South Carolina Encyclopedia Guide to South Carolina Writers

By Tom Mack | Go to book overview

Allen, William Hervey, Jr. (1889–1949).

Poet, novelist. The son of William Hervey Allen, Sr., and Helen Eby Myers, Hervey Allen is known to literary historians as a southern writer although he was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on December 8, 1889, and spent the first thirty years of his life in the north. Allen was educated in the public schools of Pittsburgh and received a Bachelor of Science degree in economics from the University of Pittsburgh in 1915 after a sporting accident cut short his promising career at the U.S. Naval Academy. While serving in the U.S. Army during World War I, Allen fought in the Meuse-Argonne offensive in France. By the time of the armistice in November 1918, he had risen to the rank of first lieutenant. After a brief period of graduate study at Harvard, Allen was hired as an English instructor at Porter Military Academy in Charleston in 1919.

Allen’s move to Charleston coincided with the beginnings of the Poetry Society of South Carolina. Along with John Bennett and Dubose Heyward, Hervey Allen was a driving force behind this organization. In 1922 he and Heyward coauthored Carolina Chansons: Legends of the Low Country, a book of local color verse that was enthusiastically received by northern critics, especially by Harriet Monroe, founding editor of Poetry magazine. In fact, when Monroe published a special southern issue of Poetry in April 1922, Heyward and Allen were chosen as guest editors. In their introduction to this special issue, the two South Carolinians advocated a poetic regionalism that would keep its distance from the main currents of modernism.

In 1922 Heyward moved from the Porter Academy to the High School of Charleston. In 1925 he left South Carolina permanently for a series of jobs in academia and publishing. On June 30, 1927, he married Annette Hyde Andrews of Syracuse, New York. They had three children.

Although Allen spent only six of his sixty years in South Carolina, his association with the Poetry Society came at a crucial time in his development as a writer. His book Israfel: The Life and Times of Edgar Allan Poe (1926) traced Poe’s complex relationship with Charleston in a manner that had never been previously attempted. Moreover, the regionalist aesthetic he was calling for continued to permeate his own verse.

In 1933 Allen published his long historical novel Anthony Adverse, which sold 395,000 copies in its first year. By 1968 sales had passed three million, thus making Allen’s book one of the best-selling historical novels of all time. Set in early nineteenth-century America and Mexico, this picaresque tale of adventure captivated Depression-era audiences until it was eclipsed by Gone with the Wind. Even as he was living far from South Carolina, Allen was using his experience in Charleston in his Civil War novel Action at Aquila (1938). Although he could have lived comfortably on his royalties from Anthony Adverse, Allen continued writing until shortly before his death of a heart attack on December 28, 1949. He was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery. MARK WINCHELL

Aiken, David. Fire in the Cradle: Charleston’s Literary Heritage. Charleston: Charleston Press, 1999.

Slavick, William H. Dubose Heyward. Boston, Mass.: Twayne, 1981.

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