(William) Hervey Allen, (Jr.)

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Publisher: Gale
Series: Dictionary of Literary Biography
Document Type: Biography
Length: 2,121 words

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About this Person
Born: December 08, 1889 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States
Died: December 28, 1949 in Miami, Florida, United States
Nationality: American
Occupation: Novelist
Other Names: Allen, William Hervey, Jr.; Allen, William Hervey


  • Ballads of the Border (El Paso, Tex.: Privately printed, 1916).
  • Wampum and Old Gold (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1921).
  • The Bride of Huitzil: An Aztec Legend (New York: James F. Drake, 1922).
  • Carolina Chansons: Legends of the Low Country, by Allen and DuBose Heyward (New York: Macmillan, 1922).
  • Earth Moods and Other Poems (New York & London: Harper, 1925).
  • Israfel: The Life and Times of Edgar Allan Poe (New York: Doran, 1926; London: Brentano's, 1927).
  • Toward the Flame (New York: Doran, 1926; London: Gollancz, 1934.
  • DuBose Heyward: A Critical and Biographical Sketch (New York: Doran, 1927).
  • New Legends (New York: Farrar & Rinehart, 1929).
  • Sarah Simon, Character Atlantean (Garden City: Doubleday, Doran, 1929).
  • Songs for Annette (New York: W.E. Rudge, 1929).
  • The Syllabus of a Novel to Be Called Anthony Adverse (New York: Farrar & Rinehart, 1932).
  • Anthony Adverse (New York: Farrar & Rinehart, 1933; London: Gollancz, 1934).
  • Action at Aquila (New York: Farrar & Rinehart, 1938; London: Gollancz, 1938).
  • It Was Like This: Two Stories of the Great War (New York & Toronto: Farrar & Rinehart, 1940).
  • The Forest and the Fort (New York & Toronto: Farrar & Rinehart, 1943).
  • Bedford Village (New York & Toronto: Farrar & Rinehart, 1944).
  • Toward the Morning (New York: Rinehart, 1948; London: Heinemann, 1949).
  • The City in the Dawn, edited by Julie Eidesheim (New York: Rinehart, 1950).


  • Year Book of the Poetry Society of South Carolina foreword by Allen and DuBose Heyward (Charleston: Poetry Society of South Carolina, 1921).
  • Year Book of the Poetry Society of South Carolina foreword by Allen and Heyward (Charleston: Poetry Society of South Carolina, 1922).

Periodical Publications

  • "Poetry South," by Allen and DuBose Heyward, Poetry, 20 (April 1922): 35-48.
  • "Poe in South Carolina," Poetry, 20 (April 1922): 48-49.


Although Hervey Allen made his reputation as a writer with popular historical fiction, most notably Anthony Adverse (1933), his early writing career was devoted to poetry, most of which was published during the 1920s. This traditional verse, much of it concerned with local color and dominated by philosophical themes, no doubt provided solid apprentice work for the romantic fiction he later wrote.

William Hervey Allen, Jr., was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to William Hervey and Helen Eby Myers Allen. He entered the U.S. Naval Academy in 1909 but withdrew two years later after suffering a leg injury in sports. After completing his bachelor of science degree at the University of Pittsburgh in 1915, he enlisted in an infantry unit of the Pennsylvania National Guard. Active service in 1916 at the Mexican border led to Ballads of the Border, his first published poems. Called to active duty again when the United States entered World War I, he was wounded and gassed in action. This war experience inspired his earliest poem of note, "The Blindman: a Ballad of Nogent l'Artaud," which was published in Wampum and Old Gold (1921). The poem's title also became the name of the poetry prize awarded annually by the Poetry Society of South Carolina, a group founded in 1920 by Allen and DuBose Heyward to promote a new interest in poetry in the South.

