Brooks, Van Wyck (1886-1963)

    American critic, b. Plainfield, N.J., graduated Harvard 1908. He wrote innumerable books, including The Wine of the Puritans (1909), The Ordeal of Mark Twain (1920), The Pilgrimage of Henry James (1925), Emerson and Others(1927). Won the Pulitzer Prize in History for The Flowering of New England (1936). Other books of his include an interpretation of American literary history, The Times of Melville and Whitman (1947), autobiographical works such as Days of the Phoenix, the Nineteen Twenties I Remember (1957), From a Writer's Notebook (1958) and An Autobiography (1965).
We have just been reading Van Wyck Brooks's sort of autobiography about all the people he knew in the Twenties a book he calls the Time of the Phoenix tho' I confess I cannot quite see the point of bringing in the Phoenix! But he refers to Greenwich Village and Patchin Place & to my dead brother Llewelyn & to Marianne Moore & to Llewelyn's wife — now his widow — Alyse Gregory. But the book brings back all my old memories as no other book has ever done!
(Powys to the Trovillions, April 1957)
Van Wyck Brooks was a friend of Llewelyn Powys and of his wife Alyse Gregory. When Alyse visited Van Wyck and his second wife in 1952 in New York State, this is what she wrote:
I got VW to read aloud two chapters of his new book, an attack on the "new criticism" — a pedantic, pretentious group of critics now much in vogue. He said what he wanted to do was to show that America had a literary tradition, and that there was diversity enough in this tradition for young writers to find styles and approaches native to them — there was no longer any standard by which to judge literature and the young were all emulating models (Faulkner, Hemingway, Eliot) who prevented them from discovering their own talents. Accordingly they wrote badly and their books were dead to start with, or up in the air. As soon as they abandoned their model they had nothing to say. They took courses in writing and had nothing to write about. Great writers had always been possessed by their subject. They weren't concerned with whether they wrote well or badly. (...) I think his attack on the writers who make a fetish of Kafka, Rilke, Rimbaud, Baudelaire, Joyce, etc., is apt to be misleading in that it seems to place him on the side of the Philistines where he certainly does not belong. (...) In the evening I had more discussions with VW. He said he was accused of writing his best about second rate people. His purpose in writing his books so far had been to give a general idea of American literary tradition and to bring out little known or almost forgotten American writers and that this had necessitated writing at greater length about the minor characters than of the familiar ones.
(Alyse Gregory, Unpublished Journals)