I. A. Richards: His Life and Work

John Paul Russo, Author Johns Hopkins University Press $60 (864p) ISBN 978-0-8018-3417-2
Ivor Armstrong Richards (1893-1979) was one of the most influential modern literary critics, so this first biography of the puckish Cambridge don who turned lit-crit upside-down is welcome. A tubercular child traumatized by his father's early death, Richards pulled himself together by climbing mountains, a sport he pursued well into his 80s. But the real drama lies in his invention of an analytical method capable of tackling the poems of Eliot, Pound and Stevens, the experimental prose of Joyce, Faulkner, Mann, Proust. Today, Richards' name is somewhat misleadingly associated with the New Critics who, like him, downplayed writers' personal lives and historical contexts, treating each poem or novel as a self-contained work. As Russo (who was a close acquaintance of Richards) convincingly argues, the New Critics cut him down to their own size, rejecting his liberalism and his embrace of modern science. Richards borrowed freely from Chinese thought, Darwinism, neuroscience and behaviorism to suit his purposes. A self-styled anarchist, he believed, with Shelley, that, given the right programs and poetry, ``the world's great age begins anew.'' Challenging the reader with fresh insights, this magnificent biography is a tour de force and a reappraisal of the critical enterprise of our times. (Jan.)
Reviewed on: 02/01/1989
Release date: 02/01/1989
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