Sunday, October 22, 2023

Third reading: D.W. Buffa on "All The King’s Men"

D.W. Buffa's new novel is Lunatic Carnival, the tenth legal thriller involving the defense attorney Joseph Antonelli. He has also published a series that attempts to trace the movement of western thought from ancient Athens, in Helen; the end of the Roman Empire, in Julian's Laughter; the Renaissance, in The Autobiography of Niccolo Machiavelli; and, most recently, America in the twentieth century, in Neumann's Last Concert.

Buffa writes a monthly review for the Campaign for the American Reader that we're calling "Third Reading." Buffa explains. "I was reading something and realized that it was probably the third time that I knew it well enough to write something about it. The first is when I read it when I was in college or in my twenties, the second, however many years later, when I wanted to see if it was as good as I remembered, and the third when I knew I was going to have to write about it."

Buffa's "Third Reading" of Robert Penn Warren's All The King’s Men begins:
In the l930s, during the Great Depression, there were those who feared that democracy might not survive. All you had to do was look at what Huey Long was doing in Louisiana to see that the danger was real. One of the most brilliant men in politics, Huey Long, studying sixteen to twenty hours a day, had finished law school at Tulane in eight months, instead of the three years it took everyone else, and became a member of the Louisiana bar when he was only twenty-one. Fourteen years later, when he was thirty-five, he was elected Governor and changed Louisiana government out of all recognition. Local government was all but abolished, and election commissioners were appointed by the state, which meant that Long could make sure the vote was whatever he wanted it to be. And in case anyone should challenge on constitutional grounds anything he wanted to do, he filled the Supreme Court with men completely loyal to him.

Government was corrupt, but no one much cared. Huey Long got things done; more than that, Huey Long was what everyone wanted to be. When he spoke, he said what everyone in the crowd had always felt, but could never find the words to say. He was their idol, what they would give anything to be themselves. He had so much popular support, so much control over what went on in Louisiana that he once walked onto the floor of the state legislature and directed passage of 44 bills in 22 minutes, according to Arthur Schlesinger, Jr. Two years after he was elected Governor, he was elected to the United States Senate. Governor, Senator, the only thing left was the presidency, the only question whether it would be in l936 or 1940. He knew exactly what he was going to do: create a third party, destroy the Democratic and Republican parties, serve four terms, and govern the country the way he governed Louisiana. Far from hiding his ambition, he described to a reporter for the New York Times how he was going to become the first American dictator. Franklin Roosevelt thought him one of the two most dangerous men in the country.

While Huey Long was creating a system of free healthcare and education, and building highways where only dirt roads had run, while he was showing how someone with a mass following could trample on all the safeguards of democracy. a young teacher in the English department at Louisiana State University, fascinated by what he saw, started thinking about writing a novel. Huey Long’s slogan had been “Every man a king;” Robert Penn Warren called his novel All The King’s Men. As the title suggests, the novel is not about the king, the Governor, Willie Stark; it is about the people around him.

The central character is Jack Burden, who tells the story the way a Southern writer used to tell a story, with long, sometimes endless, sentences, like the one that describes his first glimpse of Willie Stark: “Fate comes walking through the door, and it is five foot eleven inches tall and heavyish in the chest and shortish in the leg and is wearing a seven-fifty seersucker suit which is too long in the pants so the cuffs crumple down over the high black shoes, which could do with a polishing, and a stiff high collar like a Sunday school superintendent and a blue-striped tie which you know his wife gave him last Christmas…and a gray felt hat with the sweat stains showing through the band. It comes in just like that, and how are you to know?”

Willie Stark...[read on]
Visit D.W. Buffa's website.

Third reading: The Great Gatsby

Third reading: Brave New World.

Third reading: Lord Jim.

Third reading: Death in the Afternoon.

Third Reading: Parade's End.

Third Reading: The Idiot.

Third Reading: The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

Third Reading: The Scarlet Letter.

Third Reading: Justine.

Third Reading: Patriotic Gore.

Third reading: Anna Karenina.

Third reading: The Charterhouse of Parma.

Third Reading: Emile.

Third Reading: War and Peace.

Third Reading: The Sorrows of Young Werther.

Third Reading: Bread and Wine.

Third Reading: “The Crisis of the Mind” and A Man Without Qualities.

Third reading: Eugene Onegin.

Third Reading: The Collected Works of Thomas Babington Macaulay.

Third Reading: The Europeans.

Third Reading: The House of Mirth and The Writing of Fiction.

Third Reading: Doctor Faustus.

Third Reading: the reading list of John F. Kennedy.

Third Reading: Jorge Luis Borges.

Third Reading: History of the Peloponnesian War.

Third Reading: Mansfield Park.

Third Reading: To Each His Own.

Third Reading: A Passage To India.

Third Reading: Seven Pillars of Wisdom.

Third Reading: The Letters of T.E. Lawrence.

Third Reading: All The King’s Men.

--Marshal Zeringue