After a brief period of graduate study at Harvard Allen taught English at Porter Military Academy in Charleston, South Carolina, and in the public high school from 1920 to 1924. During this period two collections of his verse appeared. Wampum and Old Gold , published in the Yale Series of Younger Poets in 1921, contains a group of poems on experiences at the front in France and another of poems written after 1918. Reviewers of this early volume found promise in his work, a striving for an individual voice in its sincerity, strong feeling, and vivid imagery, but the reviewer for the Spring field Republican found it lacking in fresh ideas. His delight in the local color and rich history of South Carolina and his friendship with Heyward led to their joint authorship of Carolina Chansons: Legends of the Low Country (1922).

Shortly before the publication of Carolina Chansons, Allen and Heyward shared editorship of a Southern number of Poetry magazine (April 1922). Their views of the direction Southern poetry should take, expressed in their "Poetry South" editorial, may well be taken as Allen's own poetic theory, practiced not only in this collection but also in those which followed. Allen and Heyward explained that the South "will accept with modern spirit the new forms in verse, but accept them as being valuable for their loosening effect upon the old rather than as being all satisfactory in themselves; and it brings to American poetry a little known but tropically rich store of material, an unorganized beauty, the possibility of legend, folk song, romance, historical narrative, glorious landscape, and an untired mood; in short, a content which will save it from that sure sign of literary inadequacy, a too nice preoccupation with form."

The topics mentioned in this editorial remained Allen's favorite poetic subjects, and his fondness for traditional form constantly disappointed his critics, who found his employment of it undistinguished. Allen's contribution to the Carolina Chansons included historical pieces on subjects such as LaFayette's landing; recreations of romantic legend, such as a story of blockade running; and depictions of a way of life infused with history, as in these lines from one of "The Sea-Islands" poems:

Sea-island winds sweep through Palmetto Town
Bringing with piny tang the old romance
Of pirates and of smuggling gentlemen.

Carolina Chansons was warmly received by contemporary critics, who saw the book as a valuable contribution of the Southern renaissance, a unique capturing of local color in poetic form. Amy Lowell , writing to an acquaintance in 1923, called Allen "the only man who has a broader vision; I have a belief in his promise, but it is too early yet to say whether my belief is justified or not." Modern critics have not been as kind. Louis Rubin, Jr., has contrasted the achievement of the South Carolinians with the innovative Fugitive poets, such as John Crowe Ransom and Allen Tate . The South Carolina poets, he says, were popularizers who dealt with concrete subjects in language "filled with abstraction."

Allen returned to the North in 1924 to take up residence for the next few years, first teaching English at Columbia University (1925-1926) and then at Vassar College (1926-1927). Annette Hyde Andrews, a student at Vassar, became his wife on 30 June 1927, and in the autumn of that year they went to live in Bermuda, on a plantation they named Felicity Hall.

During his New York days he became well known for his beer and chicken breakfasts, a festivity he delighted in throughout his life. "These breakfasts," wrote Emily Clark in the Saturday Review of Literature (9 December 1933), "were copious like Allen's size, conversation, and books." Although she was referring to his later prose, the 6'4" Allen also had a fondness for long narrative poems. His 1925 collection, Earth Moods and Other Poems , was partially composed of long narrative poems dealing with the large themes of evolution and the importance of environment and partially of shorter lyrics dealing often with the mystical and grotesque. One of the narrative poems from this collection, "The Saga of Leif the Lucky," demonstrates his fondness for heroic figures and, in this case, historical speculation:

Leif Erikson came rowing up the Charles
In the sea-battered dragon ships,
Stroked by the strong blond carls,
The rattle of whose oars
Had wakened sea lions on the glacial shores
Of Greenland, where the white Christ newly ruled.

These poems, too, received positive critical attention. John Farrar of the Bookman was impressed by his suggestion of "the swift flow of life through the ages," and B.E. Stevenson of the International Book Review praised the power of his "small, colorful picture." Reviewing the book for the New York Tribune (21 June 1925), Babette Deutsch , while likening him to Amy Lowell , wrote, "he catches dynasties in a phrase, covers epochs in less than a stanza. But his terseness defeats itself, and the grandeur of his theme is blurred by a factual style, blunted by prose cadences." Almost ten years after Allen's first collection of poems, William Rose Benét still referred to him as a poet of promise whose work was too didactic and characterized by a "prosaic heaviness" (Outlook, 15 July 1925).

