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Guide to the René Wellek Papers MS.C.003
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Collection Details
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  • Access
  • Publication Rights
  • Preferred Citation
  • Acquisition Information
  • Processing History
  • Biography
  • Collection Scope and Content Summary
  • Arrangement

  • Title: René Wellek papers
    Identifier/Call Number: MS.C.003
    Contributing Institution: Special Collections and Archives, University of California, Irvine Libraries
    Language of Material: English
    Physical Description: 74.5 Linear feet (75 boxes)
    Date (inclusive): circa 1903-1996
    Date (bulk): Bulk, 1930-1996
    Language of Collection Materials: Collection materials are primarily in English, Czech, and German. Materials in Russian, Italian, and French and are also included.
    Abstract: This collection consists of the personal and scholarly papers of Yale University’s Sterling Professor of Comparative Literature René Wellek (1903-1995). This collection primarily documents Wellek’s academic career as a specialist in Slavic and English literature, as well as a historian of literary criticism. This collection contains manuscripts, correspondence, lecture notes, notebooks, reprints, reviews, clippings, and family materials.
    Creator: Wellek, René


    Collection is open for research. All student and employee records are restricted for 75 years due to third party privacy issues.
    Use copies of each audio recording must be made prior to researcher use of the recordings. 48 hours advance notice is required in order to create use copies, which will then become a permanent part of the collection. Contact Special Collections and Archives for further information.

    Publication Rights

    Property rights reside with the University of California. Copyrights are generally retained by the creators of the records and their heirs, unless transferred to the University of California. It is the responsibility of the researcher to determine who holds the copyright and pursue the copyright owner or his or her heir for permission to publish where the UC Regents do not hold the copyright.
    For information on use, copyright, and attribution, please visit: http://special.lib.uci.edu/using/publishing.html

    Preferred Citation

    René Wellek papers. MS-C003. Special Collections and Archives, The UC Irvine Libraries, Irvine, California. Date accessed.
    For the benefit of current and future researchers, please cite any additional information about sources consulted in this collection, including permanent URLs, item or folder descriptions, and box/folder locations.

    Acquisition Information

    Gift of René and Nonna D. Wellek, 1989-2002.

    Processing History

    Preliminary processing by Special Collections and Archives staff in 2002. Additional processing by Alexandra M. Bisio in 2014.


