Brooks, Cleanth October
Cleanth Brooks October 16, 1906–May 10, 1994
American critic and nonfiction writer.
For further information on Brooks's life and works, see CLC, Volume 24.
One of the most influential of the World War II era "New Critics," Brooks championed a critical method characterized by a close reading of texts in which an individual work is evaluated solely on the basis of its internal components. Brooks was initially recognized as a critic of poetry, and his first major book, Modern Poetry and the Tradition (1939), presents his critical method through detailed analyses of several poems. In The Well Wrought Urn, originally published in 1947, he solidified his premises by arguing that poetry can be judged by the same criteria during any era. As John Paul Pritchard has noted, according to Brooks's theory, "[the] poet does not analyze actual experience like the historian; he synthesizes out of experience a simulacrum of reality that is in fact a new experience." This was a radical departure from the tenets of many literary historians and scholars who believed that the correct interpretation of a poem could only be obtained through an understanding of the social and political contexts of a poet's life. Likewise, biographers who considered the poet's intentions the most important factors in the analysis of poetry were equally reluctant to accept Brooks's ideas. In addition to studies on poetry, Brooks is highly regarded for his works on language and his books on William Faulkner. In such volumes as The Relation of the Alabama-Georgia Dialect to the Provincial Dialects of Great Britain (1935) and The Language of the American South (1985), he stressed that language and literature are inseparable fields of study and not reducible to linguistics, semiotics, and literature. In the area of Faulkner studies, Brooks's William Faulkner: The Yoknapatawpha Country (1963) is considered one of the most influential studies of the American novelist's settings and ideologies. However, numerous critics now question the merit of Brooks's work on Faulkner, arguing that Brooks's interest in validating conservative values of patriarchal and agrarian society unduly influenced his critical judgment. Highly controversial upon publication, Brooks's works continue to generate debate, with proponents lauding his penetrating exposition of literature and opponents charging that his emphasis on the text is too limiting.
The Relation of the Alabama-Georgia Dialect to the Provincial Dialects of Great Britain (nonfiction) 1935
Understanding Poetry: An Anthology for College Students [editor with Robert Penn Warren] (criticism) 1938; enlarged and revised edition, 1950
Modern Poetry and the Tradition (criticism) 1939
∗Understanding Fiction [editor with Robert Penn Warren] (criticism) 1943
Understanding Drama [editor with Robert B. Heilman] (criticism) 1945; enlarged edition, 1948
The Well Wrought Urn: Studies in the Structure of Poetry (criticism) 1947; revised edition, 1968
Modern Rhetoric [with Robert Penn Warren] (nonfiction) 1949
Fundamentals of Good Writing: A Handbook of Modern Rhetoric [with Robert Penn Warren] (nonfiction) 1950
†Literary Criticism: A Short History [with William K. Wimsatt] (criticism) 1957
The Hidden God: Studies in Hemingway, Faulkner, Yeats, Eliot, and Warren (criticism) 1963
William Faulkner: The Yoknapatawpha Country (criticism) 1963
A Shaping Joy: Studies in the Writer's Craft (criticism) 1971
William Faulkner: Toward Yoknapatawpha and Beyond (criticism) 1978
William Faulkner: First Encounters (criticism) 1983
The Language of the American South (nonfiction) 1985
On the Prejudices, Predilections, and Firm Beliefs of William Faulkner (criticism)...
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Obituaries And Tributes
Herbert Mitgang (obituary date 12 May 1994)
SOURCE: An obituary in The New York Times, May 12, 1994, p. B14.
[Mitgang is an American journalist, nonfiction writer, and critic. In the following obituary, he provides an overview of Brooks's life and career.]
Cleanth Brooks, an educator, author and eminent Southern literary critic who helped spread the principles of the New Criticism movement throughout American universities, died on Tuesday at his home in New Haven. He was 87.
The cause was cancer of the esophagus, said the Beecher & Bennett funeral home in Hamden, Conn.
Mr. Brooks was the Gray Professor Emeritus of Rhetoric at Yale University, where he had been a member of the English faculty since 1947. He retired in 1975.
The New Critics advocated close reading of literary texts and detailed analysis, concentrating on semantics, meter, imagery, metaphor and symbol as well as references to history, biography and cultural background. In addition to Mr. Brooks, the main advocates of this approach were I. A. Richards, John Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate, R. P. Blackmur, Kenneth Burke and Robert Penn Warren.
Mr. Brooks's book Understanding Poetry (1938), written with Warren was considered a foundation stone of the New Criticism. The movement which had developed in the 1920's was continued in a 1941 book by...
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Reviews Of Brooks's Recent Works
Monroe K. Spears (review date 7 May 1987)
SOURCE: "'Kipper of de Vineyards,'" in The New York Review of Books, Vol. XXXIV, No. 8, May 7, 1987, pp. 38-41.
[Spears is an American educator and critic. In the review below, he favorably assesses Brooks's The Language of the American South, noting his concern with the significance of language in the interpretation of literature.]
That Cleanth Brooks, after a long and distinguished career as a literary critic, should now produce a book about language may surprise some readers. But it must be remembered that language was one of his strong early interests: among his first publications were The Relation of the Alabama-Georgia Dialect to the Provincial Dialects of Great Britain (1935) and "The English Language of the South" (1937, often reprinted). Besides, he is concerned here not with language for its own sake, but with its larger significances and particularly its relation to literature.
An innocent reader might easily take this short book for a pleasant but unimportant academic exercise. Yet, though never contentious, it takes firm positions on many controversial issues, and its affirmations, though tentatively and mildly made, are profound and wide reaching. The choice of subject itself might in some circles be regarded almost as a manifesto. For Mr. Brooks demonstrates that the study of language is...
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