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F. R. Leavis (Frank Raymond Leavis) Biography

(1895–1978), (Frank Raymond Leavis), Ulysses, Scrutiny, Fiction and the Reading Public, Mass Civilization and Minority Culture

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British literary critic, born in Cambridge, where he was educated at Emmanuel College, gaining his doctorate in 1924 for work on the relationship between literature and journalism. As a probationary lecturer at Cambridge from 1927 to 1931 he was censured for introducing students to James Joyce's Ulysses, which was banned at the time. From 1932 onward he was occupied in establishing Scrutiny in collaboration with his wife Q. D. Leavis (190681), author of Fiction and the Reading Public (1932), an analysis of cultural tendencies since the seventeenth century; she remained centrally involved with Scrutiny and is credited with making significant contributions to some of her husband's best-known works. His critical methods derived from the work of I. A. Richards, whose influence he absorbed as a postgraduate. He combined Richards's techniques of detailed textual analysis with an emphasis on the socio-cultural context and ethical responsibilities of literature. His sense of cultural crisis following upon the ‘technologico-positivist or Benthamite enlightment’ is the principal theme of Mass Civilization and Minority Culture (1930), For Continuity (1933), and Education and the University (1943). New Bearings in English Poetry (1932), his first major publication, dismissed the legacy of Victorian verse and argued forcefully for the recognition of Ezra Pound, T. S. Eliot, and Gerard Manley Hopkins as exemplary modern poets. In Revaluation (1936) he prescribed a radical and iconoclastic reordering of the canon of English poetry in favour of ‘the line of wit’ stemming from Donne and against what he considered the mechanically rhetorical tradition of Milton. His preoccupation with the novel from the mid-1940s onward arose from his view that ‘in the nineteenth century and later the poetic and creative strength of the English language goes into prose fiction’; The Great Tradition (1948) concentrated on the works of Jane Austen, George Eliot, Henry James, and Joseph Conrad, which he saw as exemplifying the morally educative qualities of literature. His early D. H. Lawrence (1930), whom he also numbered as a vessel of ‘the great tradition’ for the deeply affirmative spirit of his work, was superseded by D. H. Lawrence: Novelist (1955), which did much to advance Lawrence's reputation. Dickens the Novelist (1970, with Q. D. Leavis) revised his views on that author, whose achievement Leavis had formerly tended to belittle. The essays collected in The Common Pursuit (1952) indicate the scope of his criticism in their commentaries on a diverse range of writers which includes Bunyan, Shakespeare, Swift, Wyndham Lewis, and E. M. Forster.

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