World Enough and Time

by Robert Penn Warren

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World Enough and Time is subtitled "A Romantic Novel," but this description is in part ironic. The novel recreates a famous tragic series of events from the early history of Kentucky, a story that has been called, appropriately enough, "The Kentucky Tragedy." Its resolution is tragic indeed, for the novel traces the degradation and death of its hero in its final half. However, World Enough and Time, whose title is taken from Andrew Marveil's poem, "To His Coy Mistress To Make Much of Time," describes the lives of two very passionate lovers, whose blend of romantic idealism and passion bring them to destruction: hence, the novel may be called aptly a "romantic novel," because its protagonists embody the spirit of romanticism.

Warren's epigraph for the novel is taken from a description of Edmund Spenser's knight Artegall, the hero of Book V of The Faerie Queene. Artegall is the knight of justice, who, along with his squire, Talos, administers a violent reckoning for those who have transgressed against the laws of God and Gloriana, the Fairy Queen. Since Warren has on one occasion compared Willie Stark to Talos, his implicit parallel between Artegall and Jeremiah Beaumont, the hero of World Enough and Time, establishes a philosophical link between this novel and All the King's Men (1946; please see separate entry), its immediate predecessor.

Beaumont, the hero of World Enough and Time, has two other connections with All the King's Men: He is much like Cass Mastern, the hero of the tale-within-a-tale set in the Civil War, and an idealist who comes to grief through his excessive romanticism; and he is like the shadowy idealist, Adam Stanton, who assassinates Willie Stark to avenge the honor of his sister and his family. Beaumont's romantic idealism leads to tragedy for himself and Rachel, as well as for his mentor and victim, Colonel Cassius Fort; but Beaumont's tragedy is the result of an obsessive pursuit of honor and justice, much like that of Mastern and Stanton in All the King's Men. Hence Warren may be described as viewing the tragic nature of history from the point of view of the idealist, or "man of idea," in World Enough and Time, in contrast to the emphasis on the pragmatism of Willie Stark, "the man of fact," in All the King's Men. Moreover, if the point of view of Adam Stanton had been slighted in All the King's Men (where Adam was chiefly depicted through his long moody sessions of playing romantic piano music), World Enough and Time provides a compensatory alternative by restricting the reader to Beaumont's point of view and the narrator's sardonic commentary on it.

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