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Abstract

Robert Penn Warren’s use of a static image with an explanatory motto has not been traced to its roots in Renaissance emblems. Warren’s coy responses to interviewers about the historical basis of the Huey Long story were balanced by admissions of the literary influence of Elizabethan and Italian culture. Realistic and imaginative events provided material for the author’s deep and slowly developed technique of a dynamic relationship between image and idea. Three phases of development are noticed in Warren’s fiction. His preliminary experiment was seen in the 1943 novel, At Heaven’s Gate; his intermediate development came in his 1950 novel, World Enough and Time; and Warren’s most explicit reference to emblematic form appeared in his 1977 novel A Place to Come To. Warren’s first mature and sustained development of an emblematic artfulness was manifested in All the King’s Men. A literary theory of allegory and the cultural phenomenon of emblem books are summarized. Four moments in the story of All the King’s Men are analyzed as evidence of this emblematic consciousness. When Warren likened Willie Stark to Sampson or the emperor Vespasian, or when he juxtaposed Little Jack Horner and Machiavelli’s prince, he had worked out a merger between literary emblematics and popular forms of political reporting. Jack Burden’s style of motto and event is thus linked in Warren’s imagination to Renaissance literary tableaux, which are comparable in form to political cartoons of the 1930s but decisively more artistic.

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