Stephen Vincent Benét was born in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, into an army family. His father was Colonel J. Walker Benét. Frances Neill (Rose) Benét, Stephen's mother, was a descendant of an old Kentucky military family. Because his father was an avid reader, who especially loved poetry, Benét grew up in home, where literature was valued and enjoyed. Most of his boyhood Benét spent in Benicia, California. At the age about ten, Benét was sent to the Hitchcock Military Academy. However, he preferred reading to athletics and did not like the insensitivity of his school mates. Later wrote about his experiences in his poem about Shelley at Eton: "His pile of books scattered about his feet, / Stood Shelley while two others held him fast, / And the clods beat upon him." Benét completed his secondary education in Augusta, Georgia, where his father had been assigned a new post. Benét's first book, Five Men and Pompey (1915), a collection of verse, was published when he was 17. It showed the romantic influence of William Morris as well as the influence of modern realism.
Benét was rejected from the army because of his defective vision. During the war he worked in Washington as a cipher-clerk in the same department as James Thurber, who also had poor eyesight.
Benét received from Yale his master's degree, submitting his third volume of poems, Heavens and Earth (1920), instead of a thesis. In Yale his contemporaries included Thronton Wilder and Archibald MacLeish.
Benét's first novel, the autobiographical The Beginning of Wisdom (1921), showed the influence of F. Scott Fitzgerald. He continued his studies at Sorbonne, France. He stayed at the home of his Uncle Larry, the managing director of a munitions firm, whose apartment had a view on the Seine and Eiffel Tower. Later he took a room in Montparnasse, lived somewhat bohemian life and met his wife and moral compass of his life, the writer and journalist Rosemary Carr. Many of his playful love poems were collected in Tiger Joy (1925). Sylvia Beach, who ran the Shakespeare and Company bookstore on Paris's Left Bank, brought him to meet Gertude Stein.
Back in Benét in the United States, Benét set out to make a living as a writer. In New York City the family lived first at 220 East 69th Street between Third and Second Avenues, and then at 215 East 68th. Visitors often dropped by without prior notice. Benét's study was full of books, from the floor to ceiling, in piles on tables and chairs and spilling onto the carpet. An omnivorous reader himself, Benét used to read aloud to his children in the evening after dinner, Tales of King Arthur, Kilping, Oz books, Arthur Conan Doyle.
During the 1920s he published the novels, Young People's Pride (1922), serialized in Harper's Bazaar, Jean Huguenot (1923), and Spanish Bayonet (1926), a historical novel about the 18th-century Florida dealing with Benét's ancestors. With John Farrar he wrote two plays, Nerves and That Awful Mrs. Eaton, which opened and closed in September 1924. After their failure he did not attempt any form of dramatic for several years. In 1930 he worked with Gerrit Lloyd on the screenplay for D.W. Griffith film Abraham Lincoln.
In 1926 Benét won a Guggenheim fellowship, enabled him to focus solely on writing, without constantly worrying about money and bills. With his wife, he went back to France. They took an apartment on the rue Jadin, and moved then to 89 avenue de Neuilly (now avenue Charles-de-Gaulle), in suburban Neuilly, just beyond the city limits of Paris. Several expatriates lived there, among them the writer William Seabrook and the director King Vidor. Also the American Hospital was located there. After the renewal of the grant, Benét returned to Paris, taking an apartment on the rue de Longchamp.
Benét lived for four years in France, where started to work on his poem about the Civil War, John Brown's Body. "So, from a hundred visions, I make one, / And out of…