Van Wyck Brooks’s fifty-five years as a literary critic, historian, and biographer was not only one of the most productive and influential periods in American letters but also one that inspired more controversy than that of any other critic. From 1915 until 1925, Brooks was in the forefront of critics decrying the cultural sterility in the United States. Later in his career, Brooks attacked contemporary writers for their reliance on morbidity and negativism for their works.
Brooks was born into comfortable although not wealthy circumstances; his father was a stockbroker. Brooks’s closest boyhood friend was Maxwell Perkins, who later became an editor with Charles Scribner’s Sons and worked with Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Thomas Wolfe. The friendship between Brooks and Perkins endured throughout their lives.
Brooks’s life changed when at the age of twelve his parents took him along on a trip to Europe. He was greatly affected by the older cultures of Europe and by such writers as John Ruskin. During this trip, Brooks decided to become a writer. He was able to complete his college education at Harvard University in three years (1904-1907). While there, he associated with a group of students interested in literature and the arts, a group that included Perkins and John Hall Wheelock. He was also an editor of the Harvard Advocate and a member of Phi Beta Kappa. Among his professors was Irving Babbitt, who, though unable to win Brooks’s personal affection, was the one to introduce him to the writings of Charles-Augustin...
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