World Enough and Time

by Robert Penn Warren

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Characters Discussed

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Jeremiah Beaumont

Jeremiah Beaumont (jeh-reh-MI-uh BOH-mont), a man betrayed by his idealism as well as by the compromises and realities of life. An earnest young lawyer, he first becomes disillusioned with his benefactor, Colonel Cassius Fort, a famous lawyer and politician, on learning that Fort has seduced an innocent girl. He renounces his benefactor, becomes involved in politics, and marries the betrayed girl. Jeremiah loses a bitter election. He gives up his intention of killing his wife’s seducer, but a scurrilous political handbill, giving a false account of the seduction, enrages him. He kills his former benefactor and is convicted on the basis of false evidence. An old friend helps him to escape from prison. While hiding out, Jeremiah learns that this friend had been responsible for the libelous handbill. Jeremiah’s wife commits suicide, and he is murdered when he attempts to go back to tell the real story. Jeremiah’s story is a reworking of that of a historical figure, Jeroboam Beauchamp.

Colonel Cassius Fort

Colonel Cassius Fort, Jeremiah’s benefactor, a frontier politician. Although he did seduce the girl whom Jeremiah marries, he is not the author of the handbill that bears his name and that drives Jeremiah to kill him. This character is based on Colonel Solomon P. Sharp, who, like Fort, was assassinated in 1825.

Rachael Jordan

Rachael Jordan, the daughter of a planter. She is seduced by Fort and later marries Jeremiah, on the condition that he kill Fort. Later, she dissuades him from fulfilling his promise. When Jeremiah sees the scurrilous handbill, however, he kills Fort. After her husband’s conviction, Rachael also is arrested. Both are freed by Jeremiah’s false friend. Later, Rachael kills herself.

Wilkie Barron

Wilkie Barron, Jeremiah’s opportunistic and false friend, whom he has known since their days as law students together. Barron and several others break into jail and free Jeremiah shortly before his execution date, but Jeremiah learns that Barron was responsible for the handbill that made him kill Fort. After Jeremiah is killed by one of Barron’s men, Barron goes on to become rich and successful. Finally, he shoots himself. Among his papers is found Jeremiah’s manuscript, revealing the whole story.

Jasper Beaumont

Jasper Beaumont, Jeremiah’s bankrupt father. Jeremiah inherits his father’s moodiness, and he develops the feeling that he must work hard to settle his father’s score.

Dr. Leicester Burnham

Dr. Leicester Burnham, young Jeremiah’s teacher, who is a loyal friend. He recommends his pupil to Fort and remains loyal to Jeremiah during his trial.

Mrs. Beaumont

Mrs. Beaumont (née Marcher), Jeremiah’s mother, who is disinherited by her wealthy father. Her final illness postpones Jeremiah’s law studies.

Thomas Barron

Thomas Barron, Wilkie’s uncle. While visiting him, Jeremiah meets Rachael.

Percival Scrogg

Percival Scrogg, a fanatic liberal newspaper editor. He and Wilkie Barron together print and distribute the handbill attributed to Fort.

Josh Parham

Josh Parham, a rich landowner with whom Jeremiah forms a partnership. Their land speculation falls through when the Relief Party comes to power. Parham, an Anti-Relief man, swears not to open up Kentucky land while the Relief Party is in office.

Felix Parham

Felix Parham, Josh’s son.

Desha

Desha, the Relief candidate, elected governor in 1824.

Sellars

Sellars, the candidate who defeats Jeremiah in their election contest.

La Grand’ Bosse

La Grand’ Bosse, a river pirate. After escaping from prison, Jeremiah and Rachael take refuge with him.

Characters

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Warren's characterization of Beaumont is thorough and relentless, almost to the point of tedium. The reader follows Beaumont from his early and unsatisfactory...

(This entire section contains 435 words.)

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relationship with a dominating father, through his years as a promising law student and his naive hero worship of the affable Colonel Fort, to his fateful marriage to Rachel Jordan, and his efforts to avenge Rachel's honor in a duel with the unwilling Fort. Beaumont is seen maturing during some years of happiness with Rachel, while living as a peaceful planter; but his unwillingness to accept a commonplace happiness in the presence of what he considers a monstrous injustice to Rachel motivates the second half of the novel.

Beaumont's desperate clinging to his idealism, in the second half of the novel, and his residual naivete, however, frequently arouse skepticism and impatience in readers. It seems rather surprising that despite some legal experience, the same Beaumont who carefully plans his murder of Fort and tries to create an alibi, should nevertheless be continually shocked and outraged at the prosecution's use of lies, half-truths, and scandalmongers in its efforts to convict him. In fact, Beaumont's trial — which Warren intends to be symbolic of the routine injustice of the world — is protracted in the novel to a wearying extent.

The final half of the novel is redeemed primarily by the concluding sequence, when Beaumont, after his escape from jail, finds himself in the empty and timeless world of the river hideout of a notorious brigand, the "Grand Boz," and realizes that returning to civilization, telling the truth, and accepting the hangman's rope, is preferable to losing mind and identity in the wilderness. If Beaumont is at times a tiresome and exasperating tragic hero, he nevertheless wins the reader's final respect.

Although Warren's cast of major characters is somewhat limited, it is generally quite satisfactory. Rachel Jordan is an attractive and perverse heroine, quite credible as a woman who inspires a transcendent passion in a romantic such as Beaumont. In depicting her retreats into cowardice and uncertainty, even her lack of faith in Beaumont, Warren is unsparing of her character's flaws.

Similarly, Colonel Fort is one of Warren's best "hollow men," an affable charmer and seducer of women, an able politician, yet withal rather shallow and cowardly, and totally incapable of facing Beaumont in a duel. Percival Skrogg, the political fanatic, whose concern for "Relief" of Kentucky's impoverished farmers involved Beaumont in the jungle of Kentucky politics, is also effectively drawn, although the presence of the battle over "Relief" frequently serves as a distraction rather than a reinforcement of Warren's theme of the injustice of history.

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