Stephen Vincent Benet

Not to be confused with Vincent Bennett.
Stephen Vincent Benét
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, U.S.
Occupation Writer
Nationality American
Alma mater Yale
Period 20th century
Genres Poetry, short story, novel

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

Early life

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. 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.[3] Benét was also a part-time contributor for the early Time magazine.[4]

Man of letters

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.[5] 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.[6]

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 Augusta State University), it was declared a National Historic Landmark in 1971. This paragraph is incorrect. 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

Benét died of a heart attack in New York City, on March 13, 1943, at the age of 44[7] 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

  • Five Men and Pompey, 1915
  • The Drug-Shop, or, Endymion in Edmonstoun (Yale University Prize Poem), 1917[8]
  • 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



External links

  • Project Gutenberg
  • Project Gutenberg Australia
  • Borough of Fountain Hill Official Web Site
  • Works by Stephen Vincent Benét (public domain in Canada)
  • Internet Speculative Fiction Database
  • Find a Grave

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