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Cleanth Brooks Biography

(1906–1994), The Southern Review, belles-lettristic, Modern Poetry and the Tradition

American literary critic, born in Murray, Kentucky, educated at Vanderbilt, Tulane, and Oxford Universities. A key figure in the development of the New Criticism, he was taught by John Crowe Ransom at Vanderbilt University where he was befriended by Allen Tate and Robert Penn Warren, and loosely associated with the Fugitive (Agrarian) group. He became professor at Louisiana State University and, with Robert Penn Warren, established The Southern Review which championed the New Criticism and fought, successfully, against what was left of the old, belles-lettristic, historical criticism. His Modern Poetry and the Tradition (1939) was influential both in its application of New Critical methods of close reading and in its argument that modern poetry (notably that of Eliot, Yeats, and Auden) is anchored in the tradition of seventeenth-century metaphysical poetry. Among his other publications are Understanding Poetry: An Anthology for College Students (1938; with Robert Penn Warren; revised edition 1950); The Well-Wrought Urn: Studies in the Structure of Poetry (1947), which included two important statements of the philosophy of the New Criticism, ‘The Language of Paradox’ and ‘The Heresy of Paraphrase’; Literary Criticism: A Short History (1957; with William K. Wimsatt); The Hidden God: Studies in Hemingway, Faulkner, Yeats, Eliot, and Warren (1963); and William Faulkner: The Yoknapatawpha Country (1963). Brooks was Gray Professor of Rhetoric at Yale (194790) and Cultural Attaché at the American Embassy in London (19646). See The Possibilities of Order: Cleanth Brooks and His Work (1976; edited by Lewis P. Simpson).

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