Authors: Stephen Vincent Benét

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

American poet and novelist

Author Works


Five Men and Pompey, 1915

Young Adventure, 1918

Heavens and Earth, 1920

King David, 1923

Tiger Joy, 1925

John Brown’s Body, 1928

Ballads and Poems, 1915-1930, 1931

A Book of Americans, 1933 (with Rosemary Carr Benét)

Burning City, 1936

The Ballad of the Duke’s Mercy, 1939

Western Star, 1943

Long Fiction:

The Beginning of Wisdom, 1921

Young People’s Pride, 1922

Jean Huguenot, 1923

Spanish Bayonet, 1926

James Shore’s Daughter, 1934

Short Fiction:

Thirteen O’Clock, 1937

Tales Before Midnight, 1939

Twenty-five Short Stories, 1943


Nerves, pr. 1924 (with John Chipman Farrar)

That Awful Mrs. Eaton, pr. 1924 (with Farrar)

The Headless Horseman, pr., pb. 1937

The Devil and Daniel Webster, pr. 1938

Radio Plays:

We Stand United, and Other Radio Scripts, 1945


America, 1944

Stephen Vincent Benét on Writing: A Great Writer’s Letters of Advice to a Young Beginner, 1946

Selected Letters of Stephen Vincent Benét, 1960


Selected Works of Stephen Vincent Benét, 1942 (Basil Davenport, editor)

Stephen Vincent Benét: Selected Poetry and Prose, 1942 (Davenport, editor)

The Last Circle, 1946


Stephen Vincent Benét (beh-NAY) was born in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, on July 22, 1898. His father, Colonel J. Walker Benét, was the third generation of the family to make a career of the Army. Himself interested in literature, he left his mark on his children, William Rose, Stephen Vincent, and Laura. The young Stephen started his career as a writer by winning prizes from St. Nicholas Magazine. He spent his youth mostly on army posts and went to school in Georgia and California. From Yale University he earned his bachelor’s degree in 1919 and his master’s degree in 1920. While at Yale he numbered among his friends Thornton Wilder, Archibald MacLeish, and Philip Barry. During his senior year he served as editor of the Yale Literary Magazine. He also studied at the Sorbonne in France where he met his wife, Rosemary Carr, also a poet. In 1926 he went again to France, this time to study on a Guggenheim Fellowship for two years and to produce his famous American epic poem of the Civil War, John Brown’s Body, which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in poetry in 1929. Outstanding for its historical exactness and sense of patriotism, this book-length narrative poem has become an American classic.{$I[AN]9810001524}{$I[A]Benét, Stephen Vincent}{$I[geo]UNITED STATES;Benét, Stephen Vincent}{$I[tim]1898;Benét, Stephen Vincent}

Stephen Vincent Benét

(Library of Congress)

Benét was the recipient of many honors besides the Pulitzer Prize. In 1923 his “King David” won the poetry prize in the Nation magazine. In 1932 he won the Shelley Memorial award and in 1933 the Roosevelt Medal of the Roosevelt Memorial Association for his contribution to American letters.

Shortly before entering Yale, Benét published in 1915 a volume titled Five Men and Pompey, a series of six dramatic monologues in verse. In 1918 he published Young Adventure, a book of poems. His first novel, The Beginning of Wisdom, was published in 1921 after his return from Paris. “King David,” “The Ballad of William Sycamore, 1790-1880,” and Jean Huguenot, a novel, appeared in 1923. In 1925 he published a collection of poems titled Tiger Joy. In 1933, with his wife, Rosemary Carr Benét, he published A Book of Americans, a collection of poems for children. This was followed in 1936 by Burning City, poems reflecting national themes and the decade of crisis in which they were written.

