The Legacy of Van Wyck Brooks: A Study of Maladies and Motives

The Legacy of Van Wyck Brooks: A Study of Maladies and Motives

The Legacy of Van Wyck Brooks: A Study of Maladies and Motives

The Legacy of Van Wyck Brooks: A Study of Maladies and Motives

Synopsis

Van Wyck Brooks was the first American critic of the 1920s generation to explore the social causes and unconscious motives which underlie and mold the creative and intellectual life in America. This penetrating new work, based on a large number of unpublished letters between Brooks and his wife in the 1905- 30period, and containing an appendix of fourteen essays written late in life by Brooks, is an unsentimentalized appraisal of Brooks's accomplishments.

Excerpt

The subtitle of this work does indeed describe its general drift. Although my essay includes a substantial amount of biographical matter, hitherto unpublished, is in part anecdotal and in some measure gossipy, it is by no means an account of the life of Van Wyck Brooks. The materials for a Life are in truth already in print, available in Mrs. Gladys Brooks's If Strangers Meet (1967) and in her husband's three volumes of autobiography, Shadows and Portraits (1954), The Day of the Phoenix (1957), and From the Shadow of the Mountain (1961). Interspersed among these books are occasional essays in self-explanation as well as whole volumes of self-clarification which serve to gloss the man's career -- Opinions of Oliver Allston (1941), The Writer in America (1952), A Writer's Notebook (1958). From Brooks's own hand, therefore, we possess an unusually rich store of documents in memoir and reminiscence and, too, a plausible reason for their profusion. Brooks, who saw his career as a lifelong exercise in self-education, said that somehow he felt himself constrained to conduct his education in public. What this explanation does not encompass, however, what his memoirs do not offer is crucial. For Brooks deliberately or inadvertently failed to give his audience more than the tiniest glimpse of the connections between his thought and his need, between his character and his spirit, his judgment and his will, his passions and his mind -- his education and his life. And it is the study of this ill-defined sphere, involving matters of peremptory interest for the investigation of men and ideas in our time, to which I have found myself drawn.

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