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FRANK RAYMOND LEAVIS (1895-1978)

THE MORAL CENTRALITY OF ENGLISH STUDIES LITERATURE AS MORAL AND SOCIAL INQUIRY
The main objective of this UNIT is to help the student grasp, first and foremost, the importance of critical theory in the process of canon formation. In this regard, the first chapter addresses the importance of the critical work of F. R. Leavis, whose essay The Great Tradition (1948) was seminal in rethinking the canon of English Literature. Leaviss remapping of the canon responded to a conceptualization of excellence predicated on what he defined as the true English tradition.

this meant a specific concept of ENGLISHNESS and a sustained academic and intellectual battle against all literature that did not meet the particular moral and aesthetic standards this conceptualization required.
Indeed, He launched the literary magazine Scrutiny from which, together with his wife and his disciples, he led an active war against mass culture and against literary writers and works that did not conform with his ideals of Englishness and literary excellence. Modernists, and very

particularly the Bloomsbury Group, were some of his main targets. His influence was enormous, though he was met with strong
academic resistance. Eventually, as we shall see in Units 4 and 5, both his concept of Englishness and the canon he had taken such pains to defend would prove too narrow for the expanding British literary world and the cultural changes later in the century. Secondly, and indeed accordingly, the UNIT explores how different post-war writers assessed the effects of mass culture on Englishness in various ways. Each chapter addresses in some depth the writer and literary work that was most representational in exploring some aspect of this predicament. In parallel, attention is paid to the gradual change both in literary mood and accompanying narrative conventions. Thus, from a regret for a world irretrievably lost and/or strong

criticism of the bleak present, accompanied of a firm commitment to realism and belief in truthful representation in the works of Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene and Kingsley Amis, writers Muriel Spark and William Golding gradually turn to a more experimental kind of representation.

One of the most influential literary critics from the earlier to the mid XXth
century.

His STRONG INTELLECTUAL AND MORAL CONVICTIONS on the value of


literature (ENGLISH LITERATURE), His interests in culture, society and education, and HIS CONCERN FOR AN INCREASINGLY MATERIALIST WORLD caused him to engage in permanent debate on:

THE ROLE OF THE UNIVERSITY, the responsibility of the critic, and THE VALUE OF MEANINGFUL TRADITION, SPECIFICALLY OF ENGLISH LITERATURE.

He STRONGLY PROMOTED the study of ENGLISH LITERATURE and


discussion of its value. He gave new value to the function of LITERARY CRITICISM by combining the roles of teacher and critic, making criticism a university discipline.

In only a decade (from earlier 1920s to earlier 1930s) interest on studying Literature changed dramatically. ENGLISH WAS not only a subject worth
studying but THE SUPREMELY CIVILIZING ESSENCE OF THE SOCIAL FORMATION. PURSUIT, THE SPIRITUAL

When he started his initiative was looked down by the University and considered
as dilettantism (frivolous and amateurish); as another movement to intellectualise literature for an elite. But, far from constituting some amateur or impressionistic enterprise English was an arena in which the most fundamental questions of human experience were thrown into vivid relief and made the object of the most intensive scrutiny.

In his faith in education, Leavis was the true inheritor of Mathew Arnold. His main project is aimed at EDUCATION TROUGH LITERATURE,
because it is through teaching that the cultural standards transmitted by tradition can be maintained. For him THE IDEAL SUBJECT IS ENGLISH LITERATURE and THE IDEAL CLASSROOM IS THE UNIVERSITY. The university is like the centre for the dissemination of his views; it is the ideal forum for the exchange of educated opinion. In Leaviss opinion, universities are SYMBOLS OF CULTURAL TRADITION, a directing force that represent wisdom and prestige, with the authority to check and control the blind drive of material and mechanical development.

Despite his interest in poetry, LEAVIS TURNED MORE AND MORE TO NOVELISTS RATHER THAN POETS TO ARGUE HIS CASE FOR LITERARY
STUDIES AS A HUMANE EDUCATION. To Leavis, since the beginning of the 19th century, novelists had portrayed individual lives in their social interaction more effectively and more frequently than poets.

With the exception of T.S.ELIOT AND BLAKE, he finds NO POETS OF THE MODERN AGE to match Dickens, Lawrence and the novelists of

the GREAT TRADITION: Jane Austen George Eliot Joseph Conrad and Henry James

The outstanding novelists were the most effective critics of the


Industrial Age and wrote greater poetry than the poets writing in the same period. This is because in the 19th century and later, the poetic and creative strength of the English language goes into PROSE FICTION.