    René Wellek was an influential literary critic and theorist known for his pioneering work in the field of comparative literature. He taught at numerous institutions throughout his career, including Yale and the University of Iowa. Best known for his works Theory of Literature and A History of Modern Criticism, he was an advocate of the “intrinsic” literary critical method, which rejects the political and social influences on works of literature and stresses the content of the work itself.
    Wellek was born in in Vienna, Austria on August 22, 1903 to a Czech father, Bronislav Wellek, and an Italian-born mother, Gabriele von Zelewski. Though Wellek spent much of his early childhood in Vienna, where his father was a lawyer in the Finance Ministry of the Austrian government, the family moved to Prague in 1919, following the end of the First World War and the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. As a child, Wellek was given a classical education emphasizing Greek, Latin, and history. His cosmopolitan upbringing, however, forced him to master many languages besides his native German, including Czech, French, Italian, and English. In 1922, Wellek entered Charles University (the Czech University of Prague) where he studied first Germanic philology under Professors Josef Janko, Arnost Kraus, and Otokar Fisher, before shifting his focus to English literature. Wellek traveled to England for the first time in 1924 to work on his thesis entitled “Thomas Carlyle and Romanticism,” under the direction of Vilem Mathesius at Prague. Two years later, at age 23, he received his doctorate. Following his graduation, Wellek taught English in Prague until he received a Proctor Fellowship at Princeton University from the Institute of International Education. He remained in the United States for two years, teaching German at Smith College and then modern languages at Princeton. While traveling back to Prague, Wellek stopped in England to study at the British Museum. He discovered manuscript evidence that Samuel Taylor Coleridge had paraphrased and translated large passages from Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. His research there led to his first major work, Immanuel Kant in England, published in 1931. Returning to Prague in 1930, Wellek began teaching at Charles University as a Privatdozent, or unestablished professor. He married Olga Brodska, an elementary school teacher, in 1932. They had one child, and remained married until her death in 1967.
    As a Privatdozent at Charles University, Wellek taught elementary English, lectured for his now near-blind mentor Vilem Mathesius, and participated in the Prague Linguistic Circle. 1935, he secured a lectureship in Czech Language and Literature at the University of London’s School of Slavonic Studies funded by the Czechoslovak Ministry of Education. While in England, Wellek gave over eighty lectures to British societies to help counteract German propaganda. He remained at the University of London until his salary was cut off when the Nazis invaded Czechoslovakia in 1939. Unable to return to Prague, Wellek obtained an initial one-year appointment at the University of Iowa in the English department where he stayed until 1946. While at Iowa, he collaborated with Austin Warren on one of his best known works, Theory of Literature, which was published in 1945.
    Like many others, Wellek’s traditional academic career was briefly interrupted by World War II. From 1943-1944, he served as director of a program to train interpreters for the U.S. Army. He became an American citizen in 1949.
    Having gained considerable notoriety in the United States, Wellek was hired by Yale University in 1946. During his time at Yale, he served as Professor of English, Professor of Slavic and Comparative Literature, and finally Sterling Professor of Comparative Literature in 1952. In 1968, Wellek married Nonna Dolodarenko Shaw, a professor of Russian literature. They remained married until his death.
    Wellek was active in a variety of professional organizations throughout his career, including the Modern Language Association, and the Czechoslovakia Society of Arts and Sciences in America. He was president of the International Comparative Literature Association and the American Comparative Literature Association. He was also a founding member of the editorial board for the journal Comparative Literature.
    Though Wellek retired in 1972, he continued to write into nineties. He continued to work, for example, on his eight volume, analytic survey A History of Modern Criticism: 1750-1950 into his retirement, eventually dictating the last two volumes while in a nursing-home.
    Several of Wellek's students, including Murray Krieger, went on to become prominent members of the faculty at the University of California, Irvine. The Wellek Library Lecture Series, an annual critical theory event, was named in his honor.
    Wellek died in Connecticut on November 10, 1995.
    1903 August 22 Born in Vienna, Austria-Hungary
    1926 Ph.D. Charles University, Prague
    1927-1928 Proctor Fellow, Princeton University
    1928-1929 Instructor in German, Smith College, Northampton, MA
    1929 Instructor in German, Princeton University
    1930-1935 Privatdocent, Charles University
    1931 Immanuel Kant in England, 1793-1838
    1932 Married Olga Brodska
    1933 The Pearl: An Interpretation of the Middle English Poem
    1935-1939 Lecture in Czech, School of Slavonic Studies, University of London
    1939-1941 Member of the Faculty, University of Iowa, Iowa City
    1941 The Rise of English Literary History
    1941-1944 Associate Professor, University of Iowa
    1944-1946 Professor of English, University of Iowa
    1946-1972 Professor of Slavic and Comparative Literature, Yale University
    1947-1959 Director of Graduate Studies, Yale University
    1949 Theory of Literature with Austin Warren
    1950 The English Romantic Poets: A Review of Research
    1960-1972 Chairman of the Slavic Department, Yale University
    1950-1972 Sterling Professor of Comparative Literature, Yale University
    1955 A History of Modern Criticism: The Later Eighteenth Century and The Romantic Age
    1960 D. Litt. Harvard University
      D. Litt. Oxford University
    1961 D. Litt. University of Rome
    1961-1964 President of the International Comparative Literature Association
    1962-1965 President of the American Comparative Literature Association
    1963 <title render="italic">Concepts of Criticism </title>
      <title render="italic">Essays on Czech Literature</title>
    1964 D. Litt. University of Maryland
    1965 <title render="italic">A History of Modern Criticism: The Age of Transition</title>
      <title render="italic">Confrontations: Studies in the Intellectual Relations Between German, England, and the United States During the Nineteenth Century</title>
      D. Litt. Boston College
    1966 A History of Modern Criticism: The Later Nineteenth Century
    1968 D. Litt. Columbia University
    1970 D. Litt. University of Montreal
      D. Litt. University of Louvain
      <title render="italic">Discriminations: Further Concepts of Criticism</title>
    1972 D. Litt. University of Munich
      D. Litt. University of Michigan
      D. Litt. University of East Anglia
    1972-1995 Professor Emeritus, Yale University
    1981 Four Critics: Croce, Valery, Lukacs, and Ingarden
    1982 The Attack on Literature and Other Essays
    1986 A History of Modern Criticism: English Criticism, 1900-1950 and American Criticism, 1900-1950
    1991 A History of Modern Criticism: German, Russian, and Eastern European Criticism, 1900-1950
    1992 A History of Modern Criticism: French, Italian, and Spanish Criticism, 1990-1950
    1995 November 10 Died in Connecticut.

    Collection Scope and Content Summary

    This collection consists of the personal and scholarly papers of Yale University’s Sterling Professor of Comparative Literature René Wellek (1903-1995). Best known for his works Theory of Literature and A History of Modern Criticism, he was an advocate of the “intrinsic” literary critical method, which rejects the political and social influences on works of literature and stresses the content of the work itself. This collection primarily documents Wellek’s academic career as a specialist in Slavic and English literature, as well as a historian of literary criticism. Some personal material including correspondence, certificates, some family materials, and photographs have also been included. This collection is particularly strong with regard to manuscripts and published materials. There are many examples of his early writing, such as notes, drafts, and research materials from his theses, “Thomas Carlyle and Romanticism,” and Immanuel Kant in England, as well as notes, drafts, and proofs from all eight volumes of his landmark A History of Modern Criticism: 1750-1950.
    Also included in this collection is a large amount of correspondence, conference material, lectures, teaching files, notebooks, audio recordings, reviews and clippings, offprints and periodicals, as well as manuscripts and publications from many of Wellek’s colleagues and students.


    This collection is arranged in seven series:
    • Series 1. Biographical and personal material, 1903-1995, .5 linear feet
    • Series 2. Manuscripts and publication files, 1936-1993, 19 linear feet
    • Series 3. Correspondence and conferences, 1927-1996, 17.6 linear feet
    • Series 4. Notebooks, 1938-1986, 6 linear feet
    • Series 5. Audio recordings, 1973-1978, .5 linear feet
    • Series 6. Offprints, periodicals, and clippings, circa 1921-1979, 12.25 linear feet
    • Series 7. Writing of others, circa 1949-1989, 6.75 linear feet
    The original order of majority of these records has been retained. Special Collections staff sorted materials in later accessions into the above existing series.

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    Wellek, René -- Archives
    Critical theory -- Archives.