Despite the fact that Robert Penn Warren was one of the most prolific critics of the twentieth century, Charlotte H. Beck's Robert Penn Warren, Critic is the first thorough study of Warren as a literary critic in his own right. Part of the blame for this surprising omission lies with Warren himself, who tended to belittle his critical persona, considering himself a poet first, fiction writer second, and critic last. Although Warren was educated at Vanderbilt and befriended by the original New Critics, Warren created and honed his own critical method, often in striking opposition to that of the New Critics. Using a largely chronological approach, Charlotte Beck has carefully traced the evolution of Warren's criticism, focusing on seminal examples of the critical books, essays, and introductions that Warren produced over a period of almost seventy years. Her surprising conclusions often run counter to previous evaluations of Warren's criticism, especially to those that complacently link Warren to Cleanth Brooks, his lifelong friend and collaborator, and to New Criticism in general. Beck demonstrates that Warren consistently treats writers holistically, taking into account biographical as well as historical data, to account for their entire body of work, rather than focusing on a single literary text.Beck's analysis of Warren's criticism will appeal not only to scholars of American literature and Southern literary history but also will contribute to the contemporary resurgence of interest in Warren's writing, demonstrating that Warren belongs in the first rank of twentieth-century American critics.
Charlotte H. Beck, author of Worlds and Lives, the Poetry of Randall Jarrell and The Fugitive Legacy, a Critical History, is professor emerita of Maryville College and adjunct professor of English at the University of South Carolina, Beaufort.