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Glossary of Literary Theory
by Greig E. Henderson and Christopher Brown

New Criticism:

A term applied to the criticism written by John Crowe Ransom, Allen Tate. R. P. Blackmur, Robert Penn Warren, Cleanth Brooks, and others as well as to the seminal ideas of T. S. Eliot, I. A. Richards, and William Empson. A reaction against the old criticism which saw art as self-expression (Romanticism) or exalted the subjectivity of the reader (impressionism) or applied extrinsic criteria of morality and value to literature (new humanism) or gave credence to the professed intentions of the author (intentional fallacy) or confused what a poem is with what a poem does (affective fallacy), the New Criticism regards the work of art as an autonomous object, a self-contained universe of discourse. Whereas scientific language corresponds with an external referent, literary language is internally coherent, self-referential, and rich in irony, tension, paradox, and ambiguity. New Criticism maintains that a close reading of literary texts will reveal the multiple meanings and nuanced complexities of their verbal texture as well as the oppositions and tensions which are balanced in the organic unity of the text.

© Greig E. Henderson and Christopher Brown,
University of Toronto
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University of Toronto English Library
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Last modified: March 31, 1997