Stephen Vincent Benét

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Not to be confused with Vincent Bennett.
Stephen Vincent Benét
Stephen Vincent Benét Yale College BA 1919.jpg
Stephen Vincent Benét, Yale College B.A., 1919
Born (1898-07-22)July 22, 1898
Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, U.S.
Died March 13, 1943(1943-03-13) (aged 44)
New York City, New York, U.S.
Occupation Writer
Nationality American
Alma mater Yale University
Period 20th century
Genre Poetry, short story, novel
Notable works John Brown's Body (1928)
The Devil and Daniel Webster (1936)
By the Waters of Babylon (1937)
Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (1954) (adapted from Benét's story The Sobbin' Women)
Notable awards Pulitzer Prize for Poetry (1929)
O. Henry Award (1937)
Pulitzer Prize for Poetry (1944, posthumous)
Children Thomas, Stephanie, and Rachel
Relatives William Rose Benét (brother)
Laura Benét (sister)

Stephen Vincent Benét (July 22, 1898 – March 13, 1943) was an American author, poet, short story writer, and novelist. Benét is best known for his book-length narrative poem of the American Civil War, John Brown's Body (1928), for which he won a Pulitzer Prize in 1929, and for two short stories, "The Devil and Daniel Webster" (1936) and "By the Waters of Babylon" (1937). In 2009, The Library of America selected Benét’s story “The King of the Cats” (1929) for inclusion in its two-century retrospective of American Fantastic Tales, edited by Peter Straub.

Life and career[edit]

Early life[edit]

Benét was born in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania to James Walker Benét, a colonel in the United States Army, and his wife. His grandfather and namesake was a Minorcan descendant born in St. Augustine, Florida, who led the U.S. Army Ordnance Corps, 1874–1891, with the rank of brigadier general; he was a graduate of the United States Military Academy and served in the American Civil War. The younger Benét's paternal uncle, Laurence Vincent Benét, a graduate of Yale, was an ensign in the United States Navy during the Spanish-American War and later manufactured the French-Hotchkiss machine gun.[1][2]

At about age ten, Benét was sent to the Hitchcock Military Academy. He graduated from The Albany Academy in Albany, New York and Yale University, where he was "the power behind the Yale Lit", according to Thornton Wilder, a fellow member of the Elizabethan Club. He also edited[3] and contributed light verse to campus humor magazine The Yale Record.[4] Benét published his first book at age 17. He was awarded an M.A. in English upon submission of his third volume of poetry in lieu of a thesis.[5] Benét was also a part-time contributor for the early Time magazine.[6]

Man of letters[edit]

They came here, they toiled here, they suffered many pains, they lived here, they died here, they left singing names

—Written in honor of his Minorcan ancestors who fled Andrew Turnbull's failed New Smyrna, Florida colony and found sanctuary in St. Augustine, Florida.

Benét helped solidify the place of the Yale Series of Younger Poets Competition and the Yale University Press during his decade-long judgeship of the competition.[7] Benét published the first volumes of James Agee, Muriel Rukeyser, Jeremy Ingalls, and Margaret Walker. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1931.[8]

Benét's fantasy short story about a devil, The Devil and Daniel Webster (1936) won an O. Henry Award. He furnished the material for Scratch, a one-act opera by Douglas Moore. The story was filmed in 1941 and shown originally under the title All That Money Can Buy. Benét also wrote a sequel, Daniel Webster and the Sea Serpent, in which the man Daniel Webster encounters the Leviathan of biblical legend.

Benét maintained a home (commonly referred to as Benét House), in Augusta, Georgia. Part of Augusta College (now Georgia Regents University), it was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1971. Benet House, now on the Summerville Campus of Georgia Regents University, was originally part of the Augusta Arsenal. Benet's father Col James Walker Benet, along with his wife and daughter, lived in this house while he was the commanding officer of the Augusta Arsenal from approximately August 1911 to February 1919. Stephen Vincent Benet would have visited his parents while they were resident. The local newspaper considered it newsworthy enough to congratulate Benet on winning the Maysfield Prize for best undergraduate poem while Benet attended Yale.(Augusta Chronicle 1/21/1917 p. 21) Benet House was the name assigned to the building when it became the property of Augusta College. Once the residence of the college president, it now serves as space for administrative offices. Benet House was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1971.

Death and legacy[edit]

Benét died of a heart attack in New York City, on March 13, 1943, at the age of 44[9] and was buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Stonington, Connecticut, where he had owned the historic Amos Palmer House. He was awarded a posthumous Pulitzer Prize in 1944 for Western Star, an unfinished narrative poem on the settling of the United States.

The title of Dee Brown's Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, a history of Native Americans in the American West in the late nineteenth century, is taken from the final phrase of Benét's poem "American Names". The full quotation, "I shall not be there/I shall rise and pass/Bury my heart at Wounded Knee," appears at the beginning of Brown's book. Although Benet's poem is not about the plight of native Americans, Wounded Knee, (a village on a reservation in South Dakota) was the location of last major confrontation between the U.S. Army and American Indians. The event is known formally as the Wounded Knee Massacre, as more than 150, largely unarmed, Sioux men, women, and children were killed that day.

