Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History

Interview with Arnold S. Stein, June 22, 1978

Louie B. Nunn Center for Oral History, University of Kentucky Libraries
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00:00:11 - Getting to know Robert Penn Warren

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Partial Transcript: I'm speaking today with Arnold S. Stein, Sir William Osler Professor of English Literature at Johns Hopkins University.

Segment Synopsis: Stein reflects on meeting Warren for the first time. The circumstances under which Warren came to the University of Minnesota are examined. The unconventional nature of this hire is emphasized. Opinions of other faculty on Warren are revealed. A description of the social activities that Warren and Stein participated in together is given.

Keywords: Atypical; Basketball; Elmer Edgar Stoll; Gyms; Harvard University; Joseph W. Beach; Lunches; Robert Penn Warren; Snobbery; Socializing; Swimming; The University of Minnesota; Weightlifting

Subjects: American literature--20th century; Education; Friendship; Professors

00:05:40 - Stein and Warren at Minnesota

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Partial Transcript: Yes, now you were at the University of Minnesota from 1940 to '46, is that correct?

Segment Synopsis: The dates that Warren and Stein were together at the University of Minnesota are established. Stein's time in the U.S. Army during World War II is briefly alluded to. Stein's wife is also found to have struck up a friendship with Warren as well. The courses that both Stein and Warren taught at the university are also mentioned.

Keywords: Compositions; Contemporary literature; Minneapolis (Minn.); Robert Penn Warren; Seminars; Socialization; Teaching; The University of Minnesota; WWII; William Shakespeare; Wives; World War II

Subjects: American literature--20th century; Education; Friendship; Professors; World War, 1939-1945

00:09:08 - Stein on Warren and John Crowe Ransom

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Partial Transcript: At any rate, uh, you've published, uh, a number of authors.

Segment Synopsis: Stein explains how he met author and contemporary of Warren's, John Crowe Ransom. Stein's visits to Ransom at Kenyon College are explored, as well as Warren's time spent there over the course of two years. Next, Stein discusses the literary criticism he wrote on Ransom. Social events at the home of Ransom are also recalled. The nature of the conversations between Ransom and Warren are highlighted. Lastly, Stein reveals personal details of Warren he obtained from Ransom as well. These attributes of Warren's are echoed by another friend, Caroline Gordon, and are believed (by Stein) to be possessed by several notable authors.

Keywords: Accomplishments; Bright; Caroline Gordon; Competition; Insights; John Crowe Ransom; John Donne; Kenyon College; Letters; Ohio State University; Quick; Robert Penn Warren; Studies; Summers; The Kenyon Review; Theodore Spencer; Vanderbilt University; William Shakespeare

Subjects: American literature--20th century; Education; Friendship

00:19:28 - Warren and Stein's poetry

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Partial Transcript: Now, you and Warren, uh, are both poets.

Segment Synopsis: Stein discusses the days when he wrote poetry. It is revealed that Warren reviewed Stein's work for feedback during this time. The reactions of Stein to these suggestions are documented. Stories that Warren told Stein (among other friends) are later discovered to be inspiration or source material for the author's poetry.

Keywords: Anecdotes; Blackberry Winter (Book); Criticism; Emma Brescia; Interpretations; Joseph W. Beach; Manuscripts; Materials; Robert Penn Warren; The Ballad of Billie Potts (Poem); Wives

Subjects: American literature--20th century; Friendship; Poetry; Storytelling

00:24:13 - Stein's early poetry / revisions

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Partial Transcript: Warren has described poetry as a vital activity for him.

Segment Synopsis: First, Stein postulates on his own poetry. Then, a change in Stein's poetry is also explored. Warren's imagery of war in his newest novel is briefly mentioned. The guarded nature of Warren regarding changes to his pieces is examined. Warren's two extremes when reacting to literary advice are explored as well.

Keywords: A Place To Come To (Book); Alienated; Aphorisms; General; Grammar; Limited; Lyric impulse; Quotes; Regret; Robert Penn Warren; Volumes; War poems; World Enough and Time (Book); Writing

Subjects: American literature--20th century; Friendship; Poetry

00:29:58 - War / naturalism / the metaphysical

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Partial Transcript: Did you and he ever have, uh, specific discussions about the war?

Segment Synopsis: Stein speculates upon the potential effects of WWII on Warren. The maturity of Warren is a contributing factor to the apparent lack of influence from WWII upon the author. Warren's transformation into naturalistic poetry is examined. The novels of Warren are found to have remained consistently naturalistic. Additionally, a stylistic commonality between Warren, Stein, and Andrew Marvell is emphasized.

Keywords: All the King's Men (Book); Andrew Marvell; Formed; Horror; Influences; Italy; Metaphysical poetry; Naturalism; Robert Penn Warren; Theodore Dreiser; World War II

Subjects: American literature--20th century; Friendship; Novels; Poetry; World War, 1939-1945

00:34:28 - Warren and the Elizabethans / poetic slowdown

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Partial Transcript: I was just going to ask you, uh, Warren, ever since Vanderbilt, of course, has been fascinated with the Elizabethans...

