Author: Robert Penn Warren
First published: 1950
Plot: Philosophical realism
Jeremiah Beaumont (jeh-reh-MI-uh BOH-mont), a man betrayed by his idealism as well as by the compromises and realities of life. An earnest young lawyer, he first becomes disillusioned with his benefactor, Colonel Cassius Fort, a famous lawyer and politician, on learning that Fort has seduced an innocent girl. He renounces his benefactor, becomes involved in politics, and marries the betrayed girl. Jeremiah loses a bitter election. He gives up his intention of killing his wife's seducer, but a scurrilous political handbill, giving a false account of the seduction, enrages him. He kills his former benefactor and is convicted on the basis of false evidence. An old friend helps him to escape from prison. While hiding out, Jeremiah learns that this friend had been responsible for the libelous handbill. Jeremiah's wife commits suicide, and he is murdered when he attempts to go back to tell the real story. Jeremiah's story is a reworking of that of a historical figure, Jeroboam Beauchamp.
Colonel Cassius Fort, Jeremiah's benefactor, a frontier politician. Although he did seduce the girl whom Jeremiah marries, he is not the author of the handbill that bears his name and that drives Jeremiah to kill him. This character is based on Colonel Solomon P. Sharp, who, like Fort, was assassinated in 1825.
Rachael Jordan, the daughter of a planter. She is seduced by Fort and later marries Jeremiah, on the condition that he kill Fort. Later, she dissuades him from fulfilling his promise. When Jeremiah sees the scurrilous handbill, however, he kills Fort. After her husband's conviction, Rachael also is arrested. Both are freed by Jeremiah's false friend. Later, Rachael kills herself.
Wilkie Barron, Jeremiah's opportunistic and false friend, whom he has known since their days as law students together. Barron and several others break into jail and free Jeremiah shortly before his execution date, but Jeremiah learns that Barron was responsible for the handbill that made him kill Fort. After Jeremiah is killed by one of Barron's men, Barron goes on to become rich and successful. Finally, he shoots himself. Among his papers is found Jeremiah's manuscript, revealing the whole story.
Jasper Beaumont, Jeremiah's bankrupt father. Jeremiah inherits his father's moodiness, and he develops the feeling that he must work hard to settle his father's score.
Dr. Leicester Burnham, young Jeremiah's teacher, who is a loyal friend. He recommends his pupil to Fort and remains loyal to Jeremiah during his trial.
Mrs. Beaumont (née Marcher), Jeremiah's mother, who is disinherited by her wealthy father. Her final illness postpones Jeremiah's law studies.
Thomas Barron, Wilkie's uncle. While visiting him, Jeremiah meets Rachael.
Percival Scrogg, a fanatic liberal newspaper editor. He and Wilkie Barron together print and distribute the handbill attributed to Fort.
Josh Parham, a rich landowner with whom Jeremiah forms a partnership. Their land speculation falls through when the Relief Party comes to power. Parham, an Anti-Relief man, swears not to open up Kentucky land while the Relief Party is in office.
Felix Parham, Josh's son.
Desha, the Relief candidate, elected governor in 1824.
Sellars, the candidate who defeats Jeremiah in their election contest.
La Grand' Bosse, a river pirate. After escaping from prison, Jeremiah and Rachael take refuge with him.