian 1).
He couldn’t have been too foolish of a person due to his positive
upbringing. Benet’s parents planned for him to be a success in whatever he chose
to do. Their open-mindedness encouraged him to explore books and ideas in a
professional state., as well as to appreciate and take literature and history
very seriously (Roache 102: 13). Because of this upbringing, all three Benet
children became poets and authors. (Stephen Vincent Benet was the youngest of
them.) Much influence over the Benets came from love for the country because
James’ military work called for traveling between Georgia, California, Illinois,
New York, and Pennsylvania (Griffith 11).
Benet’s education shows how successful he really was. He entered Yale
University at 17 years old, when he published his first book. About that time,
he became professional with New York writers (Roache 102: 13). Stephen Vincent
Benet earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in 1919 and his Master of Arts degree
in 1920 at Yale before accepting a fellowship to Paris where he could live
cheaply and write his first novel and would later find his wife. One attempt to
enlist in the army and follow in the footsteps of his father failed in 1918,
leading him to a job working for the State Department in Washington, DC before
re-entering Yale (Magill 1: 171). In 1929, Benet was entered into the National
Institute of Arts and Letters in 1938, which he stayed a member of until his
death (Folsom 3: 954).
While in Yale, Benet held many other jobs such as editor, contributor,
and chairman of the Yale Literary Magazine, then editor and contributor of the
undergraduate humor magazine Yale Record. These jobs gave way to him working on
S4N, a New Haven magazine of poetry. In 1919, Benet published the play of
Christopher Marlowe’s Tamburlains the Great (1590) with Monty Wooley by Yale
University Press. In 1920, he published Heavens and Earth as his thesis during
his graduate study in England by Holt (Griffith 12). Other editorial jobs
include reviewing for the New York Herald Tribune and the Saturday Review of
Literature, and the Yale Series of Younger Poets competition in 1933 (Magill 1:
71). In 1945, Benet published a collection of radio scripts called We Stand
United, and Other Radio Scripts as a propagandistic war effort that he felt was
his destiny (Magill 1: 170).
Another destiny was marriage. He married Rosemary Carr on November 26,
1921 through the fellowship to Paris in 1920. They started living in Chicago,
then Paris, Hollywood, and New York (Roache 102: 13). She was an unpretentious
only child who never said mean things to anyone (Parsekian 1). She gave him
three children: Stephani Jane (1924), Thomas Carr (1925), and Rachel (1931)
(Magill 1: 172).
Benet has always been a popular person by large. He was more widely read
than Frost, Eliot, and many classical writers. Every lecture hall and poetry
workshop wanted him as a guest and his books sold tens of thousands (Griffith
11). In July 1929, John Brown’s Body won the Pulitzer Prize and “The Devil and
Daniel Webster” won the O. Henry Memorial Award (Roache 102: 14). “King David”
got The Nation’s poetry prize in 1923 when he was only 25 years old, the
Theodore Roosevelt Medal for literary accomplishment was given to him in 1933,
and he received the Gold Medal for Literature from the National Institute of
Arts and Letters with another Pulitzer Prize for Western Star before his death.
Stephen Vincent Benet had a stoke of bad health between 1930 to 1943
with arthritis of the spine and other illnesses. Overwork caused hospitalization
in 1939 by a nervous breakdown. At 44 on March 13, 1943, he was announced dead
by a heart attack (Magill 1: 171-172). He was buried (later with his wife and
older daughter) in Main Street cemetery in Stenington (Parsekian 1).
The literature of Stephen Vincent Benet has and always will be seen as
some of the greatest literary and artistic works ever created. His short stories
turned people on due to the straight-forward manner they were presented in and
the availability for significant relevance to self-revelation. His writings
could enrapture a reader like no other (Folsom 3: 953). His short stories
recognized “both bitter and the sweet” such as in “A Death In the County” where
a man learns that his past can help his present (Roache 102: 17). His poems are
popular because they portray traditions realistically and the patriotism of them
is outstanding. Charles A. Fenton said Benet “wrote short stories for money and
poetry for love” as a witness to the revelation his writings hold (Roache 102:
The styles of Benet’s short stories were showing lots of symbolism and
humor to deepen the stories. He also used a historical base to portray realism
and have a propagandistic overview. He individualizes the people through
speaking without distracting the reader. He also paralleled bible stories and
parables to symbolize slaves winning freedom in “Freedom’s a Hard-Bought Thing.”
The content of his stories are mainly patriotic as well as what the common man
of the present time wants and went only as far as his money needs went (Folsom
3: 956-957). In “Johnnie Pye and the Fool-Killer,” Benet begins in direct voice
as the narrator, then runs into a mass of dialect (34). The theme of that short
story is the everlasting existence of youth and na?ve predictions (Benet 34).
Benet’s themes ranged from ideological concerns in “Fantasies and Prophesies” to
human reality in “The Devil and Daniel Webster” or tragicomic ironies in “A
Story By Angela Poe” (Roache 102: 14).
Poetry was a completely other thing. Benet’s style consisted of local
humor and short phrases such as in “The Mountain Whippoorwill” (Griffith 13). In
John Brown’s Body, the content of poetry remains the same as in short stories.
He was a historically brought up person who reflected his past in historical
writing and poetry. The theme of Benet’s poetry ranged widely. The most
successful poem is the novel-length John Brown’s Body, whose theme is American
victory. Being paid for at such a high level, this poem had been well worth it’s
wait. He won a Pulitzer Prize for it and gave his personal version of history
center stage (Magill 1: 170,174).
Stephen Vincent Benet wrote books as well as poems, radio scripts, and
plays. His editing and contributions to American literature and his family of
Americans may have been a bigger gift than anyone could ever receive. Knowledge
is the power Benet used and it was the power that gave American literature the
victory of achieving such high standards. So, if the times, the life, and the
literature of Stephen Vincent Benet are as strong in leadership and knowledge as
an American force, then the country has won a victory for it’s poetry and prose.