How does New Criticism compare to earlier approaches?

Expert Answers
thanatassa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Before the revolutionary movement of new criticism, the majority of literary scholarship was of three genres, rhetorical, philological and belletristic. Belletristic writing was for a generally popular audience and often written by "men of letters" who earned their livings as literary practitioners, often in multiple genres. Rhetorical criticism, as exemplified by writers like Hugh Blair, was intimately connected with writing pedagogy and examined works with an eye to replicating their use of style and other literary devices. Philological or Old Historical criticism was rarely applied to works in the vernacular under the quite sensible assumption that people ought to be competent to read works in their own periods and languages on their own and instead focused on textual and historical analysis of pre-modern works. New Criticism, coinciding with the return of WW II veterans to the academy focused on reading works detached from historical context and on close reading and explication de texte, often assuming a much lower level of cultural knowledge and linguistic skill in its audience than previous generations of criticism.