Van Wyck Brooks

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Portrait of Van Wyck Brooks by John Butler Yeats, 1909

Van Wyck Brooks (b. Plainfield, New Jersey, February 16, 1886; d. Bridgewater, Connecticut, May 2, 1963) was an American literary critic, biographer, and historian.


Brooks was educated at Harvard University and graduated in 1908. As a student there, he published his first book: a collection of poetry called Verses by Two Undergraduates, co-written with his friend John Hall Wheelock.[1]

Brooks' best known work is a series of studies entitled Makers and Finders, which chronicled the development of American literature during the long 19th century. Brooks embroidered elaborate biographical detail into anecdotal prose. For The Flowering of New England (1936), he won the second National Book Award for Non-Fiction from the American Book Sellers Association[2][3] and the 1937 Pulitzer Prize in history. The book was also included in Life Magazine's list of the 100 outstanding books of 1924-1944.[4]

He was a long-time resident of Bridgewater, Connecticut, which built a town library wing in his name. Although a decade-long fund-raising effort was abandoned in 1972, a hermit in Los Angeles, Charles E. Piggott, with no connection to Bridgewater surprised the town by leaving money for the library in his will. With $210,000 raised, the library addition went up in 1980.[5]

Among his works, the book The Ordeal of Mark Twain, published in 1920, analyzes the literary progression of Samuel L. Clemens and attributes shortcomings to Clemens' mother and wife. In 1925 he published a translation from French of the 1920 biography of Henry Thoreau by Leon Bazalgette, entitled Henry Thoreau, Bachelor of Nature.

In 1944, Brooks was on the cover of Time Magazine.[6]


Awards and honors[edit]

Places named after him[edit]

A historic district known for its old Victorian and Second French Empire style buildings in Plainfield, the town of his birth, is named after him.


Honorary degrees[edit]

Doctor of Letters:

Doctor of Humane Letters:


  1. ^ Sullivan, Roderick B. (February 2001). "Biography of John Hall Wheelock, Poet", Biographies of Notable Wheelocks. Retrieved 3 July 2012.
  2. ^ "Books and Authors", The New York Times, 1936-04-12, p. BR12. ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851-2007).
  3. ^ a b "5 Honors Awarded on the Year's Books: ...", The New York Times, 1937-02-26, p. 23. ProQuest Historical Newspapers The New York Times (1851-2007).
  4. ^ Canby, Henry Seidel. "The 100 Outstanding Books of 1924 - 1944". Life Magazine, 14 August 1944. Chosen in collaboration with the magazine's editors.
  5. ^ Burnham Public Library Web site, Library History Web page, accessed May 4, 2009
  6. ^