Van Wyck Brooks


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born in New Jersey of an upper-class, cultivated family, after graduation from Harvard (1904) entered upon his literary career. In biographies and criticism, beginning with The Wine of the Puritans (1909), he first developed the thesis that the Puritan tradition crushed American culture and placed an undue emphasis on material values, neglecting the aesthetic side of life. This theory is illustrated in America's Coming-of-Age (1915), Letters and Leadership (1918), The Ordeal of Mark Twain (1920), and The Pilgrimage of Henry James (1925). He strikingly altered this belief in his later books, which, in addition to a revision of the Mark Twain study, include the very appreciative analyses of American life, Emerson and Others (1927) and Sketches in Criticism (1932). His “history of the writer in America,” titled Makers and Finders, includes The Flowering of New England (1936, Pulitzer Prize), on the period 1815–65; New England: Indian Summer (1940), continuing to 1915; The World of Washington Irving (1944), concerning 1800 to the 1840s outside New England; The Times of Melville and Whitman (1947); and The Confident Years (1952), about the era 1885–1915. All of these present a rich, impressionistic, and anecdotal view of the American literary scene with its writers, great and small, all treated knowingly and appreciatively. His life was devoted to interpreting the literary and cultural life of the U.S. in numerous other books which show a steadfast humanism, a Jeffersonian liberalism, and an appreciation of the American past. His views of literature and antipathy to many 20th-century movements appear in On Literature Today (1941), Opinions of Oliver Allston (1941), The Writer in America (1953), and From a Writer's Notebook (1958). His own impressionistic reminiscences appeared in Scenes and Portraits: Memories of Childhood and Youth (1954); Days of the Phoenix (1957), about the 1920s; and From the Shadow of the Mountain: My Post-Meridian Years (1961), from 1931 to his seventy-fifth birthday—all collected in An Autobiography (1965). His correspondence with Lewis Mumford was published in 1970.

Subjects: Literature.

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