Criticism of Tolstoy’s criticism: I. A. Richards

In ‘Principles of Literary Criticism’, the influential literary critic I. A. Richards attacked the vision of Tolstoy without holding back. Richards believed that Tolstoy had been utterly overcome by religious and ethical sentiments. For Richards, the literary views of Tolstoy had been excessively coloured by his overwhelming desire to advance “the brotherhood of men.”

Richards was quite disdainful of the art that Tolstoy recommended. The work of Charles Dickens, George Eliot, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Victor Hugo was not much to the liking of the celebrated academic. Richards did not warm to the anti-elitism of Tolstoy and said that the great writer was an example of “how not to introduce moral preoccupations into the judgement of values.”

While a proper review of the position of the Richards text will follow, it is worth stating here that the one-dimensional approach taken to the contribution of Tolstoy is indicative of the fact that Richards was pursuing his own critical agenda. Perhaps it was Tolstoy’s lack of appreciation for Shakespeare which had really riled Richards; the academic mentioned this when condemning Tolstoy for possessing a “distorted” mind.

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