For Leavies, Shakespeare BECOMES THE TOUCHSTONE FOR CRITICISM


OF THE NOVEL, and the great novelists are the natural successors of Shakespeare. His early criticism of poetry, which includes his early appreciations of Shakespeare, provided the foundation for his criticism of the novel. What exalts Shakespeare above his contemporaries is his indissoluble unity of the notions of WHAT and HOW; any separation of the two is unimaginable in his art and so this is what F.R. Leavis and his wife Queenie Leavis value most highly of every novel or poem they judge to be great.

For him THE NOVEL IS A DRAMATIC POEM and his insistence that the most
important novels have the same kind of poetic complexity made the novel gain serious recognition as a major genre of art.

What were, in his opinion, the features of the great


writer?
He stresses ENERGY (a vital capacity for experience; the ENERGY OF VISION that relates Conrad to Dickens) as a chief quality in his great novelists. This energy must be directed towards affirming life. There must be an organic principle, determining, informing and controlling the stuff into a vital whole. To him, novels such as Joyces Ulysses that are structurally elaborated, rich in technical devices and with an exhaustive rendering of consciousness are like a dead end because all these features signify an intensity of ART FOR ARTS SAKE AND NOT FOR LIFES SAKE.

Jane Austen, George Eliot, Henry James, Joseph Conrad and Charles Dickens on the other hand, constitute a tradition by reason of their common CONCERN WITH ESSENTIAL HUMAN ISSUES. They devote
their art to promoting awareness of the possibilities of life.

THE TRULY GREAT WRITER CREATES A VISION OF LIFE; and the energy of HIS VISION IS A MORAL ENERGY. The art of the great novelist is distinguished by a marked MORAL INTENSITY. However, in emphasising life as the subject matter of great art, Leavis does not ignore aesthetic considerations.

By moral Leavis implies far more than a narrow puritanical outlook. He qualifies (califica) moral with terms such as: life, richness, depth of interest and human significance. Therefore, the marked moral intensity of his great novelists has nothing to do with contracting or reducing life. It refers to THE CAPACITY TO LOOK AT AND INTO LIFE WITH IMAGINATIVE SYMPATHY RATHER THAN WITH PREJUDICE, wonderingly rather than knowingly. The novel as art IS NOT A MORAL ESSAY disguised as fiction. To Leavis, the novelists in the great tradition of the English novel are great because they are individually GREAT AS EXPLORERS OF HUMAN MORALITY, and as INNOVATORS AND MASTERS OF THE ENGLISH LANGUAGE. THE GREAT NOVELIST CREATES OUT OF A DEEP, PERSONAL ENGAGEMENT WITH REALITY. The process is not one of self-indulgence, but rather of his STRIVING TOWARD A MORE COMPLETE, MORE DISINTERESTED UNDERSTANDING OF HIS RELATIONSHIP TO LIFE. Consequently HE

OR SHE ACHIEVES A VISION OF REALITY UNVITIATED BY PERSONALITY. This kind of IMPERSONALITY that
Leavis will instance again and again, INDICATES THE WRITERS MATURITY IN HIS ATTITUDE TO BOTH LITERATURE AND LIFE.

MORE ABOUT IMPERSONALITY

Leavis compared and contrasted a large variety of poems by Wordsworth, Tennyson, Lawrence, Marvell, Blake and Shelley. He demonstrated that WHEN THE EMOTIONAL LIFE OF A POEM IS SEEN TO BE CONTROLLED AND OBJECTIFIED BY THE POETS THOUGHT, THE RESULT IS A SINCERE, MATURE AND IMPERSONAL EVOCATION OF REALITY BUT, WHEN THIS DOESNT HAPPEN THE RESULT IS PERSONAL INDULGENCE (CAPRICHO) AND A FALSIFICATION OF REALITY.

THE IMPERSONAL POEM, he says, unmistakably derives from A SEISMIC PERSONAL EXPERIENCE. Indeed, FIRST-HAND EXPERIENCE GENERATES THE EMOTIONAL LIFE IN THE POEM THAT GIVES IT VITALITY.

HOWEVER ,

FOR THE POEM TO BECOME FULLY IMPERSONALISED AND TO BE MORE THAN A MERE OVERFLOW OF PERSONAL EMOTION, FEELING MUST BE CONTROLLED BY THE THOUGHT OR CRITICAL ATTITUDE WHICH THE POET ADOPTS TOWARDS IT. According to Leavis, George Eliot, Henry James and Joseph Conrad wrote out of URGENT PERSONAL EXPERIENCE , maintaining a DISTINCTION BETWEEN EXPERIENCER AND EXPERIENCE.

