Study Guide

World Enough and Time

by Robert Penn Warren

World Enough and Time Summary

Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Jeremiah Beaumont is born in Kentucky in 1801. His father is Jasper Beaumont, one of the first settlers in Glasgow County, and his mother is the disinherited daughter of a wealthy planter. Jasper never prospers as he hoped, and his unfulfilled ambitions breed in him a strain of awkward moodiness that is reflected in his son.

Jasper dies, debt-ridden, when Jeremiah is thirteen. Before that time, the boy is in school with Leicester Burnham. Hoping for a better life than his father’s, Jeremiah is diligent in his studies. He is also stubbornly independent, for he refuses to become his grandfather’s heir because the old man insists that he take his mother’s maiden name, Marcher. When he is seventeen, Dr. Burnham introduces him to Colonel Cassius Fort, a famous frontier lawyer and politician who is looking for a young man to train in his law office at Bowling Green. Jeremiah is eager to accept Fort’s offer but cannot do so because of his ailing mother. Fort says that he is willing to wait for anyone Dr. Burnham recommends so highly.

The next spring, Mrs. Beaumont dies, and Jeremiah goes to Bowling Green to study law, not in Fort’s office, however, for the lawyer returned to Congress. Jeremiah’s only friend in the town is Wilkie Barron, another law student, from whose mother Jeremiah rents a room. Fort returns from Washington in 1820 and takes the young man under his patronage. From him, Jeremiah learns to look on the law not as a collection of dry statutes but as humanity’s agent of truth and justice. Times are hard in Kentucky following the Panic of 1819, and the legislature passes a law allowing a twelve-month stay of sale for debt. Fort is on the side of the Relief Party, as those who support the measure are called.

Wilkie first tells Jeremiah of a scandal linking Fort’s name with that of Rachael Jordan, daughter of a planter who died heavily in debt. Called in to help settle the estate, Fort is supposed to have seduced the girl and fathered her stillborn child. Grieved by that story of innocence betrayed, Jeremiah decides to have nothing more to do with his benefactor. In a letter he informs Fort, who is away at the time, of his decision. Fort writes in reply, but before his letter reaches Bowling Green, Jeremiah goes to visit Wilkie’s uncle, old Thomas Barron, in Saul County. The Jordan place is only a few miles away from his host’s. There he meets Rachael, wins her confidence, and, after hearing from her own lips the story of her shame, marries her. She accepts him on the condition that he kill Fort.

In the meantime, Jeremiah becomes involved in local politics. Percival Scrogg, fanatic liberal editor of a Frankfort newspaper, and Wilkie arrive to take part in a disputed election. After a riot at the polls, in which he and Wilkie fought side by side, Jeremiah is dismayed to learn that his friend is working for Fort. Wilkie advises him to put aside personal...

(The entire section is 1195 words.)