I. A. Richards Biography


Ivor Armstrong Richards profoundly influenced the way that English is taught, especially at the college level. Although best known as a literary critic, he took interest in all aspects of language, including the subjects of semantics and basic English, both of which he helped to define.

Educated at Cambridge University, Richards studied philosophy at a time when British philosophers concentrated on language, and he learned from them that most problems in philosophy were really problems of language. He collaborated with C. K. Ogden on The Meaning of Meaning, the first serious attempt to explore semantics and its relationship to effective communication.

Fascinated with the nuances of words, Richards thought that students could learn more by reading poems closely than they could by learning facts about the lives of poets and the history of the language. His lectures on poetry at Cambridge drew record crowds in the 1920’s and resulted in a critical trilogy: Principles of Literary Criticism, Science and Poetry, and Practical Criticism. In the first of these volumes, he stated his basic theory of poetry and of criticism. Science and Poetry examined the role of poetry in life and forecast its future, while the final book was an application of the precepts explicated in the first two.

The critical system outlined and applied in the three volumes has often been misunderstood; Richards has been...

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Brooks, Cleanth, and William K. Wimsatt. Literary Criticism: A Short History. 1957. Reprint. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978. Includes penetrating comments on Richards.

Brower, Ruben, Helen Vendler, and John Hollander, eds. I. A. Richards: Essays in His Honor. New York: Oxford University Press, 1973. Contains an interview with Richards and a bibliography of his work, as well as nineteen essays in his areas of interest.

Constable, John, ed. I. A. Richards and His Critics: Selected Reviews and Critical Articles. New York: Routledge, 2001. A collection of responses and reviews of Richards’s literary theories.

McCallum, Pamela. Literature and Method: Toward a Critique of I. A. Richards, T. S. Eliot, and F. R. Leavis. Atlantic Highlands, N.J.: Humanities Press, 1983. Studies Richards in the context of mid-twentieth century theories of literary criticism.

Needham, John. The Completest Mode: I. A. Richards and the Continuity of English Literary Criticism. Edinburgh, Scotland: J. Needham for the University Press, 1982. On Richards’s earlier and more considerable influence on literary criticism.

Russo, John Paul. I. A. Richards: His Life and Work. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989. A comprehensive biography.

Wellek, René. Concepts of Criticism. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1963. Wellek includes penetrating comments on Richards.