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Brooks, Van Wyck

(1886–1963), The Wine of the Puritans, The Malady of the Ideal

American critic, born in Plainfield, New Jersey, educated at Harvard. From 1907 to 1909 he lived in London, where he wrote The Wine of the Puritans (1908); its thesis that the Puritan ethos led to the aesthetic impoverishment of American literary culture was sustained in The Malady of the Ideal (1913). America's Coming of Age (1915) outlined his conception of an American literature liberated from dependence on European models. In 1916 he became associate editor of The Seven Arts, energetically promoting the cultural regeneration of America. The Ordeal of Mark Twain (1920) and The Pilgrimage of Henry James (1925) are among the earliest works to apply psychoanalytical principles to literary criticism; in the case of Twain, Brooks concluded that his native genius had been diminished by the pressures of the American socio-cultural context, which had forced James to opt for exile and a deforming over-refinement. Following a severe breakdown in 1925, his writing ceased to be adversely critical of the nineteenth-century traditions of American literature. His major work from the early 1930s onward was the descriptive survey of American writing in the numerous volumes of his Makers and Finders series; these include The Flowering of New England, 1815–1865 (1936; Pulitzer Prize), New England: Indian Summer, 1865–1915 (1940), The Times of Melville and Whitman (1947), and The Confident Years, 1885–1915 (1952). His antagonism to Modernism, and to T. S. Eliot in particular, is evident in On Literature Today (1941) and The Writer in America (1953). Among his many other publications are The Dreaming of Arcadia: American Writers and Artists in Italy, 1760–1915 (1958) and Fenollosa and His Circle (1962). His autobiographical writings were posthumously collected as An Autobiography (1965). James Hoopes's Van Wyck Brooks: In Search of American Culture appeared in 1977.

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Bridgnorth Shropshire to Anthony Burgess [John Anthony Burgess Wilson Burgess] Biography