For many of us with an interest in twentieth-century literary criticism, Ivor Armstrong Richards is at once a central and a problematic figure. He was, of course, one of the most influential critics of the modern age, if not the most influential. His emphasis on rigor, precision, and the poem-as-object earned him (from some) the impressive sobriquet “father of the New Criticism,” while his preoccupation with theory and with the relativity of literary truth reflects more than coincidental—and less than delightful—affinities with the practitioners of deconstruction. As John Paul Russo observes in his exhaustive new study of Richards’s life and work, Richards, for better and for worse, “led the age of analysis into literary criticism.”[1]

Born in Cheshire, England, in 1893, the son of a chemical engineer, Richards was, for all his...

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