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Brooks, Cleanth (1906–94)

Subject Literature

DOI: 10.1111/b.9780631207535.1997.x


American critic. Brooks was the chief popularizer of N ew C riticism . A member of the second generation of the movement, he was not one of its seminal thinkers, describing his work as a “synthesis” of others’ ideas, but his student handbook Understanding Poetry (with Robert Penn Warren, 1938) was enormously influential in spreading the gospel of New Criticism throughout American literature departments. Modern Poetry and the Tradition (1939) and The Well-Wrought Urn (1947) are the representative critical works of the movement, and Literary Criticism: A Short History (with William K. Wimsatt, 1957) also became a standard text. Modern Poetry and the Tradition was the American equivalent of F.R. L eavis's Revaluation (1936), an ambitious attempt to write a “Revised History of English Poetry” in terms of T.S. E liot's ideas, and simultaneously a spirited defense of modernist poetry. Brooks's work aimed at a “general theory of the history of English poetry implied by the practice of the modern poets.” In other words, like Eliot and Leavis, Brooks in effect read literary history backwards, in the service of a polemic against “the scholars, the appointed custodians of the tradition.” Their dismissal of modern poetry as “difficult” and overintellectual results from their being trapped in a defunct tradition, one which runs back to Romanticism and narrow eighteenth-century ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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