Cleanth Brooks 1906–
Brooks was one of the most influential 'New Critics' of the World War II era. His practice of closely reading individual works and judging them solely on the basis of their internal components was highly controversial in the 1940s, but few critics doubt Brooks's integrity or his analytical skills.
Brooks was initially recognized as a critic of poetry, and his first major book, Modern Poetry and the Tradition, presents his critical method through detailed analyses of several poets. The Well Wrought Urn solidifies Brooks's premises by stating that poetry can be judged by the same criteria during any era. As John Paul Pritchard has summarized 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 belief was a radical departure from the tenets of many historians, who felt that a critic had to understand the social and political motivations of the poet's life in relation to the present to find meaning in a poem. Likewise, the biographers who believed that the poet's intentions were the most important factors in the analysis of poetry were reluctant to see the plausibility of Brooks's point of view. Brooks's books were widely debated: his proponents lauded his penetrating exposition of literature; his opponents found Brooks's emphasis on the text too limited.
In some of Brooks's more recent writing he has incorporated religious and historical elements in his literary analysis. This is especially dominant in William Faulkner: The Yoknapatawpha Country and William Faulkner: Toward Yoknapatawpha and Beyond, in which Brooks analyzed Faulkner's settings and ideologies.
(See also Contemporary Authors, Vol. 17-20, rev. ed.)