In the twentieth century Anglo-American criticism Ivor Armstrong Richards is the most influential critic. Among the moderns he is the only critic who has expressed a systematic and complete theory of the literary art. According to the view of George Watson, “Richards’ claim to have established Anglo-American New Criticism of the thirties and forties is unassailable.”
His reputation as a critic: His reputation as a critic lies on a limited number of critical books he wrote. The relevance of psychology to literary studies emerges clearly in his first book, The Foundations of Aesthetics (1922), written in relationship with his two friends. In this book the authors have tried to define ‘beauty’ by studying its effects on the readers.
Psychological theory: In his book The Principles of Literary Criticism (1924), Richards alone explains his psychological theory of value and explores the emotive language of poetry. He is the father of the psychological criticism as well as of New Criticism. He developed the unhistorical method of criticism. He holds that satisfactory knowledge of psychology is essential for a literary critic to enter into the author’s mind. He also gives supreme importance to the art of communication and brings out a distinction between the scientific and the motive uses of the language. Before coming to the value of imaginative literature he first formulates a general psychological theory of value, and then applies it to literature. This is scientific or psychological approach to literature.
Learning: As a critic, I. A. Richards is not only learned and abstract but also learned about revolutionary and original. He is a loyal advocate of close written and oral study and analysis of a work of art without reference to its author and the age. His method is practical and experimental.
Appreciation: According to him, poetry represents certain classification in the poet, and for a proper understanding of the poem, the critic must enter and hold this classification and experience of the poet. He should also be able to judge the value of different experiences, i.e., he should be able to separate between experiences of greater and lesser value.
His value as a critic: His value as a critic also lies in his conclusions about what imaginative literature is, how it employs language, how its use of language differs from the scientific use of language, and what is its special function and value. His conclusion, at this stage in the development of his critical ideas, is that a satisfactory work of imaginative literature represents a kind of psychological adjustment in the author which is valuable for personality, and that the reader, if he knows how to read properly, can have this adjustment communicated to him by reading the work.
Richards did a great service to literary criticism by linking it with psychology. But some people also say that psychological approach to literary criticism makes it too technical and dull a subject. Furthermore, Richards’ conclusions are based on psychology as it is today, development of psychology and our understanding of the human mind, this theory might lose its importance or vanish completely. Some people also doubt whether literary criticism based on individual psychology can ever explain fully the mystic nature of the poetic experience.
Fundamental questions of criticism: According to Richards the questions which a critic must ask are “what give the experience of reading a certain poem its value? How is this experience better than another? Why prefer this picture to that? In which ways should we listen to music so as to receive the most valuable moments? Why is one opinion about works of art not as good as another? These are the fundamental questions which criticism is required to answer, together with such preliminary questions— What is a picture, a poem, a piece of music? How can experiences be compared? What is value?—as may be required in order to approach these questions.