René Wellek

Literary critic, Author

1903 – 1995


Who was René Wellek?

René Wellek was a Czech-American comparative literary critic. Like Erich Auerbach, Wellek was an eminent product of the Central European philological tradition and was known as a vastly erudite and "fair-minded critic of critics."

René Wellek was born and raised in Vienna, speaking Czech and German. He studied literature at the Charles University in Prague, and was active among the Prague School linguists there, before moving to teach in the School of Slavonic and East European Studies in 1935, now part of University College, London. His younger brother Albert Wellek was one of the founders of musical psychology; Albert Wellek lived in Germany.

From World War II on, Wellek lived in America. He taught first at the University of Iowa, where he taught for seven years, and then, beginning in 1946, at Yale University, where he established and chaired a department of comparative literature. In the United States, he was "widely regarded as a founder of the study of comparative literature in the United States." With Austin Warren, Wellek published a landmark volume entitled Theory of Literature, one of the first works to systematize literary theory. Beginning in the 1960s, Wellek defended the New Critics against the condemnation of their work in the name of a structuralist-influenced literary theory, and is thus sometimes classed as a conservative critic. However, Wellek always emphasized the importance of interpretation in literary criticism and was impatient with purely empirical approaches to literary scholarship.

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Aug 22, 1903
Also known as
  • Rene Wellek
  • René Wellek
  • United States of America
  • Czech Republic
  • Charles University in Prague
Lived in
  • Vienna
Nov 11, 1995

on July 23, 2013


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