Review / “The Night Rider” (1939) by Robert Penn Warren – Bulles de Culture

At Seguier, curiosities editor », the L’INDÉFINIE collection, welcomes literary texts on the borders of autobiography and novel, document and fiction”. So in February 2022, the first novel by Robert Penn Warren from 1939 has just reappeared, The Night Rider. After a single translation by Stock in 1951, by the academician Michel Mohrt, a friend of the author, more than 70 years have passed for this text to be available again. This giant of American literature, awarded three Pulitzer Prizes, two in poetry, one in literature for The King’s Fools in 1947, became All the king’s men since 2017, remains less known in France than Faulkner, Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald, or even Dos Passos and Steinbeck. Six prestigious authors born in the same decade between 1896 and 1905, sorry. Book reviews and reviews.

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The Night Rider, magnificent political and social fresco

The Night Rider, benefits from a foreword Robert PennWarren to the attention of the French public in 1951, to explain the historical and social context, “the old problems of justice and injustice, of full bellies and empty bellies, of courage and cowardice, of hatred, loyalty, and betrayal.” Forty years after the end of the Civil War, the tobacco war tore Kentucky and Tennessee apart from 1905 to 1909. Southern planters opposed the American Tobacco Company, amalgamated with the Imperial Tobacco Company, on the indecent purchase price policy by the trust. To cope with famine and bankruptcies, a number of small landowners constitute theAssociation for the Protection of Planters to control and control their production, influence prices.

Quickly emerges a structured small group, military in nature, where everyone takes an oath of allegiance. Ready for anything ; intimidate, destroy seedlings and crops of non-members, set fire to and dynamite houses, dryers and warehouses, known as Silent Brigade or of closed circle, these are above all the night riders. This sumptuous introduction, where the writing is already unfolding, ample and generous, announces a novel between poetry and history, with grandiose scenes.

The Night Rider, magnificent political and social fresco, attaches to Percy Munn’s coattails. Young married, thirty years old, lawyer, small planter in Bardsville, Kentucky, idealist, he suffers events more than he dominates them. Manipulated, encouraged, caught in a spiral, he joined the association after having harangued and galvanized a crowd with his improvised and exalted speech. Other great scenes, very visual, like those of the two trials, the attack on the city with the burning of the warehouse, worthy of great Hollywood westerns, mark the reader.

All characters have density

The psychological evolution of Percy, according to the struggle, is one of the mainsprings of the Night Rider. From a passive and erased man, in contact with the initiators of the movement, Senator Tolliver, Captain Todd, Mr. Christian, Percy frees himself and becomes an essential, active, violent member. Man of justice, he is led to transgress this one. Among the plethora of characters that swarms in this novel, women with strong temperaments, close to the young thirty-year-old, at one time or another, slip away in front of a man who is increasingly dark, indecipherable, tormented, incapable of communicating. . So May, his wife, and Lucille, Mr. Christian’s daughter, abandon him. His entourage moving away, Percy drowns in the violent political fight, aroused by Professor Ball and Doctor Mc Donald.

With Robert Penn Warren, all the characters have density, a life of their own which is discovered by successive touches. The author excels in their physical description, their attitudes, their moods. Beings of flesh and blood, with solid convictions, they nevertheless have certain weaknesses; errors of judgment, lies, treachery, cowardice, revenge, which trigger surges of violence, convictions, summary executions. Politics which has always fascinated Robert Warren Penn, at the heart of his work, makes it possible to decline all the human passions that it exerts on individuals, from the most noble to the most vile.

The Night Rider alternate successfully nocturnal scenes, cavalcades, wind and dust, demanding crowds, rural paintings, reflections and deep exchanges between protagonists, moments of introspection. Alone, rejected, abandoned, scapegoat, betrayed, assailed by remorse, by redemption Percy, offers himself to the opposing arms. A book on the human nature, the power of crowds, the chance of destinies, where ideals collide with sad realities, and sordid actions. Robert Penn Warren, the man from the south, a great author, with elaborate writing, who deserves to be even better known.

Learn more:

  • The Night RiderRobert Penn Warren, SeguierFebruary 2022, 608 pages, 22 euros
  • All the king’s men Robert Penn Warren, Mr. Toussaint LouvertureOctober 2017, 640 pages, €13.50
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Review / “The Night Rider” (1939) by Robert Penn Warren – Bulles de Culture