Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Published when he was eighty years old, The Living Principle, subtitled “English” as a Discipline of Thought, could be seen as F. R. Leavis’ final reflections on the importance for universities and society at large of the study of literature and the discipline of literary criticism. Before his death in 1978, he was to publish one other book, Thoughts, Words, and Creativity: Art and Thought in Lawrence (1976), which is essentially literary criticism, containing analyses of D. H. Lawrence’s The Plumed Serpent (1926), Women in Love (1920), and The Rainbow (1915). Throughout his long career as a literary critic and an academic at the University of Cambridge, Leavis placed the study of English literature, as he conceived of it, at the core of the university and British society. These and related views embroiled him with many opponents, the most celebrated of whom was C. P. Snow. In Two Cultures? The Significance of C. P. Snow (1962), Leavis attacked Snow’s assumption in The Two Cultures and the Scientific Revolution (1959) that there is a culture distinct from that of the humanities, generated out of the scientist’s technical knowledge and his specialized method of acquiring this knowledge.

The Living Principle has a preface and three major sections. In the ten-page preface, Leavis announces that his book is not intended as a sketch of the requirements of university English courses or as a model syllabus. What he intends to do and hopes to achieve is much more ambitious. In his previous...

(The entire section is 647 words.)