Exhaustive biography and exegesis of the life and thought of perhaps this century's most influential literary critic. Russo...

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I.A. RICHARDS: His Life and Work

Exhaustive biography and exegesis of the life and thought of perhaps this century's most influential literary critic. Russo seems on a mission not only to raise Richards (1893-1979) into the pantheon of great world thinkers, placing him with the likes of Samuel Johnson and Matthew Arnold, but to elucidate virtually every last corner of his capacious mind. Thus the ""work"" easily overshadows the ""life"" here-- with tiny autobiographical tidbits getting crammed between vast swatches of intellectual analysis. Russo's treatment of Richard's boarding-school boyhood and education at Cambridge shows important intellectual but little character development; likewise, Richards' travels during the 1930's in China, where he initiated his principles of ""Basic English,"" are colorless backdrop for extensive analysis of the critic's theories of grammar. This sometimes narrow concentration on the mind is a strength, however, when Russo tackles Richards' major work. He brilliantly fleshes out the roots and principles of his Practical Criticism; studies his relation to thinkers as diverse as Plato and Derrida; and is both enlightening and thorough in weighing Richards' various contributions to criticism: his fusion of science and poetry in ""close reading""; his influence on, among others, the New Critics; his reshaping of the critical vocabulary by introduction of terms like ""tone,"" ""speaker,"" and ""synaesthesis."" All the book lacks, unfortunately, is a humanist perspective. Only in a brief closing section do we really see deep reflection on Richards' person, something even the most literary reader may starve for through the 600-plus pages of Russo's rigorous brain-picking. The first, and probably definitive, intellectual biography of Richards: a book that's stellar, meticulous, brilliant, but a little cold.

Pub Date: Jan. 4, 1988

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Johns Hopkins Univ. Press

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1988