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11.09.01 Brooks, Cleanth, The Language of the American South, published in1985 by the University of Georgia Press

Notes Concerning the Author

Cleanth Brooks (1906-1984) was born in Murray, Kentucky to the Reverend Cleanth Brooks, Sr. (Methodist) and wife Bessie Lee Witherspoon Brooks.  He received a classical education at a private school and went to Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee for his undergraduate college work, earning his B. A. degree in 1928 at the age of 21 years.  At Vanderbilt, Cleanth was associated with influential Southern literary collaborators who expressed themselves as “Fugitive Poets” and as “Southern Agrarians,” including John Crowe Ransom, Donald Davidson, Robert Penn Warren and Andrew Lytle.  Two years after Brooks graduated from Vanderbilt, the Great Depression began and the above-mentioned associates and eight others published a book of essays titled, I’ll Take My Stand, which advocated for the life-style of the rural farm family and cautioned against the lifestyle of families caught up in urbanization and rampant industrialization, viewing the latter as destructive to the Southern culture and a threat to the happiness of the people of the southern States.  There is evidence that the association at Vanderbilt substantially influenced Brooks’ views on life and literature, especially poetry.

From Vanderbilt, Brooks went to Tulane University and earned his M. A. degree.  He then went to Exeter College, Oxford, England as a Rhodes Scholar.  At age 25 years, In 1932, with the Great Depression in full force, he returned to America and took a position as professor of English at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, a job he would hold from 1932 to 1947, which coincided with the remainder of the Great Depression and World War II.

After leaving Tulane, Cleanth Brooks embarked on a varied career, spending time at various universities and writing about literature.  He had a long and productive life.  His writings began in 1935 at the age of 28 years.  The Language of the American South was written very late in his life, at the age of 78 years.


In this work by Cleanth Brooks, we observe one of the foremost literary scholars of the Twentieth Century discussing the sources of Southern speech and its relationship to the achievements of Southern literature.  A review posted on the internet expands that analysis::

“In this volume Cleanth Brooks pays tribute to the language and literature of the American South.  He writes of the language’s unique syntax and its celebrated languorous rhythms; of the classical allusions and Addisonian locutions once favored by the gentry; and of the more earthbound eloquence, rooted in the dialect of England’s southern lowlands, that is still heard in the speech of the region’s plain folk.  “It is this rich spoken language, Brooks suggests, that has always been the life blood of southern writing.  The strong tradition of storytelling in the South is reflected in the tales told by Joel Chandler Harris’s Uncle Remus and in the obsessive retellings that structure William Faulkner’s novels and stories.  But even more crucially, the language of the South — firmly rooted in the land but with a tendency to reach for the heavens above — has shaped the literary concerns and molded the complex visions to be found in the poetry of Robert Penn Warren and John Crowe Ransom; the stories of Flannery O’Connor, Peter Taylor, and Eudora Welty; and the novels of Warren, Allen Tate, and Walker Percy.”

Availability of this Book

Cleanth Brooks’ book on the language of the people of the southern States, and its relationship to the literature and poetry of the region, can be obtained as a hardbound book or as a paperback book.  Recent reprints are available.  Suggest Amazon or similar outlet.  There is no e-book.