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F. R. Leavis

(1895—1978) literary critic


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(1895–1978)

British literary critic and university teacher. He was made a CH in 1978.

Leavis was educated at Cambridge, first at the Perse School and then at Emmanuel College, where he taught from 1925. In 1929 he married Queenie Dorothy Roth, herself a notable critic and author of Fiction and the Reading Public (1932). Leavis's own first major book, New Bearings in English Poetry, also appeared in 1932, the year he founded the periodical Scrutiny, which was to run until 1953 and was the means of disseminating much of the new criticism written by Leavis and his followers. At this period Leavis moved to Downing College, Cambridge, where he became a fellow (1936) and created his own distinctive school of literary studies. In addition to his profound influence upon his pupils, Leavis wrote several major critical works, among them Revaluation (1936), The Great Tradition (1948), and The Common Pursuit (1952), which won him an international following. Some of his criticism was notorious, notably his debunking of Milton, but, more positively, he was an ardent advocate for D. H. Lawrence (in D. H. Lawrence, Novelist, 1955) and led the way to a more serious appreciation of Dickens (in Dickens the Novelist, 1970).

After his retirement (1962) academic honours were heaped upon him. The same year he became embroiled in an infamous and ill-natured controversy with C. P. Snow over the ‘two cultures’ issue. His Clark Lectures (1967) at Trinity College, Cambridge, were published as English Literature in Our Time and the University (1969). Besides his Dickens study, Leavis also wrote in retirement Anna Karenina and Other Essays (1967), Lectures in America (1969; with his wife), Nor Shall My Sword (1972), and The Living Principle (1975).

Subjects: Literature.


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