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Stephen Vincent Benét Biography

(1898–1943), Five Men and Pompey, Young Adventure, The Beginning of Wisdom, Jean Huguenot, Spanish Bayonet

American poet, born at Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, educated at Yale. As an undergraduate he published two collections of verse, Five Men and Pompey (1915) and Young Adventure (1918). His first novel, The Beginning of Wisdom (1921), draws heavily on his experiences of university. Subsequent novels include Jean Huguenot (1923) and Spanish Bayonet (1926). As a writer of prose his accomplishment was more evident in his short stories; among his collections are Tales Before Midnight (1939) and Thirteen O'Clock (1937), the latter containing the well-known ‘The Devil and Daniel Webster’. John Brown's Body (1928; Pulitzer Prize) gained him a considerable reputation as a poet. Its compelling use of traditional modes and its imaginative engagement with American history set the pattern for much of his later work, notably Ballads and Poems (1931) and Western Star (1943; Pulitzer Prize), the first part of an unfinished epic poem on the Western migrations of the nineteenth century. The rhetorical free verse of The Burning City (1937) included ‘Litany for Dictatorships’, his powerful denunciation of European fascism; his impassioned espousal of the democratic spirit continued in Nightmare at Noon (1940), the title poem warning America against indifference in the face of events in Europe. Selected Works appeared in two volumes in 1942. His Selected Letters (1960) was edited by C. A. Fenton, whose biography of Benét was published in 1958.

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Pierre Augustin Caron de Beaumarchais Biography to Michel Bibaud Biography