Jean-Pierre Richard began his advanced studies at the École normale supérieure in the rue d'Ulm (Paris) in 1941, passed the "agrégation" in literature in 1945, and got his doctoral degree (docteur ès lettres) in 1962. He taught literature first in foreign universities, and then in France, and finally became a professor at the University of Paris IV in 1978.
Since the publication of Littérature et Sensation in 1954, which brought him critical attention, Jean-Pierre Richard has continually sought to explore – in the works of writers of the nineteenth and twentieth century – the links between their writings and their intimate experience of the world. In his first book, which studied Stendhal, Flaubert, Fromentin and the Goncourt brothers, he analyzed these author's perceptions and sensations of material world. In Poésie et Profondeur, he refined his critical method by searching for the "first moment of literary creation", that instant during which a literary project constructs both the writer and his or her work. Published in 1962, Richard's "Univers imaginaire de Mallarmé" remains one of the most important studies of that poet.