The Taciturn Text

The Fiction of Robert Penn Warren

Randolph Paul Runyon


Literary Criticism / American / General; Literary Criticism / Poetry
288 pp. 6x9

$29.95 paper 978-0-8142-5350-2
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The stubborn silence of text passed down from fathers to their sons is examined in this highly original study of Robert Penn Warren’s fiction. In every case, that text—whether a letter, a poem, a handbill, or a wink—refuses to disclose what the son who reads it wants to know. This recurring scene, clearly inscribed in the plot of each of the novels, gives coherence to Warren’s art and at the same time writes the reader into the story. We become the protagonist son, and the questions he asks are the ones we too want to ask. And to gain access to the text, we must learn to decipher what Warren calls the logic of the dream.

Through the double focus on the text as dreamwork and as paternal inheritance, Runyon explores the self-referentiality of Warren’s fiction. The novels become the kind of taciturn father’s text of which they speak. The reader shares the hero’s anguish at being compelled to interpret what might not exist, and the dreams the novels recount become models for how the stories themselves are put together.

Each of the ten novels, as well as the short-story collection The Circus in the Attic, is given a close reading, preceded by a detailed synopsis of the plot, that reveals the profound unity of Warren’s fictive creation.

Randolph Paul Runyon is Professor of French at Miami University, Oxford, Ohio. He is the author of The Braided Dream: Robert Penn Warren’s Late Poetry and Fowles/Irving/Barthes: Canonical Variations on an Apocryphal Theme.