F. R. Leavis Introduction

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(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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F(rank) R(aymond) Leavis 1895–1978

English critic and editor.

Leavis is often cited as one of the most important and influential literary critics of his time. Fully committed to the belief that literature is an important social and moral force, Leavis argued persuasively that the study of literature should be seen as a vital pursuit. He further asserted that the critical study of literature demands a disciplined expertise. In Leavis's opinion, emotional, biographical, and historical approaches to literary criticism reveal little about a given text. Instead, he felt that literary inquiry requires a scrupulous examination of texts and a "searching critical intelligence."

Throughout his career, Leavis was partial to writers who represented a morality characteristic of rural communities prior to the Industrial Revolution. In the face of what he called the "crisis in modern culture," Leavis demanded that literature evoke a positive view of life and promote values he deemed essential to the preservation of a humanistic culture. Ultimately, Leavis judged a work by the type of moral values it affirmed. This part of his critical method is extremely vulnerable to disapproval, particularly because Leavis never offered a fully developed theory to support his views. Rather, he believed that theorizing and philosophizing serve only to distract the critic from the primary and difficult task of evaluation.

Leavis remains a seminal figure in the history of modern literary criticism. Scrutiny, the renowned literary journal which Leavis edited, is considered representative of critical writing at its best. Leavis was also a lecturer in English at Cambridge University for nearly three decades and, in the words of Eric Bentley, "one of the few people who welcomed English as a serious university subject, and welcomed it for what it is, not what you can turn it into or reduce it to."

(See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 21-24, rev. ed. and Vols. 77-80 [obituary].)