At Heaven’s Gate
Fiction by Robert Penn Warren
At Heaven’s Gate, Robert Penn Warren’s second novel, is a neglected classic of twentieth-century fiction. First published in 1943, it grew out of the author’s years in Nashville during a period of political and financial scandals much like those later so memorably portrayed his Pulitzer-Prize-winning All The King’s Men. Other formative elements, as he has said, “came originally out of Dante by a winding path.” During the winter of 1939-40 in Rome, where the first half of the book was written, one of the most touching characters, a “Christ-bit mountaineer,” and his part of the story literally came full-blown to the author in a typhus-induced delirium. At Heaven’s Gate is a novel of violence, of human beings struggling against a fate beyond their power to alter, of corruption, and of honor. It is the story of Sue Murdock, the daughter of an unscrupulous speculator who has created a financial empire in the South, and the three men with whom she tries to escape the dominance of her father and her father’s world. The background is the capital of a Southern state in the late twenties and the promoters and politicians, the aristocrats and poor whites, the labor organizers and the dispossessed farmers, the backwoods prophets and university intellectuals who are drawn into its orbit. Warren’s picture of the South is as fresh, dramatic, and powerful today as it was when the book was first published. Its plot structure is a tour de force.