René Wellek


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(1903–95) Czech-American literary critic and comparativist. Born and raised in Vienna, speaking both Czech and German at home, Wellek studied linguistics and literature at the Charles University in Prague. After graduation, with the aid of several fellowships, he was able to pursue studies in the US and UK, developing his appreciation of English literature until a lectureship became available at the Charles University in 1930. He taught there for 5 years, becoming an active participant in the meetings of the Prague Circle, before accepting a post at what is now part of University College London teaching Slavonic language and literature. Funded by the Czech government, this position was terminated when the Nazis invaded Czechoslovakia. Wellek chose to immigrate to the US rather than return to Europe. He was found a job in Iowa by his contacts in the US, where he worked for a few years before moving to Yale. Wellek's reputation rests on the massive surveys of literature and literary theory he compiled: History of Modern Criticism (1955–91) and Theory of Literature (1949), which he co-authored with Austin Warren. The latter work argued for a systematic approach to the study of literature along the lines recommended by the New Critics. In his later work, Wellek defended New Criticism against the critiques of theory in both its structuralist and post-structuralist guises. It is perhaps ironic then that he is memorialized today by a lecture series at the University of California Irvine which is hosted by the Institute for Critical Theory and is widely regarded as one of the most prestigious lecture series for the promulgation of theory.

From A Dictionary of Critical Theory in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Literary Theory and Cultural Studies.

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