ABSTRACT

English criticism since Wordsworth has been involved in a dilemma. It has taken the poem as, in some sense, the vehicle of the poet’s feeling. The poem has value in that it expresses a valuable feeling – but the excellence of the poem is the only guarantee of the value of the original feeling. Because English critical theory has been bound up with a (philosophical) terminology which assumes only a contingent connection between inner states and their outward expression it has not been able to solve the problem of the dichotomy between ‘objective’ and ‘subjective’. It has often seemed that a choice has to be made between, on the one hand, accepting that our response to literature (or at any rate imaginative literature) is subjective, and, on the other, looking for a ‘scientific’ account which will give a psychological or even neurological description of what happens when a person reads a poem. The most resolute attempt to put criticism on a scientific basis was made by I. A. Richards. A possible – if selective – view of the history of critical theory from the nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century is to see it as a series of attempts to solve the objective-subjective dichotomy – and a series of failures to do so resulting from an inadequate and even mistaken philosophy of the emotions.