Authors: I. A. Richards

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

English critic

Author Works


The Foundations of Aesthetics, 1922 (with C. K. Ogden and James Wood)

The Meaning of Meaning: A Study of the Influence of Language upon Thought and of the Science of Symbolism, 1923 (with Ogden)

Principles of Literary Criticism, 1924

Science and Poetry, 1926, revised 1935

Practical Criticism: A Study of Literary Judgment, 1929

Mencius on the Mind: Experiments in Multiple Definition, 1932

Basic Rules of Reason, 1933

Coleridge on Imagination, 1934

The Philosophy of Rhetoric, 1936

Interpretation in Teaching, 1938

How to Read a Page: A Course in Effective Reading, with an Introduction to a Hundred Great Words, 1942

Speculative Instruments, 1955

Design for Escape: World Education Through Modern Media, 1968

So Much Nearer: Essays Toward a World English, 1968

Complementarities: Uncollected Essays, 1976

Richards on Rhetoric: I. A. Richards, Selected Essays, 1929-1974, 1991 (Ann E. Berthoff, editor)


Tomorrow Morning, Faustus! An Infernal Comedy, pb. 1962


A Leak in the Universe, 1956

Goodbye Earth, and Other Poems, 1958

The Screens, and Other Poems, 1960

Why So, Socrates? A Dramatic Version of Plato’s “Dialogues”: “Euthypro,” “Apology,” “Crito,” “Phaedo,” 1964

Beyond, 1974


Internal Colloquies: Poems and Plays, 1972


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.{$I[AN]9810000436}{$I[A]Richards, I. A.}{$I[geo]ENGLAND;Richards, I. A.}{$I[tim]1893;Richards, I. A.}

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 accused of dismissing the imaginative aspect of poetic creation. His interest in the neurological aspects of aesthetic appreciation has been interpreted to mean that the enjoyment of poetry rests solely upon minor interactions of brain waves.

Richards’s critical precepts are, in fact, quite different from the coldly scientific position often ascribed to them. He attempted to place the poetic act on a scientifically sound basis. It is important to recall that his work appeared in reaction to Romantic critics, who emphasized the reader’s ineffable emotional feelings. Richards denied the validity of such an approach to criticism. Rather, he said, the poem as an art object was a completed whole that communicated experience directly to the reader. A poet was a creator whose organization of experience was more efficient and more meaningful than that of ordinary men.

Richards also taught in China, where he wrote about the philosopher Mencius. In 1939, he left China for Cambridge, Massachusetts, where he taught at Harvard University until retirement. He became increasingly concerned with problems of education; his late work had relatively little influence, though it was in many ways a return to his early concern with communication. In retirement, he continued his passion for poetry as a writer of poems and of plays about two great poetic thinkers, Faust and Job.

BibliographyBrooks, 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.
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