He was the author of such excellent short stories as “Johnny Pye and the Fool Killer” and “The Devil and Daniel Webster.” This last story, which first appeared in a collection titled Thirteen O’Clock, has had an interesting subsequent history: It was rewritten as a play, then as a musical (with music by Douglas Moore), and finally as a motion picture titled All That Money Can Buy. Benét is the author of another musical play, The Headless Horseman, for which Douglas Moore also wrote the music. After his death in New York City in 1943 Benét’s collected radio scripts were published under the title of We Stand United, and Other Radio Scripts. Western Star, the first part of an unfinished narrative on American history, is complete in itself. Published posthumously in 1943, it won the Pulitzer Prize the following year.

BibliographyBenét, Laura. When William Rose, Stephen Vincent, and I Were Young. New York: Dodd, Mead, 1976. A memoir of the childhoods of Laura, William Rose, and Stephen Vincent Benét. Includes black-and-white photographs.Benét, Stephen Vincent. Selected Letters of Stephen Vincent Benét. Edited by Charles A. Fenton. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1960. A broad selection of letters reflecting Benét’s moods and perceptions about places in the United States and Europe, the people and the literary and social scenes, especially during the 1920’s, 1930’s, and the few years that he lived in the 1940’s.Benét, William Rose. Stephen Vincent Benét. 1943. Reprint. Folcroft, Pa.: Folcroft Library Editions, 1976. Includes bibliography.Bleiler, Everett Franklin. The Guide to Supernatural Fiction. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1983. Includes a list and commentary on several stories by Stephen Vincent Benét that deal with themes of fantasy and extrasensory perceptions and hallucinations.Davenport, Basil. Introduction to Stephen Vincent Benét: Selected Poetry and Prose. New York: Rinehart, 1960. This essay is a good overview of Benét’s life and literature for those unfamiliar with his writing. Davenport stresses how unusual Benét’s Americanism seemed during a time when Paris overflowed with expatriates cynical of American idealism. The poet is seen as essentially a romantic, able to show extraordinary feeling for his subjects.Fenton, Charles A. Stephen Vincent Benét: The Life and Times of an American Man of Letters. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1958. A definitive biography that not only presents the well-documented life of Benét but also comments on the works. Fenton had the cooperation of Rosemary Carr (Mrs. Benét) and access to Benét’s diaries.Izzo, David Garrett, and Lincoln Konkle, eds. Stephen Vincent Benét: Essays on His Life and Work. Eleven essays (four on Benét's life) are collected here by the editors in an effort to rekindle interest in the Pulitzer Prize-winning author and poet. Izzo and Konkle set his works alongside those of his modernist contemporaries and review his achievements in this context.Partenheimer, David. “Benét’s ‘The Devil and Daniel Webster.’” The Explicator 55 (Fall, 1996): 37-39. Discusses how Benét makes a legend out of Webster, the great American politician and orator, and at the same time paradoxically damns him for his willingness to sell his soul for fame.Roache, Joel. “Stephen Vincent Benét.” In Dictionary of Literary Biography. Vol. 102. Detroit: Gale Research, 1991. Delineates the writings of Benét and provides a short biography and a commentary on the subject matter and themes of representative short stories. A straightforward and readable article, succinctly written.Singer, Robert. “One Against All: The New England Past and Present Responsibilities in ‘The Devil and Daniel Webster.’” Literature/Film Quarterly 22 (1994): 265-271. Discusses the 1941 film version of Benét’s story. Argues that the Faust theme in the story and the screenplay that he co-authored uniquely dramatize the conflict between Satan and the American statesman. Argues that the film is a perceptive political treatment of the Depression and the coming of war in the late 1930’s.Snow, Richard F. “Benet’s Birthday.” American Heritage 49 (October, 1998): 6-7. A biographical sketch that comments on Benét’s winning of the Pulitzer Prize and his attempts to forge a clear American language that was large enough for poetry but also idiomatic and spare.Stroud, Parry. Stephen Vincent Benét. New York: Twayne, 1962. A critique that focuses on Benét’s liberalism, reflected in his writings. Stroud places the writer in a historical and cultural frame in an interpretation of Benét’s themes. The analysis is clear in its literary perspective and its biographical framework.
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