BUT

IT

IS A MATTER OF THE NOVELISTS INSIDE WHILE AT THE SAME TIME ADOPTS A CRITICAL ATTITUDE TO IT FROM OUTSIDE.
Leavis exemplifies this operation of IMPERSONALITY in Lawrences two masterpieces: The Rainbow and Women in Love He sees them as much greater works of art than Sons and Lovers because, by this stagehe arguesLawrence knows himself better and knows how to

TRANSMUTE INTENSELY IMPERSONAL ART.

PERSONAL

EXPERIENCE

INTO

He can do this because he has put the CATHARSIS of Sons and Lovers behind him, and in his NEW MATURITY he has a surer grasp of realising by dramatic means, and so objectifying, the issues of life that most concern him. Leavis notes that the relation that Paul Morel has with his mother in Sons and Lovers is still too transparently and poignantly autobiographical of Lawrences own relation with his mother. In The Rainbowsays LeaviesLawrence has fully understood his relationship with his mother, and has distanced and impersonalised it in the relationship between the child Ursula and her father. This example gives the idea of IMPERSONALITY as already seen in The Great Tradition: AN OBJECTIFYING (Make impersonal or present as an object, depersonalising), OR REALISATION (darse cuenta, tomar consciencia), OF DEEPLY-FELT PERSONAL EXPERIENCE BY CRITICAL AND DRAMATIC MEANS. In his analysis of Tom Brangwen in The Rainbow, Leavis goes further, suggesting that IMPERSONALITY in Lawrence has a deeply religious character. Here religious refers to the intensity with which his men and women hearkening (listening) to their deepest needs and promptings (iniciativas propias) as they seek fulfilment in marriage, know that they do not belong to themselves but are responsible to something that, in transcending the individual, transcends love and sex as well. Leaviss terms are almost mystical, not because he is being purposely portentous but because Lawrences uncanny (asombrosa) rendering of life forces him to be allusive rather than explicit and definite. And this is because life itself transcends love and sex; it is an indefinable mystery and reverenced as such by Lawrence. Most critics have been troubled by Leaviss use of the term RELIGIOUS, arguing that it implies belief. If there is a poet to whom the terms religious and belief can be applied to, he is T.S. Eliot. But, to Leavis, Eliot lacks the NECESSARY IMPERSONALITY for truly constructive thought.

By NECESSARY IMPERSONALITY Leavis means THE DEEPEST CONVICTIONS ABOUT LIFE, SANCTIONED (AUTORIZADO/CONSENTIDO) AND TESTED BY INTENSE PERSONAL EXPLORATION OF EXPERIENCE , the religious depth of Blake and Lawrence. But in Eliot religious involves, according to Leavis, less personal responsibility because faith is outside himself and adhered to a formal creed. A GREAT POET NEEDS NO THEOLOGICAL APOLOGY.

GREAT POET QUICKENS OUR SENSE OF LIFE AS REVERENT, WONDERFUL, MYSTERIOUS AND SO, WHATEVER ODDS, AS FULL OF POSSIBILITY AND HOPE. One of Leaviss most cherished convictions is that the truly relevant and

really significant writers are those who defend human values and human life in the face of the dehumanising forces inas he terms itthe technologic-Benthamite age (***Jeremy
Bentham: English philosopher and jurist; founder of utilitarianism (1748-1831),

creating insights into what human values are and by imagining and dramatising in a richly poetic art possibilities of living humanely.
and who do so not by overt propagandising but by

What were Leaviss aims in writing The Great


Tradition?
Leavies writings on the novel in The Great Tradition, D.H. Lawrence: Novelist and Dickens the Novelist mark with progressive intensity his RESEARCH TO JUSTIFY THE HUMAN AND HUMANE VALUES he puts on the study of literature. In The Great Tradition, Leavis SEEKS TO ESTABLISH AN ORDER OF IMPORTANCE AND EXCELLENCE IN THE NOVEL in the manner of Arnold and Eliot. Leavis claims that LITERATURE MUST BE JUDGED AS AN EXPRESSION OF LIFE seen as a complex ethical reality. When form is pursued at the expense of subject matter, he argues, the writer cuts himself off from his richest material: HUMAN EXPERIENCE; LIFE.

