Short Essay on New Criticism in Literary Theory

Read this article to know about the meaning and features of New Criticism in Literary Theory.


the new criticism image

New Criticism is an approach to literature made popular in the 20th century that evolved out of formalist criticism. This term, set current by the publication of John Crowe Ransom’s The New Criticism in 1941, came to be applied to a theory and practice that was prominent in American literary criticism until late in the 1960s.

In simple terms, New Criticism is a critical movement that propagates the idea of “art for art’s sake.” In focusing on the text itself (“close reading”), New Critics intentionally ignore the author, the reader, and the social context.

The New Criticism

  • The movement derived in significant part from elements in Principles of Literary Criticism (1924) and Practical Criticism (1929) by I.A. Richards and from the critical essays of T.S. Eliot.
  • It opposed the prevailing interest of scholars, critics, and teachers of that era in the biographies of authors, the social context of literature, and literary history by insisting that the proper concern of literary criticism is not with the external circumstances or effects or historical position of a work, but with a detailed consideration of the work itself as an independent entity.
  • New Criticism is distinctly formalist in character.
  • The method of New Criticism focuses on a close reading of rhythm, meter, theme, imagery, metaphor, etc.
  • According to intentional fallacy, it’s impossible to determine an author’s reasons for writing a text without directly asking him or her.
  • Even if we did determine the author’s intentions, they don’t matter, because the text itself carries its own value. So, even if we’re reading a book by a renowned author like Shakespeare, we shouldn’t let the author’s reputation taint our evaluation of the text.
  • The affective fallacy is a literary term that refers to the supposed error of evaluating or judging a work on the basis of its emotional effects on a reader.
  • The new critics held that a work should not have to be understood relative to the responses of its readers; its merit (and meaning) must be inherent.
  • The New Critics favoured poetry over other literary forms because for them poetry is the purest exemplification of the literary values which they upheld. Still, the techniques like close reading and structural analysis of the works are also applied to drama, novel and other literary forms.
  • The aesthetic qualities used by the New Critics were largely borrowed from the critical writings of ST Coleridge. Coleridge was the first to describe poetry as a unified, organic whole which reconciles its internal conflicts and reaches some final balance or harmony.

12th December 2017

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