June 26, 2000
Volume 52, No. 36
Emory acquires Warren papers
By Deb Hammacher
Emory has acquired a collection of previously lost papers of the American poet and novelist Robert Penn Warren.
The papers, which include correspondence with fellow writers as well as family letters that cast new light on Warren's first marriage, were discovered in the basement of the Mitchell College library in New London, Conn. They were placed there 30 years ago by the widower of Cinina Brescia Gardner, Warren's first wife. The collection is now part of the Floyd C. Watkins American Literary Manuscripts Collection in Woodruff Library, where it will be cataloged and made available to students and scholars for the first time.
The discovery is "an extraordinarily rich find," according to Bedford Clark, editor of Warren's letters. "I felt like I was looking into Tut's tomb," Clark said about his first examination of them.
The collection includes a large number of family letters that reveal Warren's devotion to Brescia, to whom he was married from 1929-51. In an early 1927 letter, he confides simply, "You know you are everything to me, everything in the world." Some Warren biographers had portrayed Brescia in an unflattering light, so his letters provide a new perspective.
Also present are letters from Warren's mother dating from the late 1920s and early 1930s, as well as a longer correspondence with his father. The collection also includes many letters Warren received from friends and literary associates, among them Katherine Anne Porter and fellow Fugitives literary magazine founders Donald Davidson, John Crowe Ransom and Allen Tate.
In 1938 a restless Porter wrote from New Orleans where she had been sent by her doctor to nurse a diseased lung, "saving a lung and losing a mind is my notion of a rotten bargain." She added, "I'm halfway through now, no time to weaken."
Other relationships also are documented, including a strained meeting in Paris with F. Scott Fitzgerald. The two quarreled and the following day an apologetic Fitzgerald wrote to Warren, "A bitter old drunk begs your pardon for his conduct of last night & [sic] assures you that whatever he may have said was simply an impersonal unpleasantness that has no foundation in any reality."
After the discovery of this collection, the staff of the Mitchell College library began searching for books they believed may have come to the college at the time the papers were deposited there. Among the 37 books from Warren's own library that were found is his copy of the Fugitives' anthology; Wallace Stevens' Ideas of Order (printed in a special edition of only 20 copies), inscribed by Stevens to Warren; and the copy of T.S. Eliot's The Wasteland, which Warren read while a student at Vanderbilt in the early 1920s.
The Warren collection will be made available to students and scholars once processing is complete, which is expected to take several months.