Email this review


This is the fifth and last volume in Van Wyck Brooks' well established series on the definition of the American tradition in letters. In both his expansiveness and his ability to phrase the literary quality of a work, an author or an age, in a few words, Brooks roams literary U.S.A. from 1885 to 1915, from San Francisco, through the south and the mid-west to New York, dipping slowly back and forth, going often to England and the Continent, to choose material which points to the philosophies of man, goodness and a better world to come, sometimes latent, sometimes exposed in the work of his country's writers. Wharton, O'Neill, Mencken, Jack London, Henry James, Dreiser, the reaction in criticism in 1910, the flair for socialism, are some of the natural elements of such a book. Brooks well lights his American study with examples from the past, the rest of the world and the future. The contrast between the blackness of Melville and the whiteness of Whitman puts the despair of 1914 more clearly into focus- a time that developed into a more thorough unmasking of mankind by such as Veblen. But the faith, he maintains, of Jefferson and the hopes of Emerson were firmly borne and shine through to an emergence even beyond the near death of the American ""new man"" before the first world war. The last chapter looks to the future and cites Hemingway's portrayal of the innate goodness of the unspoiled Basque peasant, Ezra Pound's essential though fascistic belief in a better world. Often inundating in the legion references and examples thrown at the reader, Brooks is slow pegging. But the comfortable flow and the comfortable bias make for comfortable reading, for his wide audience.

Pub Date: Jan. 4th, 1951
Publisher: Dutton