Frank Raymond Leavis (LEE-vuhs) was educated at the Perse School and Cambridge University, and he spent virtually his entire life in this university town. He had great admiration for and was deeply attached to his father, a sensitive, cultivated, deeply musical man, who owned a musical-instrument shop in Cambridge. After serving in the Ambulance Corps during World War I, Leavis won a scholarship to Emmanuel College. As an undergraduate, he began specializing in history but changed to English. The works that influenced his thoughts about literature, culture, and society were those by George Santayana, Matthew Arnold, T. S. Eliot, and Ford Madox Ford. As a schoolboy in 1912, he had subscribed to Ford’s The English Review. He was attracted to Ford’s belief that in the contemporary industrial world, the higher cultural values should be preserved by a small minority, which, however, should resist removing itself from life.
As a student at Cambridge University, Leavis was fascinated by such teachers as Mansfield Forbes and I. A. Richards, the advocate of “practical criticism.” Leavis was impressed by the periodical The Calendar of Modern Letters, which insisted on maintaining high critical standards. In 1924, he wrote his doctoral thesis on the periodical literature of the eighteenth century, “The Relationship of Journalism to Literature: Studies in the Rise and Earlier Development of the Press in England.” In 1925, Leavis began tutoring English literature at Emmanuel College and became an assistant lecturer in 1927. He continued teaching at Cambridge until his retirement in 1962. As a lecturer, he challenged the establishment with his theories on literature and the university. He annoyed the English faculty in the 1930’s when he began lecturing to his class on contemporary writings, such as James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922).
Leavis published his first book in 1930 and continued to produce numerous books, essays, and reviews, publishing his last book two years before his death. Among his most important and influential literary studies are New Bearings in English Poetry, Revaluation, The Great Tradition, and The...
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