Classics and Commercials: A Literary Chronicle of the Forties

By Edmund Wilson | Go to book overview

VAN WYCK BROOKS'S SECOND PHASE

VAN WYCK BROOKS has now suffered the fate of many a good writer before him. Beginning as an opposition critic, read by a minority of the public, he has lived to become a popular author, read by immense numbers of people and awarded a Pulitzer prize--with the result that the ordinary reviewers are praising him indiscriminately and the highbrows are trying to drop him. One has seen the same sort of thing happen with Eugene O'Neill, with Edna Millay, with Hemingway, with Thornton Wilder--and always to the obscuration of their actual merits and defects.

Let me begin then by stating some of the objections which are being made to Brooks's books on New England by those readers to whom it is most distasteful to see him become the darling of the women's clubs.

I. Brooks's work falls into two distinct divisions, with the break just before his volume on Emerson. The early Brooks was somber and despairing. In the tones of a Jeremiah, he cried out against America for ruining her writers and against the American writers for allowing themselves to be ruined. This period reached its nadir of gloom in the essay on The Literary Life in America, contributed to Harold Stearns's symposium Civilization in the United States, in which Brooks announced the total extinction of literary genius in America just at the moment when it was again lighting up. But he had already

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