Krutch, Joseph Wood (1893 – 1970) American Literary Critic and Naturalist

views updated

Joseph Wood Krutch (1893 1970)
American literary critic and naturalist

Through much of his career, Krutch was a teacher of criticism at Columbia University and a drama critic for The Nation. But then respiratory problems led him to early retirement in the desert near Tucson, Arizona. He loved the desert and there turned to biology and geology, which he applied to maintain a consistent, major theme found in all of his writings, that of the relation of humans and the universe. Krutch subsequently became an accomplished naturalist.

Readers can find the theme of man and universe in Krutch's early work, for example The Modern Temper (1929), and in his later writings on human-human and human-nature relationships, including natural historywhat Rene Jules Dubos described as "the social philosopher protesting against the follies committed in the name of technological progress, and the humanist searching for permanent values in man's relationship to nature." Assuming a pessimistic stance in his early writings, Krutch despaired about lost connections, arguing that for humans to reconnect, they must conceive of themselves, nature , "and the universe in a significant reciprocal relationship."

Krutch's later writings repudiated much of his earlier despair. He argued against the dehumanizing and alienating forces of modern society and advocated systematically reassemblingby reconnecting to nature"a world man can live in." In The Voice of the Desert (1954), for instance, he claimed that "we must be part not only of the human community, but of the whole community." In such books as The Twelve Seasons (1949) and The Great Chain of Life (1956), he demonstrated that humans "are a part of Nature...whatever we discover about her we are discovering also about ourselves." This view was based on a solid anti-deterministic approach that opposed mechanistic and behavioristic theories of evolution and biology.

His view of modern technology as out of control was epitomized in the automobile . Driving fast prevented people from reflecting or thinking or doing anything except controlling the monster: "I'm afraid this is the metaphor of our society as a whole," he commented. Krutch also disliked the proliferation of suburbs, which he labeled "affluent slums." He argued in Human Nature and the Human Condition (1959) that "modern man should be concerned with achieving the good life, not with raising the [material] standard of living."

An editorial ran in The New York Times a week after Krutch's death: today's younger generation, it read, "unfamiliar with Joseph Wood Krutch but concerned about the environment and contemptuous of materialism," should "turn to a reading of his books with delight to themselves and profit to the world."

[Gerald L. Young Ph.D. ]



Krutch, J. W. The Desert Year. New York: Viking, 1951.

Margolis, J. D. Joseph Wood Krutch: A Writer's Life. Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 1980.

Pavich, P. N. Joseph Wood Krutch. Western Writers Series, no. 89. Boise: Boise State University, 1989.


Gorman, J. "Joseph Wood Krutch: A Cactus Walden." MELUS: The Journal of the Society for the Study of the Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States 11 (Winter 1984): 93101.

Holtz, W. "Homage to Joseph Wood Krutch: Tragedy and the Ecological Imperative." The American Scholar 43 (Spring 1974): 267279.

Lehman, A. L. "Joseph Wood Krutch: A Selected Bibliography of Primary Sources." Bulletin of Bibliography 41 (June 1984): 7480.

About this article

Krutch, Joseph Wood (1893 – 1970) American Literary Critic and Naturalist

Updated About content Print Article