by John D. Margolis
(Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 1980.)
One of twentieth-century America's leading men of letters, Joseph Wood Krutch was variously a literary scholar, drama critic, book reviewer, biographer, naturalist, and social critic. In this first book-length study of Krutch, John D. Margolis explores the many facets of his career, using a chronological narrative to illuminate both the man and his works. Sixteen photographs illustrate the text.
The book traces the evolution of Krutch's life and thought- his movement from Knoxville to New York City and finally to Tucson, and his passage from the modernist despair of his early writing to the joyous affirmation that characterized his later essays and books about nature. Drawing on extensive research and interviews with Krutch's family and friends, as well as a meticulous study of the several thousand essays and reviews and the thirty-five books Krutch wrote or edited, Margolis describes Krutch's productive literary career and the moving quest for values that gave his career its distinctive shape.
After study at the University of Tennessee and Columbia University, Krutch began work as drama critic for the Nation; for more than a quarter century he remained closely associated with that distinguished journal. He received early recognition for two books published in the 1920s - a pioneering psychoanalytical biography of Edgar Allan Poe, and The Modern Temper, a classic statement of modernist disillusionment and despair. Two further volumes of literary criticism in the 1930s were followed by the publication of Was Europe a Success?, a trenchant analysis from a liberal perspective of the prevailing enthusiasm for Communism. He joined the faculty at Columbia University in 1937.
In the 1940s Krutch produced important biographies of Samuel Johnson and Henry David Thoreau. Stimulated by Thoreau, Krutch himself began to write essays about the natural world he observed around his Connecticut home. His first book of nature essays, The Twelve Seasons, was published in 1949 and was warmly received. Three years later Krutch moved to Arizona in order to continue his nature writing in the Southwest. The insights he gained from nature also informed the social criticism he began to write.
It was as a nature writer and social critic that Krutch gained his widest fame. His deep concern and affection for the natural world earned him a popular following, and his essays appeared in many of the leading journals of the time. His widely read social criticism also brought him recognition, including a 1954 National Book Award for The Measure of Man.
Scholars turn to Krutch's books for their learning, while the general reader delights in the quiet wisdom contained in Krutch's finely written works. Joseph Wood Krutch was and will continue to be recognized as a leading twentieth-century man of letters. With this critical biography, his career receives the attention it has long deserved.
John D. Margolis is a member of the English Department and Associate Dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Northwestern University.
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