Peter Brooks

Sterling Professor of French and Comparative Literature

Peter BrooksPeter Brooks, B.A., M.A., Ph.D., Harvard University, faculty member at Yale since 1965, you are one of the leading humanists of your generation. The heart of your early work was on the French nineteenth-and twentieth-century novel and European romanticism. But your subject from the start, writ large, has been narrative in all its forms. Your extensive bibliography shows your contributions to these fields in numerous essays in both the academic and popular press, and in eight monographs and nine edited or co-edited books, which increasingly connect the work of literary studies to broader scholarly contexts, including psychiatry, psychoanalysis and the law. Your elegant work reveals the importance of narrative in a variety of domains, not only in fiction, but also in legal and medical settings, and constitutes the very definition of what is meant by “interdisciplinarity.”
For your accomplishment you have had many honors: You served as Eastman Visiting Professor at Oxford in 2001-02 and University Professor at the University of Virginia from 2003 to 2006, teaching in the English Department and the Law School. You were decorated an Officier des Palmes Académiques in 1986 and were awarded an honorary doctorate from the Ecole Normale Supérieure in Paris in 1997. One of your latest works, the readable and fascinating Henry James Goes to Paris, won the 2008 Christian Gauss Award of Phi Beta Kappa for the best book of literary criticism. And you recently received a Mellon Distinguished Achievement Award, honoring scholars who have made significant contributions to humanistic inquiry. Along the way, at Yale, in addition to your prominence as an intellectual leader and influential scholar, you have held every departmental job possible for a faculty member to hold: director of undergraduate studies in French, director of The Literature Major, director of graduate studies in Comparative Literature, director of the Division of the Humanities, and chair of the Departments of French and Comparative Literature.
With all of this it is also important to note that few faculty members at Yale have been more entwined in the critical moments of the last 40 years of Yale’s history than you. You were a young ally of Kingman Brewster, who appointed you as the acting master of Pierson while you were still an assistant professor. You were a close friend of Bart Giamatti’s and with his support you founded the Whitney Humanities Center with the aim of extending the reach and connectedness of the humanities in the University, and you directed the Center from 1980-1991 and again from 1997-2001. During the seventies, you founded—along with Alvin Kernan and Michael Holquist—the Literature major, an undergraduate version of Comparative Literature, where courses such as Lit X, Lit Y and Lit Z allowed students to address fundamental questions about the nature, function, and value of literature in a broadly comparative context. A theorist, but not a deconstructionist, you navigated the Lit major when deconstruction was at its height and Yale was the in the midst of the excitement, as well as the culture wars, of that dizzying moment.
You are a Harvard trained scholar who is now teaching at Princeton. But despite the mention of these other school names, Peter Brooks, no one has bluer blood than you. For many years you were a conscientious attendee of Yale College faculty meetings, taking your accustomed seat in the middle section and commenting wisely and judiciously on many matters. As you retire from Yale and leave New Haven, this faculty gives you profound thanks for your more than four decades of contributions, and hopes you understand how much we appreciate the place you hold in our history.

Tribute Editor: Penelope Laurans