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I find a line from a book very strange.

Arnold Bennett, reviewing it in The New Age (24 October 1908), observed, presciently:

the book is fairly certain to be misunderstood of the people . . . The author may call his chief characters the Rat, the Mole, the Toad, — they are human beings, and they are meant to be nothing but human beings...

This extract is from Peter Hunt's introduction to Kenneth Grahame's classic The Wind in the Willows. The passage at issue was written by Arnold Bennett. I thought of is the wrong preposition. If the people here refers to the audience of the book, the public, shouldn't it be misunderstood by the people? Is this a wrong or archaic usage?

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the people there can mean "the characters in it", and misunderstood of can be paraphrased as "misunderstood with respect to".

The collocation understood of is fairly common in 18th and 19th century academic essays. It can be complemented by a content clause:

It may be understood of X that X is such-and-such...

There it has the meaning "We can say this about X: ..."

Or the phrase can mean "taken as referring to":

Those words may be understood of X.

Those words may be understood as referring in particular to X (not to Y).

That said, I don't find the sentence to be very clear. It should be noted that a number of the modernists thought Arnold Bennett was a windbag.

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I'd say the people here is not the audience. of is used to relate the misunderstanding of the book to the people as a subject. That is, the book will be misunderstood as regards its treatment of the people. The explanation about the naming thing afterwards kind of supports that.. .

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