Segment Synopsis: Stein explains the similarities between Warren's own literature and that of the Elizabethans and the Jacobean writers. Shakespeare is found to have a great influence upon Warren as well. The novel "Night Rider" is given as an example of these centuries old tendencies. Warren's era of decreased poetic production is reflected upon. This is speculated to be a result of Warren focusing on the novel "Brother to Dragons" at the time.

Keywords: Brother to Dragons (Book); Characters; Contexts; Discovery; Elizabethan poetry; Ethics; Evil; Excitement; Jacobean; Night Rider (Book); Perspectives; Robert Penn Warren; Similarities; Sophistication; University; Vanderbilt University; Violence; William Shakespeare

Subjects: American literature--20th century; British literature; Friendship; Poetry

00:39:14 - Stein's favorite Warren writings / Ransom's opinions on Warren's work

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Partial Transcript: What about Warren's specific works?

Segment Synopsis: Stein's preferences among the writings of Warren are explored. Stein tends to favor the earlier poetry, for the most part. Ransom's dislike for the naturalistic poetry of Warren is expressed. Warren's former tendency of seeking the approval of Ransom is also mentioned. The specific comments of Ransom on Warren's novel "Brother to Dragons" are given.

Keywords: Affection; Affinities; Approval; Brother to Dragons (Book); Change; Earlier poetry; John Crowe Ransom; Judgement; Literary criticism; Naturalism; Robert Penn Warren

Subjects: American literature--20th century; Friendship; Novels; Poetry

00:44:55 - Warren's change in writing style

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Partial Transcript: In Warren's later work, um, say since his last marriage, he seems to have found artistically...

Segment Synopsis: The evolution in Warren's literary style is found to have not changed the personality of the author. Stein declares his opinions on the increasingly personal nature in Warren's writing. A proper distance between an artist and their work is established as essential to maintain the quality of artistic output. Warren's older poetry is compared to that of more recent years. The personal elements in Warren's literature are also said to possess a certain fluidity within each individual poem. Lastly, Stein analyzes the sources of Warren's new poetry, such as memories.

Keywords: Andrew Marvell; Artistic; Convictions; Degrees; Detachment; Distance; Family; Formulas; Identification; Impulses; Marriage; Personal; Robert Penn Warren; Shifting; William Shakespeare; Wives; Work

Subjects: American literature--20th century; Friendship; Life; Novels; Poetry

00:51:47 - Warren's consciousness / settings in Warren's writing

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Partial Transcript: Uh, in "Answerable Style," uh, to me your best-known book, you speak of the--of, quote "the necessity for critical consciousness in art."

Segment Synopsis: Stein describes Warren's proclaimed (according to Stein) "confessional mode" that he has recently developed in writing. Despite this, Warren's ability to withdraw from this method is also emphasized. An example of this is given in the collection of poems called "Incarnations." The various settings that Warren chose to use in his poetry are explored. A passage from "Incarnations" is read by Stein as well, followed by a literary analysis of the excerpt.

Keywords: Analyses; Attached; Critical Consciousness; Cultivation; Departures; Detached; Distinction; Elements; Incarnations: Poems, 1966-1968 (Book); Language; Meditative; Narrations; Nature; Powerful; Range; Rhetoric; Robert Penn Warren; Self

Subjects: American literature--20th century; Art; Friendship; Life

01:00:10 - Warren's children

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Partial Transcript: I was, uh, thinking, I guess--no, that's been, uh, that's since--

Segment Synopsis: Warren's recent use of family as a subject is examined. The early life of Warren is discovered to be an influence on this tendency, especially after his own children were born. Dynamics between Warren, his wife, and his children are explored. The children's personalities are described as well. The Warrens' parenting style is also illustrated.

Keywords: Affection; Age; Banter; Childhood; Crete (Greece); Daughters; Eleanor Clark; Emotions; Family; Imitations; Materials; Parents; Robert Penn Warren; Sons; The New York Times; The Sunset; Themes; Wives

Subjects: American literature--20th century; Friendship; Life; Poetry

01:08:23 - Warren's legacy / criticisms

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Partial Transcript: Well, I think I've about run out of the things I specifically wanted to ask you.

Segment Synopsis: Stein considers Warren's books and their place in contemporary fiction. The popularity of Warren's novels in the mid-twentieth century is discussed. Warren's poetry is thought to be more emphasized than other types of literature. The degree of Critical Consciousness present in Warren's writing is discussed. Stein's response to specific criticisms are briefly mentioned. Lastly, Warren's own reactions to these notions are relayed.

Keywords: Academics; Critical Consciousness; Cycles; Development; Dissertations; Efforts; Embarrassment; Expression; Fashion; Fiction; Judgement; Popularity; Reputations; Restraints; Revivals; Robert Penn Warren; Trends

Subjects: American literature--20th century; Art; Friendship; Novels; Poetry