Principles of Literary Criticism by I.A. Richards: reviewed.

This classic text covers an enormous amount of ground. It refers to a large number of other texts. Thought-provoking and informative, it remains a challenging read. Nonetheless, it is critical to think of the contentions made in the context of their time. Some of the theories might not be considered valid from a current perspective, while others may be conveyed in a less obscure way by a modern scholar.

These caveats notwithstanding, certain passages are as illuminating now as they were when they were penned. The section on the imagination is particularly rich, while the references to Aristotle, Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Pater, and Shelley are still of great interest. Reading and responding to poetry is not as simple as some might believe, and the text suggests that there are specific reasons for commonplace confusions.

However, I.A. Richards did possess a somewhat grandiose view of the critic. He was scornful of the cinema, picky about mediocre sonnets, and elitist in his values. Nor could he restrain himself when it came to moving off-topic. Nevertheless, he should be given the last words in his defence:

“in the majority of social circles, to be seriously interested in art is to be thought an oddity.”


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