SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

June 28, 2013

'All the King's Men' comes to Peabody

By Will Broaddus
Staff writer

---- — If you’re looking for some serious summer reading, the Peabody Institute Library in Peabody is hosting a five-part discussion series of “All the King’s Men” by Robert Penn Warren.

“It’s about issues that are current in the political scene,” said Theo Theoharis, who has taught comparative literature at Harvard Extension School since 1986. “Populism versus elitism; whether democracy has a demagogic side; whether virtue is possible in the public life.”

Theoharis has taught previously at the Peabody library, including a course on Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass” last summer and on Herman Melville’s “Moby Dick” two years ago.

“I like to do big classic works with people,” he said. “Classics are always new and always valuable, and always enjoyable. You don’t have to persuade anybody it’s worth reading.”

“All the King’s Men,” which was published in 1946 and won a Pulitzer Prize, is the best American novel about politics, Theoharis said.

“There is nothing to come close to it,” he said. “Thematically, it’s very rich, and it’s beautifully written.”

The novel drew inspiration from the career of Huey Long, the populist governor and senator from Louisiana who was assassinated in 1935 and who is depicted in the novel as a character named Willie Stark.

“Penn Warren was very ambivalent about Willie Stark,” Theoharis said. “He was an upper-class guy who would have thought Stark was a buffoon. But he represents Stark with sympathy.”

The story follows a reporter hired by Stark — who, like Long, is a governor — to find incriminating evidence on a judge, which Stark can use to get the judge’s support in an upcoming election.

“The judge is an important person in the newspaperman’s personal life,” Theoharis said. “The information the newspaperman discovers triggers disaster for everyone involved.”

The first meeting of the discussion series is Monday at 7:30 p.m., and it continues on July 15 and 29 and Aug. 12 and 19. Books are available at the library on a first-come, first-served basis.

People can register at www.peabodylibrary.org, or call 978-531-0100 for more information.