Robert Penn Warren’s Wilderness: The Savageness of the American Civil War

“Wilderness”, RP Warren
[Εικόνα: Ρίτα Μπαούση]

One of the latest additions to the shelves of Greek bookstores is Robert Penn Warren’s extremely important novel entitled “Wilderness”. The book that was first published in 1961 and today we read it from Polis publications, translated by Anna Maragakis, presents in its entirety the ferocity of the American Civil War as well as its destructive consequences on the land and people.

“The Wilderness” tells the shocking story of Adam Rosenzweig, a young Jew who, after the death of his father, decides not to “abdicate his duty” and leave the Bavarian ghetto where he lives, to travel to America and take part in the Civil War that is taking place at that time (summer 1863). Adam, imitating his deceased father, who had told him how “there was no nobler destiny than to live and die for freedom”, he will board the English-flagged steamship “Elmira”, which will take him to the heart of America, where he will discover that nothing is as he thought. Adam’s “faulty” leg will be the object of attention and ridicule from the first minutes of his boarding the ship, with his fellow travelers nicknaming him “crooked” and ruling out any possibility of his participation in the war. But that won’t be enough to deter him. Adam will land in the slums of New York where the war is raging, with black bodies hanging from lampposts and a hodgepodge of people ransacking houses and properties shouting “Psofos to the Arabs”. It will be, however, a black man who will save him from certain drowning, the first person who will wake him from his ideological dream and make him face the harsh truth and the real face of war.

“Wilderness”, RP Warren
[Εικόνα: Ρίτα Μπαούση]

The Wilderness, by Robert Penn Warren, is a book, much of which takes place in the American wilderness, which has been turned into an inhospitable wasteland, due to the fierce bloody fights that take place, but it is also a deeply symbolic novel. which, as its title also testifies, explores the wild side of people, especially as it is formed after their participation in the war. The author sets up a canvas with fascinating characters, coming from different social and ideological backgrounds, delineating in depth their human side and animal instincts, making clear the motivations of their actions. Reading “The Wilderness” one realizes that Warren not only has a deep knowledge of the history of the American Civil War, but is also a writer who approaches the issue of racism and racial discrimination with great sensitivity and empathy. It is not by chance, after all, the choice of a central hero who, not only is Jewish, but also has a physical deformity that automatically makes him vulnerable. Also notable in Wilderness are Warren’s poetic writing, the recurring motifs, the vivid images of nature that contrast starkly with the wildness of the battlefield landscape, and the hidden meanings that the reader must locate and decode to fully understand the deeper meaning of the text.

“Wilderness”, RPWarren
[Εικόνα: Ρίτα Μπαούση]

“Wilderness” is not only a novel about nationalities, races and political ideologies, but also a book about the subtle nuances of the human psyche, about the fine lines that separate morality from immorality, good from evil, freedom from slavery, right from wrong, madness from reason. Warren has given us a book that poses moral and ideological dilemmas in a masterful way, with a hero who, to his great dismay, will discover that nothing heroic is hidden in a war scene. Only horror and defeated humanity.

The book is published by Polis publications. Find it here.

Meet the author

Robert Penn Warren. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DCRobert Penn Warren. National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC
Robert Penn Warren,
National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC

Robert Penn Warren was born in Guthrie, Kentucky, USA, in 1905 and died in Stratton, Vermont, in 1989. A poet, prose writer, critic and university teacher, he is the only American author to have been awarded both the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry (twice, in 1957 and 1979) and with the Pulitzer Prize for fiction (for “All the King’s Men”, in 1947). He is also the first to receive, in 1986, the title of Poet Laureate of the USA. He was awarded the US National Poetry Prize and was awarded the Medal of Freedom by President Jimmy Carter, as well as the National Medal of Arts. He studied literature at Vanderbilt, Berkeley, Yale and Oxford Universities (in the latter, as a Rhodes Scholar). He worked as a professor of literature at Southwestern College in Memphis, at Louisiana State University, at the University of Minnesota and at Yale University, from 1950 to 1956 and from 1961 to 1973, when he was named professor emeritus. In 1935 he co-founded and co-published the influential literary journal The Southern Review (which hosted writings by, among others, Mary MacCarthy, Ford Madox Ford and WH Auden). He wrote numerous critical essays from the point of view of the New Criticism school, while together with Cleanth Brooks they wrote the famous university textbooks Understanding Poetry, Understanding Fiction and Fundamentals of Good Writing. When All the King’s Men was published, Sinclair Lewis called Robert Penn Warren “the most gifted writer of the South and one of the greatest writers of the country.” The book saw two film adaptations (the first, a masterpiece directed by Robert Rossen, was awarded the Oscar for best film) and two television adaptations (the first by Sidney Lumet). The book inspired Carlisle Floyd’s opera Willie Stark and was adapted for the theater by Adrian Hall. [Πηγή:]

The article is in Greek

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