The microscope of wit : I.A. Richards and English literary criticism : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in English at Massey University
This thesis examines some aspects of the analytical approach to poetry which is associated with such critics as I.A. Richards and F.R. Leavis. It also examines the resemblances between this approach and that which in eighteenth century literary criticism appears as a preoccupation with "propriety" in poetic language. I.A. Richards is discussed first and at greatest length since he is the most persistently theoretical of the critics with whom this thesis deals, and consequently affords an opportunity for an exposition of the principles which underlie this analytical approach. This exposition is followed by an account of some fundamental features of the doctrine of "propriety", illustrated chiefly from Dr. Johnson's Shakespeare criticism. It is suggested that key ideas of Richards', such as "complexity" and "realisation" correspond with central ideas in eighteenth century literary criticism. This correspondence reveals itself as an interest in the fact that words in poetry interconnect with each other in complex ways. I.A. Richards' term (developed most thoroughly in Coleridge on Imagination) for such interconnection is "interinanimation". The corresponding eighteenth century term is "propriety". The thesis then examines the literary criticism of T.S. Eliot, F.R. Leavis and W. Empson. The ideas they hold in common with I.A. Richards are outlined, and then what may be called the distinctive features of their respective approaches are discussed. The emphasis, throughout the thesis, is upon some methods of analysing poetic language and upon the principles which underlie such methods. The thesis does not attempt to give a complete account of the critics with whom it deals, nor to examine the question of what influence they may have exerted upon each other.