The

term Great Tradition refers here to the tradition to which what is great in English fiction belongs and NOT to the greatness of the English novel tradition.
LEAVIS CRITICISM BECOMES PROGRESSIVELY SOCIOLOGICAL IN DIRECTION AND MORE DEEPLY ROOTED IN THE SPIRITUAL QUALITIES OF CREATIVE LITERATURE. HE BECOMES MORE AND MORE URGENTLY INTERESTED IN POETRY AND FICTION THAT VINDICATE MANS ESSENTIAL HUMANITY AND INDIVIDUALITY.

It is in this sense that Leavis makes LAWRENCE THE TOUCHSTONE (standard o punto de referencia) for THE GREAT TRADITION on the grounds of what, to him, are the manifestly Lawrentian criteria: Vital capacity for experience A Kind of reverent openness before life and A marked moral intensity.

What impact did he have on English Studies?


The result is a NEW TRANSCENDENTLY GREAT LINE IN ENGLISH LITERATURE composed of one poet and a few novelists (or DRAMATIC POETS): William Blake Jane Austen George Eliot Charles Dickens Joseph Conrad Henry James and D.H. Lawrence with William Shakespeare at the head. Leavis conceptualized the novel as A DRAMATIC POEM IN PROSE. By poem Leavis means far more than poetic prose, imagery, symbolism or other poetical effects. HE MEANS THE WHOLE NOVEL CONCEIVED AS A POETIC CREATION, that is, as having the density and complexity of meaning and organisation usually associated with formally poetic works. In THE NOVEL-AS-DRAMATIC-POEM, meaning is conveyed not only by the novelists dramatic methods, but also by his sheer power of poetic evocation with words in the narrative parts which integrate the dramatic action. Hence , POETIC FOR LEAVIS IS SYNONYMOUS WITH CREATIVE, NOT POETICAL. In other words, Lawrences POETIC PROSE DOES NOT MERELY PAINT PICTURESQUE EFFECTS BUT CREATES SUBSTANCES, MEANINGS AND CONCEPTS WHICH ARE ESSENTIAL TO HIS TOTAL VISION. LEAVIS TEACHING AND HIS NUMEROUS CRITICAL WORKS, TOGETHER WITH THOSE OF QUEENIE LEAVIS, HIS WIFE, CHANGED THE

APPRECIATION OF SIGNIFICANT ENGLISH AUTHORS AND ESTABLISHED A LITERARY CANON WHICH LASTED WELL UNTIL THE
NINETEEN SEVENTIES. However the nature of this canon is extremely problematic since politics play an important role in its formation. In summary, LEAVIS EXERTED AN ENORMOUS INFLUENCE ON THE FIELD OF ENGLISH STUDIES AS WELL AS RAISING A HEATED CONTROVERSY. As a humanist and socialist, he battled against the ills of his time summed up in what he saw as a mind impoverishing mass culture. In this he coincided with T.S. Eliot but while Eliot took refuge in the nostalgia for a lost civilization, LEAVIS 7

TURNED TO THE MORAL STRENGTH OF THE TRUE ENGLISH TRADITION.

ENGLISHNESS
VENTURE.

WAS, THUS AT THE CORE OF HIS CRITICAL

LEAVIS HAD LITTLE CONFIDENCE IN THE CAPACITY OF THE CONTEMPORARY NOVEL TO SPEAK ON BEHALF OF LIFE against
the technocratic, bureaucratic nightmare that he saw building every day. HIS GRANDIOSE CLAIMS FOR THE NOVEL AS FORM PERVADED THE PERIOD AND STIMULATED THE SENSE BOTH OF ASPIRATION AND OF NIGGLING (persistente/molesto) UNEASE WITHIN POSTWAR NOVELS ABOUT ENGLAND. His wife Queenie Leavis paid more attention to the contemporary novel than did her husband, but was even more disdainful of it and nostalgic for THE ENGLISH MIXTURE OF HUMANE INCLUSIVENESS AND EXPERIENTIAL MINUTENESS that she found in the work of George Eliot and other XIXth century realists. THE WANING (decaimiento/desvanecimiento) OF THE ENGLISH NOVEL, OR OF WHAT QUEENIE LEAVIS CALLED THE ENGLISHNESS OF THAT NOVEL IS DUE TO THE LOSS OF WHAT SHE BELIEVES TO BE A

SPECIFICALLY ENGLISH CONDITION OF A UNIFIED AND INTERCONNECTED NATIONAL LIFE, TO BE REPLACED BY THE
CONDITIONS OF CONTEMPORARY SQUALOR (inmundicia, miseria): (...a country of high-rise flat dwellers, office workers and factory robots and unassimilated multi-racial minorities, with a suburbanized countryside, factory farming, sexual emancipation without responsibility, rising crime and violence...comparable with the novel tradition of so different a past.)

