Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: Pittsburgh, Allegheny County
Author of the historical fiction novel Anthony Adverse (1933), Hervey Allen was born in Pittsburgh.
Hervey Allen was born on December 8, 1889, in Pittsburgh. He spent his childhood in the city, then left to enroll in the United States Naval Academy. He was discharged and returned to Pittsburgh due to an injury. Allen then studied at the University of Pittsburgh and served in the Pennsylvanian National Guard, where he saw service on the Mexican border and in France during World War I. During his service, he wrote poetry and eventually published a novel, Anthony Adverse. Allen continued writing until he passed away in Coconut Grove, Florida in 1949. Anthony Adverse is credited with renewing public interest in the historical fiction genre.
William Hervey Allen, Jr. was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on December 8, 1889, to Helen Ebey Myers and Hervey Allen Sr., an entrepreneur and inventor. Allen was one of five children. His grandfather, Edward Jay Allen, served as an officer in the Union Army during the Civil War. He was also an influential figure in Pittsburgh’s history and in Allen’s early life. Edward Jay Allen was the secretary for the Kansas Aid Society of Western Pennsylvania, the goal of which was to help make Kansas a free state. Once war broke out, Edward Allen raised the fifty-fifth Regiment of Pennsylvanian Volunteers, which he led as a Colonel through the battle of Fredericksburg. After the war came to an end, Edward Allen was a real estate appraiser in Pittsburgh and helped organize the Pacific and Atlantic Telegraph Company. Along the way, he befriended prominent Pittsburghers, including Stephen Foster, John W. Alexander, Andrew Carnegie, George Westinghouse, and Andrew Mellon.
William Hervey Allen spent most of his childhood with his famous grandfather. He attended school at Shady Side Academy, a boy’s prep school, and graduated in 1906. While a teenager, Allen was a member of the Hiland Cadets and kept records of his involvement with the group.
In 1908, Allen left Pittsburgh for Annapolis to study at Werntz cram school to prepare himself to enter the U.S. Naval Academy. Werntz was designed to help students get into programs that they may have lacked the academic knowledge or credentials for. Allen successfully entered the Academy in 1909 as a midshipman but was discharged in 1910 when he suffered a track and field injury. Returning to Pittsburgh, he worked for the Bell Telephone Company and later enrolled in the University of Pittsburgh.. He graduated with honors in 1915 with a Bachelor of Science in Economics and a specialty in Literature.
Allen then joined the 18th regiment of the Pennsylvanian National Guard “Duquesne Greys” and became a Second Lieutenant in 1916. His regiment was sent to the Mexican border during the American intervention in Vera Cruz, where he wrote and published his first collection of poetry, Ballads of the Border. This volume of poetry found local fame in El Paso, Texas.
Upon returning to Pittsburgh, Allen was called to serve in World War I and was promoted to First Lieutenant of the 111th American Expeditionary Force. Allen’s regiment was initially tasked with guarding Pennsylvanian railroads. He was later sent to Europe in 1918 and saw fighting between the Marne and Vasle in France. He eventually was promoted to Commander of Company B of the 28th Pennsylvania Division. During his time away from the front, he taught English to French soldiers. Throughout his service, he kept a diary of his experiences and used it to create his poetry and future novels.
Many veterans of World War I who returned home were disillusioned with modern civilization and sought new ideas for social change in their home countries. Allen found his answer in Thomas Jefferson’s ideal of individualism. This belief led Allen to abandon the ideas of progressivism and pragmatism. His shift in thought greatly influenced his writing and led him to start writing about the history of America.
After the war, Allen took classes at Harvard and spent some time teaching English at the University of Pittsburgh. Eventually leaving to teach high school in Charleston, South Carolina, he founded the Poetry Society of South Carolina. In 1921, he published his second poetry collection, Wampum and Old Gold, and was recognized by the Yale Series of Young Poets, an organization that recognized promising American poets. In 1925, Allen moved to New York to teach at Columbia University and Vassar College. While there, he met Annette (Ann) Andrew, whom he married in 1927. The couple eventually moved to Florida because of Allen’s fondness for the Everglades. They kept a residence in Dade County (now Miami-Dade County) that was known as the Glades Estate.
In 1927 Allen began writing what would become his most famous work, Anthony Adverse, which was published in 1933. Thought to be a model and precursor for the American contemporary historical novel, Anthony Adverse’s success helped reintroduce the historical fiction genre to the American public. The novel follows the life of the fictional Anthony Adverse as he travels Europe, Africa, and America, all the while pursuing wealth, only to realize toward the end of his life that it was a foolish pursuit. Newspaper reviewers lavished the book with praise and described it as the greatest American work of historical fiction (Ziakus, 1983). The timing of publication was also key to its success. Amid the Great Depression, the long and well-priced book served as a cheap distraction for readers. Anthony Adverse sold around 400,000 copies within its first year of publication and continued to sell well enough to support Allen and his family. The book’s ongoing success owed in part to Allen’s unique understanding of human individualism, coupled with his ability to discuss in easily understandable terms what American society meant to Americans. This made it an approachable text. The book was adapted into a film in 1936 and received praise from the film academy and the public. Thought to be a model and precursor for the American contemporary historical novel, Anthony Adverse’s success helped reintroduce the historical fiction genre to the American public
While Allen’s next works were not as well-received as Anthony Adverse, he turned his attention to writing about Thomas Jefferson’s ideals in an uncompleted series called "The Disinherited." In it, Allen attempted to explain American history while proclaiming the individualistic and social justice ideals that he believed America was founded on.
In 1943, while writing the "Disinherited," Allen served as co-editor for Farrar & Rinehart’s Rivers of America Series. Also in 1943, Theodore Roosevelt appointed him as a Regional Information Representative in Atlanta, Georgia, for the War Manpower Commission. Allen was only able to finish three of five volumes of his planned series before passing away in 1949, just weeks before his 60th birthday, of a heart attack. Surviving Allen were his widow, and three children, Marcia Andrews, Mary Ann Allen, and Richard Francis Allen.
Ballads of the Border. El Paso: privately printed, 1916.
Wampum and Old Gold. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1921.
Earth Moods and Other Poems. New York: Harper, 1925
Toward the Flame. New York: Doran, 1926.
Israfel. New York: Doran, 1926.
Songs for Annette. New York: W.E. Rudge, 1929
New Legends and Poems. New York: Farrar and Rinehart, 1929.
Anthony Adverse. New York: Holt, Rinehart, & Winston, 1933.
Action at Aquila. New York: Farrar and Rinehart, 1938
It Was Like This: Two Stories of the Great War. New York: Farrar and Rinehart, Inc., 1940.
The Forest and the Fort. New York: Farrar and Rinehart, 1943
Bedford Village. New York: Farrar and Rinehart, 1944.
Toward the Morning. New York: Rinehart and Company, 1948.
Cross, Randy K. "Hervey Allen (1889-1949): A Literary Historian in America. Stuart Knee." Review of Hervey Allen (1889-1949): A Literary Historian in America, by Stuart E. Knee. American Literature, vol. 61, no. 2, May 1989, pp. 303–305. JSTOR, https://www.jstor.org/stable/2926717.
Hervey Allen Papers, 1831-1965, SC.1952.01, Archives & Special Collections, University of Pittsburgh Library System.