Louis Untermeyer included two of the Earth Moods poems, "Gargantuana" and "Whim Alley," in the 1930 edition of his anthology Modern American Poetry. Calling these poems "particularly effective examples of Allen's ability to make decorations which do not suffer from picturesque affectations," he considered the collection itself an indication that Allen was more than a regional poet. Like Deutsch he felt that Allen's themes were larger than he could handle, but he found a "definiteness of execution" in "The Saga of Leif the Lucky" and the highly regarded"Funeral at High Tide."

It was four years before another collection of Allen's poetry appeared: New Legends (1929) is the result of his five years of plantation life in Bermuda, where he also wrote his best-selling novel Anthony Adverse. He loved this way of life, with its closeness to nature and tradition, and he subsequently followed it at Bonfield Manor on the Maryland shore, which he bought with the royalties from Anthony Adverse, and finally in Florida, on the Glades Estate in Coconut Grove, near Miami. New Legends, a collection of seven long narrative poems and some shorter lyrical works, includes previously published material as well as new poems. "Sarah Simon," Allen's personal favorite of the narratives, shows his fondness for colorful legend. Also published separately, with the added "Character Atlantean," "Sarah Simon" is the poetic story of the contact between a tropical native and white people.After losing her first husband, she rescues a sailor, lives with him, and bears him three children. She is eventually deserted by this man and robbed by her grown children, left to live alone until the age of ninety.

Some critics, such as Granville Hicks in the New York World, considered the collection a pleasant treatment of its themes; others, including L.W. Dodd (Yale Review), bemoaned the fact that Allen had still not found an individual poetic voice. J.T. Farrell of the New York Evening Post dismissed the collection cryptically, writing that Allen's own term "sweet kickshaws" defined the work. After the publication of New Legends, Louis Untermeyer commented in the 1930 edition of his anthology Modern American Poetry, "At present Allen stands at the crossroads: he has the possibilities of being either a lyricist or a writer of ambitious epics." Allen chose to write epics, but in prose rather than poetry, initiating a new trend in the lengthy historical novel.

Allen's last separately published poems appeared in Songs for Annette (1929), a twenty-three-page pamphlet printed in a limited edition of 100 copies. In 1933 Allen achieved recognition as a writer of popular fiction with Anthony Adverse. Louis Rubin has found it unsurprising "that many of the Charleston poets turned increasingly to popular fiction in the later 1920's and afterward. They were from the start popular writers who directed their work at a wide audience."

In the long historical novel Allen had at last found his voice. While none of his later novels was as successful as his first, the genre proved the best vehicle for his broad themes, colorful settings, and heroic action. It must be noted, too, that the sharp eye for visual detail, the appreciation for the heroic dimension in human life, and the tremendous historical knowledge that Allen first displayed in his poetry accounted for a large part of the success of both his 1926 biography of Edgar Allan Poe , Israfel, and his fiction. Allen was working on the fourth book in a projected five-volume series of novels set in colonial America, when he died of a heart attack in 1949. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.


The Hillman Library at the University of Pittsburgh has a collection of Allen's papers.



  • William Rose Benét, Review of Earth Moods and Other Poems, Outlook, 140 (15 July 1925): 403.
  • Emily Clark, "Hervey Allen," Saturday Review of Literature, 10 (9 December 1933): 323.
  • S. Foster Damon, Amy Lowell: A Chronicle (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1935), p. 636.
  • Babette Deutsch, Review of Earth Moods and Other Poems, New York Tribune, 21 June 1925, p. 3.
  • Louis Rubin, Jr., The Curious Death of the Novel: Essays in American Literature (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1967), pp. 207-221.
  • Louis Untermeyer, Note on Allen, in his Modern American Poetry: A Critical Anthology, fourth edition, revised (New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1930), pp. 614-617.


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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1200000650