Mark Van Doren Analysis

Other literary forms

(Poets and Poetry in America)

In addition to poetry, Mark Van Doren also wrote drama, fiction, and various nonfiction works. Two of his plays, The Last Days of Lincoln (1959) and Never, Never Ask His Name (pr. 1965), were produced in 1961 and 1965, respectively. The latter was published in Three Plays (1966), together with two unproduced plays, A Little Night Music and The Weekend That Was. His works of fiction include the novels The Transients (1935), Windless Cabins (1940), Tilda (1943), and Home with Hazel (1957), as well as several books of short stories that were eventually published in three volumes as Collected Stories (1962-1968). Van Doren also wrote three books of children’s fiction.

Van Doren’s nonfiction works include The Autobiography of Mark Van Doren (1958) and critical and biographical works on various authors. He also did a great deal of editorial work, including anthologies and critical editions of works of fiction and nonfiction. The authors with whom he dealt critically include John Dryden, Henry David Thoreau, William Shakespeare, and Nathaniel Hawthorne.


(Poets and Poetry in America)

One of Mark Van Doren’s most impressive achievements is the sheer volume of his work; he was the author of fifty-six books and the editor of twenty-three books. He was honored with the Pulitzer Prize in 1940 for his Collected Poems, 1922-1938. His other awards include Columbia University’s Alexander Hamilton Medal in 1959, the Hale Award in 1960, the Huntington Hartford Creative Award in 1962, the Emerson-Thoreau Award in 1963, and the Academy of American Poets Fellowship in 1967. He also received many honorary degrees. In addition to formal awards, Van Doren’s poetry won praise for its craftsmanship from other better-known poets, including Robert Frost, Allen Tate, and T. S. Eliot. Van Doren became a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1940 and served as chancellor for the Academy of American Poets from 1949 to 1952.


(Poets and Poetry in America)

Bradbury, Eric, et al., eds. The Penguin Companion to American Literature. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1971. This source gives a few biographical details and lists many of Van Doren’s major works.

Claire, William, ed. The Essays of Mark Van Doren, 1942-1972. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1980. Although the emphasis here is on Van Doren’s work as a critic, the introduction by Claire provides useful information on Van Doren’s poetry and prose, discussing his early influences and development as a writer. Notes that Van Doren’s critical approach was consistent with his position as a poet, namely that a poet “made statements and gave opinions as a professional on the theory that a civilized audience existed to hear them.”

Curley, Maurice Kramer, et al., eds. Modern American Literature. Vol. 3. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1969. This source provides critical commentary on Van Doren’s works. Several different critics and sources are represented.

Hart, James D., ed. The Oxford Companion to American Literature. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995. This source gives a listing of Van Doren’s major works.

Hendrick, George, ed. The Selected Letters of Mark Van Doren. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1987. These letters, arranged chronologically, give insight into the literary and cultural world in which Van Doren lived. The introduction, although brief, provides some useful details about his poetry, such as his early influences and what other writers and critics thought of him.

Ledbetter, J. T. Mark Van Doren. New York: Peter Lang, 1996. A study of Van Doren’s literary life and an examination of the major themes found in his work, focusing particularly on his poetry. Includes bibliographical references and index.

Perkins, George, et al., eds. Benét’s Reader’s Encyclopedia of American Literature. New York: HarperCollins, 1991. Includes a biography with emphasis on Van Doren’s major works.

Rood, Karen L., ed. American Literary Almanac from 1608 to the Present. New York: Bruccoli Clark Layman, 1988. This source includes details about Van Doren and discussions about other literary figures with whom he associated.

Wakefield, Dan. “Lion: A Memoir of Mark Van Doren.” Ploughshares 17, nos. 2/3 (Fall, 1991): 100. A former student recalls Van Doren in several anecdotes. Van Doren’s most lasting lesson was that one must be true to one’s deepest instincts, one’s “noble voice,” and never pander to the marketplace.