Back to Top

07.09.02 Brooks, Cleanth, a biography by Mark Royden Winchell: Cleanth Brooks and the Rise of Modern Criticism, published in 1996.

Cleanth Brooks (1906 – 1994), a Kentucky Southerner, was an influential American literary critic and professor.  He is best known for his participation with the Agrarians at Vanderbilt University during the late 1920’s and early 1930’s, for his later contributions to New Criticism in the mid-20th century, and for revolutionizing the teaching of poetry in American higher education.  We suggest a focus on his early life before 1940.

Considering his total career, which spanned sixty years, Cleanth Brooks was involved in most of the major controversies facing the humanities from the 1930s until his death in 1994.  He was arguably the most important American literary critic of the mid-twentieth century.  Because it is impossible to understand modern literary criticism apart from Cleanth Brooks, or Cleanth Brooks apart from modern literary criticism, Mark Royden Winchell gives us not only an account of one man’s influence but also a survey of literary criticism in twentieth-century America.  More than any other individual, Brooks helped steer literary study away from historical and philological scholarship by emphasizing the autonomy of the text.  He applied the methods of what came to be called the New Criticism, not only to the modernist works for which these methods were created, but to the entire canon of English poetry, from John Donne to William Butler Yeats.  In his many critical books, especially The Well Wrought Urn and the textbooks he edited with Robert Penn Warren and others, Brooks taught several generations of students how to read literature without prejudice or preconception.
This biography contains 510 pages and is readily obtained.  We suggest Amazon.