Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

In the depths of the Great Depression, young Jesse Stuart, a 1929 graduate of Lincoln Memorial University in Harrogate, Tennessee, enrolled in Vanderbilt University with the aim of studying under such writers as Robert Penn Warren, John Crowe Ransom, and Donald Davidson. Having arrived with little money, Stuart frequently went hungry as he attempted to work his way through graduate school. It was a heartbreaking year. Near its end, in April, 1932, a fire that burned Wesley Hall to the ground destroyed all of his possessions, including his nearly finished thesis on John Fox, Jr. Stuart persevered to the end of the year but then returned to his home, having failed to earn a degree. Yet it was during this year of turmoil that Beyond Dark Hills: A Personal Story, his first autobiographical work, had its genesis.

Professor Edwin Mims had assigned his students of Victorian literature to write an autobiographical paper. Instead of the expected twenty-page paper, Stuart produced more than three hundred typewritten pages in eleven days. Each morning he would show his new copy to Robert Penn Warren, who urged him to “throw everything else aside” until he finished it. Later Stuart recalled, “Blindly I’ve beaten these words out. They fell like drops of blood on the eardrum. I beat them with a hammer and forged them with heat cleavers to make them undouble the small pictures I have gathered in the album of my brain.” A week after he handed it in, Stuart was complimented by Mims, who nevertheless gave him only a C grade in the course. Six years later, the manuscript was published by E. P. Dutton, with two...

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(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Blair, Everetta Love. Jesse Stuart: His Life and Works, 1967.

Clarke, Mary Washington. Jesse Stuart’s Kentucky, 1967.

Foster, Ruel E. Jesse Stuart, 1968.

Le Master, J. R. Jesse Stuart: Kentucky’s Chronicler-Poet, 1980.

Le Master, J. R., and Mary Washington Clarke, eds. Jesse Stuart: Essays on His Work, 1977.

Pennington, Lee. The Dark Hills of Jesse Stuart, 1967.

Richardson, H. Edward. Jesse: The Biography of an American Writer, Jesse Hilton Stuart, 1984.

Spurlock, John Howard. He Sings for Us, 1980.