What are the basic tenets (principios) of his critical


practice?
One of the basic tenets in Leaviss criticism of the novel is THE INTENSITY WITH WHICH A NOVEL CORRESPONDS TO LIFE AND ITS AIR OF REALITY. For Leavis THE NOBLEST ART DEALS WITH HUMAN EXPERIENCE. LEAVIS CRITICISM BECOMES PROGRESSIVELY SOCIOLOGICAL IN DIRECTION AND MORE DEEPLY ROOTED IN THE SPIRITUAL QUALITIES OF CREATIVE LITERATURE. He becomes more and more urgently interested in poetry and fiction that vindicate mans essential humanity and individuality. Yet, in emphasising life as the subject matter of great art, Leavis does not ignore aesthetic considerations. AS A CRITIC OF THE NOVEL HE PLACES A GREAT DEAL OF IMPORTANCE ON A NOVELISTS STYLE AND TECHNIQUE, WELL AWARE THAT THE 8

NOVELIST MAKES CLEAR HIS VISION OF ART THROUGH HIS STYLE, BY THE WAY HE USES LANGUAGE. Leavis conceptualized the novel as A DRAMATIC POEM IN PROSE. HE MEANS THE WHOLE NOVEL CONCEIVED AS A POETIC CREATION , that is, as having the density and complexity of meaning and organisation usually associated with formally poetic works. From this perspective, HE IS A PRACTITIONER OF CRITICISM BASED ON CLOSE READING that would flourish in America from the late 30s to the 1950s, that would be known as NEW CRITICISM. COHERENCE AND INTEGRATION WERE THE KEYNOTES. Habitually, Leavis and his wife confront a literary work, quoting form it, analysing it, and commenting on it in a way that reveals the process of their criticism (CLOSE READING---NEW CRITICISM) showing the reader how he or she may practice criticism for her or himself, and encouraging him or her to reread the work in question. LEAVIS WANTS THE READER TO CONSIDER THAT EVERY ELEMENT IN THE NOVEL (action, scene, episode, dialogue, character, irony, contrast, variety of mode and style, the very use of language, symbolism, imagery and so no) HAS BEEN SO ORGANIZED BY THE NOVELIST AS TO RESULT IN A COMPLEX ORGANISM OF MEANING and fertile with the richness of evocation he would expect in Shakespearean drama. Such novels, then, are not novels of plot in the conventional sense. They do not yield their meaning only through what happens in the story as it unfolds and through such traditional devices of plot as peripeteia and dnouement.
***Peripeteia: A sudden and unexpected change of fortune or reverse of circumstances (especially in a literary work). ***Dnoument: The outcome of a complex sequence of events. The final resolution of the main complication of a literary or dramatic work.

Rather, PLOT MEANS THE TOTAL DESIGN, THE WHOLE IMAGINATIVE VISION. NOR ARE THEY NOVELS OF IDEAS as such, IN WHICH THE NOVELIST USES HIS STORY AS A DISGUISED ESSAY ABOUT LIFE. For Leavis, the masterpiece the critic points to is far more important than anything that could be said about it, since it conveys by poetic means and as a poetic whole what the critic can only allude and point to in discursive prose. ********************************************************************************** ***********

Where can we place Leavis?


According to P.J.M Robertson, in earlier ages, he would have been called

critic

and everybody would have recognized him as one endowed with common sense and moral tact and skilled in logic who, while making his criteria clear and clearly based on an ethical view of reality, undertook to advise readers what was worth reading and what was not and it would have been his readers, using their own common sense and moral tact to decide whether he gave good advice or not, whether he was a good critic or not.

However, nowadays the answer to the question is far more complex because our postmodern condition has made us profoundly suspicious of language. Words and concepts such as: common sense, truth and values, mans essential humanity, religious intensity, moral awareness, engagement with reality, reverent openness to life and many others, typical of Leaviss vocabulary, have been made to show their deeply problematic nature. The same applies to HIS CONCEPT OF TRADITION: A TRANSCENDENTAL/SYMBOLIC TRADITION WHICH HAS ITS ROOTS IN THE OLD ENGLISH WAY OF LOOKING AT THINGS...FROM SHAKESPEARES ENGLAND.

What are the objections Terry Eagleton raises against


Leaviss criticism?

