Brooks, Cleanth

Brooks, Cleanth
▪ 1995

      U.S. educator, author, and critic (b. Oct. 16, 1906, Murray, Ky.—d. May 10, 1994, New Haven, Conn.), helped to establish New Criticism, a theory of literary analysis that dominated the teaching of literature at U.S. universities for two decades after World War II. Brooks downplayed consideration of biographical and historical influences and championed a "close reading" of literary texts, emphasizing careful structural analysis. He earned a B.A. (1928) from Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tenn., before coming under the influence of the Fugitives, a literary group that included John Crowe Ransom and Robert Penn Warren. After further study at Tulane University, New Orleans, La. (M.A., 1929), he became a Rhodes scholar at the University of Oxford. Brooks then taught at Louisiana State University (1932-47), where he edited the influential Southern Review with Warren, his longtime colleague and with whom he coauthored Understanding Poetry (1938). That book and Brooks's Modern Poetry and the Tradition (1939) and The Well Wrought Urn (1947) were cornerstones of New Criticism. Ransom called Brooks "the most expert living 'reader' or interpreter of difficult verse." He also wrote several insightful studies of the cultural milieu of William Faulkner, chief among them William Faulkner: The Yoknapatawpha Country (1963). Brooks taught at Yale University (1947-75), was much in demand as a visiting professor, and served as the cultural attaché at the U.S. embassy in London (1964-66). In 1985 he was named Jefferson lecturer. His last books were On the Prejudices, Predilections, and Firm Beliefs of William Faulkner (1987) and Historical Evidence and the Reading of Seventeenth-Century Poetry (1991).

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▪ American critic and educator
born , Oct. 16, 1906, Murray, Ky., U.S.
died May 10, 1994, New Haven, Conn.

      American teacher and critic whose work was important in establishing the New Criticism, which stressed close reading and structural analysis of literature.

      Educated at Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tenn., and at Tulane University, New Orleans, Brooks was a Rhodes scholar (Exeter College, Oxford) before he began teaching at Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge, in 1932. From 1935 to 1942, with Charles W. Pipkin and poet and critic Robert Penn Warren (Warren, Robert Penn), he edited The Southern Review, a journal that advanced the New Criticism and published the works of a new generation of Southern writers. Brooks's critical works include Modern Poetry and the Tradition (1939) and The Well Wrought Urn (1947). Authoritative college texts by Brooks, with others, reinforced the popularity of the New Criticism: Understanding Poetry (1938) and Understanding Fiction (1943), written with Warren, and Understanding Drama (1945), with Robert Heilman.

      Brooks taught at Yale University from 1947 to 1975 and was also a Library of Congress fellow (1951–62) and cultural attaché at the U.S. embassy in London (1964–66). Brooks's later works included Literary Criticism: A Short History (1957; cowritten with William K. Wimsatt); A Shaping Joy: Studies in the Writer's Craft (1972); The Language of the American South (1985); Historical Evidence and the Reading of Seventeenth Century Poetry (1991); and several books on William Faulkner, including William Faulkner: The Yoknapatawpha Country (1963), William Faulkner: Toward Yoknapatawpha and Beyond (1978), William Faulkner: First Encounters (1983), and Firm Beliefs of William Faulkner (1987).

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Universalium. 2010.

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