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World Enough and Time by Robert Penn Warren
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World Enough and Time (1950)

by Robert Penn Warren

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218653,416 (3.66)26
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    All the King's Men by Robert Penn Warren (FastTurtle)
    FastTurtle: Penn Warren's classic, and a major work of 20th century American fiction.
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Robert Penn Warren's All the King's Men is my favorite novel--and can be argued to be the greatest novel ever written. Yet, after reading it twice, I had never read another Warren novel. After seeing a glowing review of this one on Amazon, I ordered a used copy. (It is amazing how many typos this Vintage paperback has!) World Enough and Time was published only four years after All the King's Men. Like its predecessor, it is a dark and densely-packed poetic work. The narrative voice is from the present, but it draws upon the protagonist's own writings and other contemporary documents to tell the story in a fairly close-up manner. Still, this technique, which seems to be a favorite of Warren, isn't as effective here as in All the King's Men. I can speculate on the reasons. Unlike the previous book, the characters in World Enough and Time, are extremely complex and their motivations are never completely clear--even when they are spelled out. In some ways, this reminds me of Dostoevsky in that respect. You watch the characters go about their business, and it is often fascinating, but you never quite fully understand what drives them.

I think this is intentional in large part. Most of what is on display here is not just man's inability understand other men, but, more importantly, man's inability to understand himself. This level of introspection can get tedious after a while, however, and as a result, this is a much less successful work than All the King's Men.

There is much to enjoy, however. Some of the individual episodes are brilliant. The story, of a long-delayed revenge, and its aftermath takes place in early 19th century Kentucky--Warren's native state--and is set against the political struggle between the forces of relief, who didn't want poor farmers and others held to their debts to the wealthy, and anti-relief, which wanted the law upheld strictly as written. Warren presents us with a host of fascinating, lovingly described characters on both sides of the sometimes bloody battle (often with mini biographies of what happened to them before and after the events in this book). Obviously, this struggles continues to this day, though perhaps not as violently. If you're looking for a novel that can educate as well as entertain, I can recommend this one. It will have you turning to Wikipedia and the internet to learn more about some of the historical characters or about Kentucky's capital city, Frankfort, which is the setting for some of the book's most interesting events.

The book's protagonist, Jeremiah Beaumont, is a somewhat unwilling participant on the relief side, drawn in because of his innate sense of justice and hatred of seeing the powerful take advantage of the weak. This is also what involves him in the book's main plot element--his wooing and marriage to Rachel Jordan, who has been wronged by Jeremiah's own mentor and friend, Cassius Fort. Unfortunately, the story takes ages to develop, although the characters and background keep it interesting. There is far too much foreshadowing, and the book's ending goes on too long and then is anticlimactic (to say the least). While Beaumont is a tragic character, there is no sense of tremendous loss at the book's conclusion, as there is with Willie Stark, who despite his corruption, remains very human (or Conroy's Great Santini, who despite being an SOB, leaves a huge hole when he is gone.) The book's history lessons stick with you, and you will certainly retain a better understanding of long journeys on horseback or of trekking through the wilderness, but overall this book's plot just leaves you exhausted--and a bit confounded. ( )
  datrappert | Nov 16, 2017 |
When I read the first paragraph of this book, I knew I would love it. This is a book to chew through and contemplate, not a quick read. The prose and story telling are beautiful, the morals of 1800's in Kentucky (early Americana) very interesting, and the love story and murder heartbreaking yet compelling. I can't wait to read other books by Robert Warren Penn. ( )
  tamara.townsend | Nov 21, 2012 |
This book is uneven and melodramatic, and usually I'd view that as a negative, but in this case, the uneven and melodramatic narrative perfectly matches the uneven and melodramatic nature of the two main characters, Jeremiah Beaumont and his infatuation, and later wife, Rachael Jordon. This one takes some slogging, but it is necessary and so worth it. If you have any love for tragic romance, psychological drama, or Kentucky, then you should give it a shot.

[full review here: http://spacebeer.blogspot.com/2011/06/world-enough-and-time-by-robert-penn.html ] ( )
  kristykay22 | Jun 8, 2011 |
When I read All the King's Men in 1958 it was adjudged by me the best book I read that year. This book is long and often boring. The account of Jeremiah's expedition to kill Colonel Fort and the accout of his trial are highly interesting and good reading, but there are many pages before and after that which are really a drag to read. If the story is based on truth I do not understand why Warren would insert items such as having one of the lawyers who defended Beaumont go on to be a U.S. Senator from Kentucky--when if glance at the men who were in the Senate from Kentucky in that period shows that is false. I did not find the time I spent reading this book was time well spent. ( )
  Schmerguls | May 5, 2010 |
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To Dixon and Elizabeth Wector
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I can show you what is left.
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"In the admixture of wilderness and elegant society that was 1826 Kentucky, Jeremiah Beaumont, a brilliant, imaginative lawyer, stood trial for murdering his benefactor and father figure, the politician Colonel Cassius Fort. Now all the documents are in hand to reconstruct Beaumont's life story - his crime, his trial, his ultimate sin and punishment - and the historian-narrator of World Enough and Time sets about doing just that. He uncovers a burning idealist's search for purpose and his rabid rejection, like other great Promethean heroes of the American mythology, of conventional heroism. Based on the famous murder case known as the Kentucky Tragedy, World Enough in Time is, like its precursor All the King's Men, a fictional wonder that personifies history, philosophy, politics, and passion."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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