Terry Eagleton,

the Marxist critic, argues that the Leavisian belief in ESSENTIAL ENGLISHNESS (its conviction that some kinds of English were more English than others) was in part the offshoot (ramificacin ,derivacin) of a gradual shift in class tone within English culture:

ENGLISHNESS was less a matter of imperialist flag-waving than of country

dancing; rural popular, populist and provincial rather than metropolitan and aristocratic. IT WAS CHAUVINISM (fanatical patriotism) MODULATED BY A NEW SOCIAL CLASS, who with a little straining (distortion) could see themselves rooted in the English people of John Bunyan rather than in a snobbish ruling caste.
**John Bunyan: English preacher and author of an allegorical novel, Pilgrim's Progress (1628-1688).

THEIR TASK WAS TO SAFEGUARD THE ROBUST VITALITY OF SHAKESPEAREAN ENGLISH. (Eagleton)
Literature was important not only in itself, but because it encapsulated creative energies which were everywhere on the defensive in modern commercial society. In literature, and perhaps in literature alone, a vital feel for the creative uses of language was still manifest, in contrast to the philistine (inculto, ignorante) devaluing of language and traditional culture blatantly apparent in mass society . (Eagleton)

Leavis and the SCRUTINISTS, language is alienated or degenerate unless it is crammed (abarrotada/atestada) with the
For physical textures of actual experience, plumped (rellenado) with the rank (absolutos) juices of real life. Armed with this TRUST IN ESSENTIAL ENGLISHNESS, Latinate or verbally disembodied writers such as Milton or Shelley, could be shown the door and pride of place only assigned to other writers such as Donne or Hopkins, who really manifested the essence of Englishness. 10

WITH BREATHTAKING BOLDNESS (AUDACIA), SCRUTINY REDREW THE MAP OF ENGLISH LITERATURE, EAGLETON STATES. JOYCE, WOOLF AND MOST WRITERS AFTER D.H. LAWRENCE WERE SIMPLY LEFT ASIDE. ENGLISH INCLUDED TWO AND A HALF WOMEN: AUSTEN, GEORGE ELIOT AND EMILY BRONT AS A MARGINAL CASE; ALMOST ALL OF ITS AUTHORS WERE CONSERVATIVES. (Eagleton) The Scrutiny case, at least at first, did not take the road of extreme right-wing reaction Eagleton argues, on the contrary, it represented nothing less than the last-ditch stand (el intento desesperado) of liberal humanism, concerned, as Eliot and Pound were not, with the unique value of the individual and the creative realm of the interpersonal. These values could be summarized as Life, a word which Scrutiny made a virtue out of not being able to define. If you asked for some reasoned theoretical statement of their case, you had thereby demonstrated that you were in the outer darkness EITHER

YOU FELT LIFE OR YOU DIDNT.


Great literature was a literature reverently open to Life and what Life was could be demonstrated by great literature. The case was circular, intuitive, and proof against all argument, reflecting the enclosed coterie (An exclusive circle of people with a common purpose) of the Leavisites themselves...IF LIFE WAS CREATIVELY AT WORK ANYWHERE THEN, IT WAS IN THE WRITINGS OF D.H. LAWRENCE, WHOM LEAVIS CHAMPIONED FROM AN EARLY DATE. According to Eagleton, spontaneous-creative-life in LAWRENCE seemed happily to CO-EXIST with the most virulent SEXISM, RACISM AND

AUTHORITARIANISM,
disturbed by the contradiction.

and few of the Scrutineers seemed particularly

THE EXTREME RIGHT-WING FEATURES WHICH LAWRENCE SHARED WITH ELIOT AND POUNDa raging (tremendo) contempt (desprecio) for liberal and democratic values, a slavish (servil) submission to impersonal authority were more
or less

edited out:

LAWRENCE WAS EFFECTIVELY RECONSTRUCTED AS A LIBERAL HUMANIST, AND SLOTTED INTO PLACE AS THE TRIUMPHANT CULMINATION OF THE GREAT TRADITION of English fiction from Jane Austen to George Eliot, Henry James and Joseph Conrad. ********************************************************************************** ***********

Additional Information:

He taught and studied for nearly his entire life at Downing College, Cambridge. Leavis has been frequently (but often erroneously) associated with the American school of New Critics, a group which advocated close reading and detailed textual 11

analysis of poetry over an interest in the mind and personality of the poet, sources, the history of ideas and political and social implications. Although there are undoubtedly similarities between Leavis's approach to criticism and that of the New Critics (most particularly in that both take the work of art itself as the primary focus of critical discussion), Leavis is ultimately distinguishable from them, since he never adopted (and was explicitly hostile to) a theory of the poem as a self-contained and self-sufficient aesthetic and formal artefact, isolated from the society, culture and tradition from which it emerged. HE STRESSED THE IMPORTANCE OF AN INFORMED AND DISCRIMINATING, HIGHLY-TRAINED INTELLECTUAL ELITE WHOSE EXISTENCE WITHIN UNIVERSITY ENGLISH DEPARTMENTS WOULD HELP PRESERVE THE CULTURAL CONTINUITY OF ENGLISH LIFE AND LITERATURE.