He adapted the Roman myth of the rape of the Sabine Women into the story "The Sobbin' Women". It was adapted as the movie musical Seven Brides for Seven Brothers.

His play John Brown's Body was staged on Broadway in 1953, in a three-person dramatic reading featuring Tyrone Power, Judith Anderson, and Raymond Massey, and directed by Charles Laughton.

Benét fathered three children: Thomas, Stephanie, and Rachel. His brother, William Rose Benét, was a poet, anthologist and critic who is largely remembered for his desk reference Benet's Reader's Encyclopedia (1948). His sister Laura Benét was also an author.

Selected works[edit]

  • Five Men and Pompey, 1915
  • The Drug-Shop, or, Endymion in Edmonstoun (Yale University Prize Poem), 1917[10]
  • Young Adventure, 1918
  • Heavens and Earth, 1920
  • The Beginnings of Wisdom, 1921
  • Young People's Pride, 1922
  • Jean Huguenot, 1923
  • The Ballad of William Sycamore, 1923
  • King David, 1923
  • Nerves, 1924 (with John Farrar)
  • That Awful Mrs. Eaton, 1924 (with John Farrar)
  • Tiger Joy, 1925
  • The Mountain Whippoorwill: How Hill-Billy Jim Won the Great Fiddler's Prize, 1925 (full text)
  • Spanish Bayonet, 1926
  • John Brown's Body, 1928
  • The Barefoot Saint, 1929
  • The Litter of Rose Leaves, 1930
  • Abraham Lincoln, 1930 (screenplay with Gerrit Lloyd)
  • Ballads and Poems, 1915–1930, 1931
  • A Book of Americans, 1933 (with Rosemary Carr Benét)
  • James Shore's Daughter, 1934
  • The Burning City, 1936 (includes 'Litany for Dictatorships')
  • The Magic of Poetry and the Poet's Art, 1936
  • By the Waters of Babylon, 1937
  • The Headless Horseman, 1937
  • Thirteen O'Clock, 1937
  • Johnny Pye and the Fool Killer, 1938
  • Tales Before Midnight, 1939
  • The Ballad of the Duke's Mercy, 1939
  • Nightmare at Noon, 1940
  • Elementals, 1940–41 (broadcast)
  • Freedom's Hard-Bought Thing, 1941 (broadcast)
  • Listen to the People, 1941
  • A Summons to the Free, 1941
  • Cheers for Miss Bishop, 1941 (screenplay with Adelaide Heilbron, Sheridan Gibney)
  • They Burned the Books, 1942
  • Selected Works, 1942 (2 vols.)
  • Short Stories, 1942
  • Nightmare at Noon, 1942 (in The Treasury Star Parade, ed. by William A. Bacher)
  • A Child is Born, 1942 (broadcast)
  • They Burned the Books, 1942 (broadcast)

These works were published posthumously:

  • Western Star, 1943 (unfinished)
  • Twenty Five Short Stories, 1943
  • America, 1944
  • O'Halloran's Luck and Other Short Stories, 1944
  • We Stand United, 1945 (radio scripts)
  • The Bishop's Beggar, 1946
  • The Last Circle, 1946
  • Selected Stories, 1947
  • From the Earth to the Moon, 1958

References[edit]

  1. ^ [1]
  2. ^ [2]
  3. ^ "Stephen Vincent Benét". Obituary Record of Graduates of Yale University Deceased during the Year 1942-1943. New Haven: Yale University. January 1, 1944. p. 123.
  4. ^ Bronson, Francis W., Thomas Caldecott Chubb, and Cyril Hume, eds. (1922) The Yale Record Book of Verse: 1872-1922. New Haven: Yale University Press. pp. 16-17, 24, 42-43, 50-51, 67-68, 82-83.
  5. ^ The New Encyclopædia Britannica, Vol. 12, Micropaedia, 15th edition, Encyclopædia Britannica Inc. c. 1989
  6. ^ [3]
  7. ^ Bradley, George. The Yale Younger Poets Anthology, Yale University Press, New Haven and London, pp. 23–53
  8. ^ "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter B". American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 22 April 2011. 
  9. ^ Weicksel, Amanda (2001). "Stephen Vincent Benét". Literary and Cultural Heritage Map of Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania Center for the Book, Penn State University. Retrieved May 24, 2010. 
  10. ^ Stephen Vincent Benét, Nathan Wallach (1917). The Drug-shop, Or Endymion in Edmonstoun. Yale University Press. 

Sources[edit]

  • Bleiler, Everett (1948). The Checklist of Fantastic Literature. Chicago: Shasta Publishers. pp. 46–47. 
  • Fenton, Charles A. (1958 repr. 1978). Stephen Vincent Benét: The Life and Times of an American Man of Letters, 1898–1943. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press. ISBN 0-313-20200-1. 

External links[edit]