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Scrutiny

Calendar of Modern Letters, Fiction and the Reading Public, Scrutiny, Scrutiny's

leavis criticism contributors methods

a critical periodical produced at Cambridge University from 1932 to 1953 which, in the words of its chief editor F. R. Leavis, accomplished ‘a comprehensive revaluation of English literature’ through its rigorously maintained standards of textual analysis and evaluation. Leavis and his wife Q. D. Leavis were the principal contributors and dominant in the editorial group; their collaborators included D. W. Harding, Denys Thompson, and L. C. Knights. Leavis and his associates had admired the Calendar of Modern Letters, its ‘Scrutinies’ section, noted for its high level of critical discourse, suggesting their choice of title. Q. D. Leavis's Fiction and the Reading Public (1932) defined a crisis in the quality of literacy which motivated Scrutiny in its task of upholding critical values relevant to the cultural health of the era. Concern with the social implications of literary criticism was apparent in the attention given to educational matters; it was opposed to the neutrality of linguistic and historically annalistic approaches to literature and decried what it viewed as the indulgent aestheticism of the Bloomsbury Group. Scrutiny's textual methods derived from those developed by I. A. Richards, J. C. Ransom, and other exponents of the New Criticism; while their work outlined the procedures of Practical Criticism, Scrutiny was the first journal to apply such methods consistently to a broad historical range of poetry, drama, and prose fiction. Eminent contributors included D. A. Traversi who, with L. C. Knights, effected a major revision of Shakespeare studies, John Speirs, Edgell Rickword, William Empson, and D. J. Enright, whose work on German authors was important in sustaining the attention to European literature in later issues. Scrutiny's weakness lay in its failure to achieve balanced evaluations of contemporary writing; Graham Greene, Virginia Woolf, W. H. Auden, and Dylan Thomas were among the authors somewhat peremptorily dismissed and Leavis found the later poetry of W. B. Yeats disappointing. After the dispersal of its central contributors during the Second World War, Leavis was unable to muster stable support for Scrutiny, which was discontinued in 1953. The achievement of the journal itself and the many valuable books based on material it had published had very considerable influence on the methods and content of literary studies throughout the post-war period. A complete set of the nineteen volumes of Scrutiny was issued by Cambridge University Press in 1963.

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