As a critic

of the novel, Leaviss main tenet stated that great

novelists show an intense moral interest in life, and that this moral interest determines the nature of their form in fiction. Authors within this tradition were all characterised by a serious or responsible attitude to the moral complexity of life and included Jane Austen, George Eliot, Henry James, Joseph Conrad, and D. H. Lawrence.
In The Great Tradition Leavis attempted to set out his conception of the proper relation between form/composition and moral interest/art and life. THIS PROVED TO BE A CONTENTIOUS (CONTROVERTIDO/POLEMIC) ISSUE IN THE CRITICAL WORLD, AS LEAVIS REFUSED TO SEPARATE ART FROM LIFE, OR THE AESTHETIC OR FORMAL FROM THE MORAL. He insisted that the great novelists preoccupation with form was a matter of responsibility towards a rich moral interest, and that works of art with a limited formal concern would always be of lesser quality. F.R. LEAVIS DOES NOT THINK THERE CAN BE GREAT (LITERARY) ART WITHOUT SERIOUS MORAL PURPOSE. So Flaubert and Turgenev, for example, are not the equal of George Eliot as writers because they lack her moral seriousness. Likewise, Dickens does not enter the Great Tradition of the novel in English because his genius was merely that of `a great entertainer'. Except in Hard Times, says Leavis, he assumes for the most part `no profounder responsibility as a creative artist than this description suggests'. For Leavis, if a work of art is to alter the tradition to which it belongs, reshaping and giving a new meaning to the past from which it emerges then it must possess qualities of `Form' or `Style' which mark it out as `technically' original. But it can only have these if its content is informed by serious purpose. So of Jane Austen, Leavis says that `without her intense moral preoccupation she wouldn't have been a great novelist' , and goes on, `when we examine the formal perfection of Emma, we find that it can be appreciated only in terms of the moral 12

preoccupations that characterize the novelist's peculiar interest in life' . Of course, though Leavis asserts that it is a necessary condition of artistic greatness that the art be informed by `a vital capacity for experience, a kind of reverent openness before life, and a marked moral intensity'. For Leavis, Joyce fails when compared to D.H. Lawrence. Leavis makes his comparison in terms of including the hostile use of the word `cosmopolitan' - It is worth quoting at some length: It is this spirit, by virtue of which he [Lawrence] can truly say that what he writes must be written from the depth of his religious experience, that makes him, in my opinion, so much more significant in relation to the past and future, so much more truly creative as a technical inventor, an innovator, a master of language, than James Joyce . . . there is no organic principle determining, informing and controlling into a vital whole, the elaborate analogical structure, the extraordinary variety of technical devices, the attempts at an exhaustive rendering of consciousness, for which Ulysses is remarkable, and which got it accepted by a cosmopolitan literary world as a new start. It is rather, I think, a dead end, or at least a pointer to disintegration... But Leavis's idea of an art enhancing vision is extremely limited, and in particular he allows no place for the comic, the grotesque (the carnivalesque). Indeed, except in moderation, the carnivalesque repels him. So Dickens can be accommodated as an entertainer, but Sterne is merely an `irresponsible' and `nasty' trifler.

LEAVIS PROMOTED WHAT HE CALLED THE GREAT TRADITION OF THE ENGLISH NOVEL, WHERE ORIGINALITY OF STYLE WAS SUBSERVIENT TO THE PERCEIVED MORAL CONSCIOUSNESS OF THE WRITER. To some extent, F. R. Leavis was a reactionary, disturbed by the materialism of modern life, and what he saw as an assault of low culture on high culture which must be defended by the literary elite in their high tower. This elitism may be the reason why F. R. Leavis has been derided by some.
Leavis believed that popular mass culture was destroying the traditional culture of Britain, and in a way of life that had existed hundreds of years beforehand. He chose as his model the organic village community, where people had been freer from the universal tyranny of capitalism, where craftmanship had really meant something, and so on. Indeed, as THE LEAVISITES SAW THEMSELVES AS PART OF THE ELITE MINORITY, WHO HAD TAKEN UPON THEMSELVES TO SAVE THE WHOLE OF BRITISH CULTURE, humility would have been an unwelcome hindrance. They thought it was harder for the modern author to write, faced as he was by the plurality of modern society. Yet, they recognised that there had always been a minority elite, far removed from those who did indeed speak a plainer language. Leavis' central criterion for great writing has "a vital capacity for experience, a kind of reverent openness before life, and a marked moral

