All the King's Men and The Fictional World of Archives

Original Novel Title: All the King's Men

Author: Robert Penn Warren

Publisher: 1946 (hardcover)

This Pulitzer Prize winning novel was recounted (edited here) by Robert Shuster, Director of Archives, Billy Graham Center, Wheaton College, Illinois:

The book is mainly about the rise and fall of Willie Stark, but the narrator, Jack Burden, takes about forty pages to talk about his historical research into the life of his ancestor Cass Mastern, reluctant slaveowner and Confederate soldier. This research is based on, "A large packet of letters, eight tattered, black bound account books, tied together with faded red tape, a photograph, about five by eight inches, mounted on cardboard and stained in its lower half by water and a plain gold ring, man-sized, with some engraving on it, on a loop of string." Burden is sent the material by a relative who wants to know if they could be sold to a historical library. Burden says he does not think so, because Mastern was not a "historical significant" figure, so the relative tells him to keep them for sentimental reasons and Burden tries to use them to write his doctor's dissertation.

The rest of the chapter is the story of Mastern, as told by the documents and supplemented by other records Burden turns up. The purpose, I think, is to provide some counterpoint in the conflict between Cass and brother to the realtionship between Stark and Burden in the main part of the novel. The documents are brought in to represent the burden, specially the Southern burden, of history. They apparently never make it to an archives or repsoitory, but perhaps they deserve an honorable mention.

The film of the novel won the 1949 Academy Award for best picture.

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CONTENTS: The Fictional World of Archives

Submitted by Robert Shuster, 1997.01.07. Updated 1999.06.25.