Intrinsic and Extrinsic approaches to literature are employed by critics to evaluate literature according to their own understanding of the world. This article contains a description of both categories of approaches as described by Eaglestone in his book, “Doing English”.

Intrinsic and extrinsic approaches to literature are ways to criticize literature in different terms. In intrinsic approach, the critic is mainly concerned with the form, language, style, symbols, images, contrasts, structure and development of plot in a literary work. Words on the page are of utmost importance for him. Intrinsic approach is also called formalism as the critic’s basic interest is in the form of the text. In comparison to intrinsic approach, the extrinsic approach makes the critic to give more importance to the context of a text. It means that the critic is mainly interested in the background, history, social conditions and biography of the author. He judges the text in relation to the author and his life. The critic moves from the text to the context.

Eaglestone presents intrinsic approach as a flat canvas when a critic wants to draw all his judgments and criticisms on what is in front of him. A critic of literature using intrinsic approach if judges a painting, he will be more interested in the colors, the size of the painting, style of painter and color contrasts. Eaglestone judges extrinsic approach as a window when one does not look on the size and form of the window but looks out of it, into the outer world. Similarly, a critic of literature using extrinsic approach sees what are the causes, historical background and autobiographical reasons for developing a literary work. He is not interested in the form and language but the reasons behind the usage of such things.

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Like F.R. Leavis, Eaglestone in using intrinsic approach also emphasizes on studying of literature as a separate entity. He thinks that literature is worth studying in its own right and further adds that it uses language in a specific way. While telling about extrinsic approach, he informs that literature is only worth studying because it tells about other things in life. It associates a reader to a bigger context, which is out of the text. In intrinsic approach, text alone is important while in extrinsic approach, text only has meaning in context.

While using intrinsic approach, some texts are given importance because of their artistic and moral values. The concept of canon is generated by using intrinsic approach. F.R. Leavis emphasizes on the study of canon as it has such moral and artistic values as no other text can. In using extrinsic approach, any sort of text is worthy of study as they all reveal the world. The extrinsic critics reject the concept of canon as they regard every text as the microcosm of the world.

A critic of intrinsic approach tries to find meaning in a text, which according to Eaglestone, textual meaning is often indeterminate. In contrast to the critic of intrinsic approach, the critic of extrinsic approach draws meaning from the context.
There are no fixed meanings in intrinsic approach, for example, in Wordsworth’s sonnet, ‘Compose upon Westminster Bridge’, a critic using intrinsic approach will consider the word ‘lying still’ in more than one views. He can see it as a ‘lie’ or as lying motionless asleep. So, an intrinsic critic is not sure about meaning of text while a critic using extrinsic approach will see the historical background of Wordsworth when he was composing the poem. He will look into the circumstances, Wordsworth was going through and he will draw the meaning of ‘lying still’ from the context.

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In intrinsic approach, style, plot and character are given utmost importance while in intrinsic approach, the themes and setting of text are considered. For example, in Shakespeare’s Hamlet, if intrinsic approach is used, style, plot and characters will be seen. It is mainly in blank verse, is divided into beginning, middle and end and the protagonist is Hamlet; these are the features, which an intrinsic critic will look into. For the extrinsic critic, the setting of text that is Denmark and the themes of the text such as theme of death, theme of revenge and theme of madness are of consideration.

Therefore, intrinsic approach to literature is concerned to the inner meaning of a text and gives no importance to an author. For intrinsic critics, the author is dead. They only see the text in terms of its own self. According to intrinsic critics, a text is complete in itself. In contrast to intrinsic approach, all the emphasis in extrinsic approach is given to context. The history, background, autobiography and social circumstances of the author are important.


Eaglestone, Robert. (2002). Doing English: A Guide for Literature Students. London: Routledge.