13

intensity" is a clear reaction to an age characterised by the ideologies of fascism and communism. FOR LEAVIS, JANE AUSTEN IS GREAT NOT BECAUSE SHE HAS INDIVIDUAL TALENT, BUT BECAUSE SHE SUCCESSFULLY CARRIED OUT THE TRADITION, in the sense that she led to appearance of other great literary figures who learnt from her. She, together with George Eliot, Henry James, and Joseph Conrad, have a conveyed ideology that teaches the reader.

Their work is great because it is involved with the tradition of Morality.

Another element that helped those figure to attain greatness, in Leaviss stand, is their concern with form. ALL THE ABOVE-MENTIONED NOVELISTS WERE CHIEFLY CONCERNED WITH FORM AS WELL AS THE QUESTION OF HOW MORALITY IS REVEALED THROUGH FORM. Charles Dickens was also a great writer; however his writings tend more to entertain than to teach morality. Hence, THE OLD RELIGIOUS IDEOLOGY, WHICH HAD LOST FORCE, HAS BEEN REPLACED BY THE ENTITY OF LITERATURE WHICH NOW PROVIDE THE READER WITH A MORALLY CORRECT IDEOLOGY, AIMING AT GUIDING PEOPLE TOWARD UNIVERSAL HUMAN VALUES, AND THUS TO THE TRUTH. Leaviss tradition has challenged the moral set up of aristocracy, and questioned the assumptions of the upper classes.

ADDITIONAL DETAILS (FROM WIKIPEDIA):


Frank Raymond Leavis was born in Cambridge, England, in 1895, about a decade after T. S. Eliot, James Joyce, D.H. Lawrence and Ezra Pound. Leavis was nineteen when Britain declared war on Germany in 1914. Not wanting to kill, he volunteered for the Friends' Ambulance Unit, FAU, working in France immediately behind the Western Front, and carrying a copy of Milton's poems with him. His wartime experiences had a lasting effect on Leavis; mentally, he was prone to insomnia and suffered from intermittent nightmares, whilst exposure to poison gas permanently damaged his physical health, primarily his digestive system. He soon founded Scrutiny, the critical quarterly that he edited until 1953, using it as a vehicle for the new Cambridge criticism, upholding rigorous intellectual standards and attacking the dilettante (frivolous, superficial and amaterurish) elitism he believed to characterise the Bloomsbury Group. Scrutiny provided a forum for (on occasion) identifying important contemporary work and (more commonly) reviewing the traditional canon by serious criteria. He has been frequently (but often erroneously) associated with the American school of New Critics, a group which advocated close reading and detailed textual analysis of poetry over, or even instead of, an interest in the mind and personality of the poet, sources, the history of ideas and political and social implications. Although there are undoubtedly similarities between Leavis's approach to criticism and that of the New Critics (most particularly in that both take the work of art itself as the primary focus of critical discussion), Leavis is ultimately distinguishable from them, since he never adopted (and was 14

explicitly hostile to) a theory of the poem as a self-contained and selfsufficient aesthetic and formal artefact, isolated from the society, culture and tradition from which it emerged.

an informed and discriminating, highly-trained intellectual elite whose existence within university English departments would help preserve the cultural continuity of English life and literature. In Education and the University (1943), Leavis argued
Leavis stressed the importance of that there is a prior cultural achievement of language; language is not a detachable instrument of thought and communication. It is the historical embodiment of its communitys assumptions and aspirations at levels which are subliminal.

Leavis' proponents claimed that seriousness" into English studies

he

introduced

As a critic of the novel, Leaviss main tenet stated that great novelists show an intense moral interest in life, and that this moral interest determines the nature of their form in fiction. Authors within this "tradition" were all characterised by a serious or responsible attitude to the moral complexity of life and included Jane Austen, George Eliot, Henry James, Joseph Conrad, and D. H. Lawrence. This proved to be a contentious issue in the critical world, as Leavis

refused to separate art from life, or the aesthetic or formal from the moral. He insisted that the great novelists preoccupation with form was a matter of responsibility towards a rich moral interest, and that works of art with a limited formal concern would always be of lesser quality.

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