May Newsletter: How to Disagree?

Leavis Society


May, 2017

(photograph with acknowledgements to The Times)

(and thanks to everyone who has contributed and helped)

A Letter from our Chair Peter Sharrock

The literary canon came back to Bedford Square in May. As the public debate on ‘Why literature matters’, organised by committee member Danièle Moyal-Sharrock at the New College of Humanities, grew intense, Howard Jacobson was roused to declare: 'I wouldn't say that without literature we are dead, but we are as good as dead.' The debate stirred several students to join in pressing the panel with questions. More than a 100 people filled the room overlooking the rain-green Square. Citations from Roger Scruton, Lesley Chamberlain, Daniele Moyal-Sharrock and Bernard Harrison came from Shakespeare, Tolstoy, Dickens, Henry James, Sylvia Plath, David Storey (going back to Lawrence and Dostoevsky).


Is it possible to return to the Eliot/Leavis close reading and contesting of the European (and non-European) canon during the first three quarters of the 20th century? Has the subsequent post 1968 deconstructing assault on literature and the canon now subsided, allowing new shoots from the old canonical roots to push up in university English departments?

The Leavis Society supported this stirring event with the New College and the University of Hertfordshire and will prepare the next occasion to ask these major, urgent questions at its annual conference in Downing College on 18/19 September.

Following the debate we had the good fortune to find a paper, by Professor Simon During, which summarises many of the issues in these dialogues in a very creative way - it was found by Steven Cranfield

Editorial: How to disagree - by Heward Wilkinson

The thinking of the Leavis Society committee has developed since the last Newsletter. Forthcoming conferences reflect it. A clearer spectrum has emerged. At one end there are those who feel that preserving the purity and integrity of Leavis’s critical legacy is paramount: at the other are those who believe the potency of the legacy lies in bringing it to engage in dialogue with subsequent and current critical and philosophical thought. This invites the exploration of difference, in a deeper understanding of both.

Obviously, this has affinity with Leavis’s own conception of dialogue taking the form ‘yes, but….’ In practice the critic formulated an (often ‘unarguably’) central view with “…the ‘but’ standing for qualifications, reserves, corrections” (Leavis, 1972) - and not radical difference. The ‘but’ in the new dialogue we propose may approach that of Alisdair MacIntyre. In Three Rival Versions of Moral Enquiry (1990) MacIntyre, a modern Thomist, argues that in today’s conditions, where there is no consensus about truth and value, protection of the university demands a double attitude. First, comes a fierce defence, as powerful and emphatic as we can make it, of our own positions, and second, an equally determined and emphatic defence of the intellectual freedom to make the other case of those who strongly disagree with us. In this, rationality is seen as a craft of disputation aiming for a qualified objectivity within a community of interests. Utopian as this seems, there are circumstances where it becomes the only possible workable position. Today may be such a time.

It is in this light that we see Richard Stotesbury’s robust response to our first editorial ( ), and we hope that the voices aligned with his response will feel welcome to continue dialogue with us. But we shall include other, quite different voices - but still voices addressing issues of truth, validity, and valuation in literature and allied discourses, whether to support or reject them. Hence, after much discussion, the title chosen for the Downing Conference this year (Monday and Tuesday, 18th/19th September):

Re-reading Leavis: valuing literature(s) in our time

This title returns to the first Downing Conference in this sequence, and if one reads the material, a degree of assurance concerning Leavis was then manifest ( ). Whereas, at this present time, a renewed search into the foundations of his critical thought bears upon us. Now this brings up the whole question of the standing of valuation/valuations, and of what constitutes literature - or a literature. One of the profound shifts that has occurred in Criticism, under the aegis of post-modernism and social reformist vision, has been a diminishing of the function of value judgements, which were so central to Leavis’s thinking. Is this function superseded? Does it rest upon creating an enclave of ‘great literature’, which is ring fenced from the rest of cultural and human worldly activity? Is there a chasm, or a continuum? Is it possible or necessary to simply reiterate intransigently the original Leavisian emphasis? Or is there another way?

Professor Catherine Belsey, someone who rejects this foundational insistence upon valuation as misconceived, is a speaker who will be thinking aloud with us upon these issues at the Conference at Downing in September.    

Leavis in an Internet Age

In the light of these questions, one turns back to Leavis’s texts and finds them alive and contemporary again. To be sure, when trying to advance the work of FR and QD Leavis in the internet age, one wonders what new fruit will be borne. The exponential expansion of information dissemination is focused on speed and access, not the quality of what is communicated or the human depth of the interaction. Invented news and slogans may now determine the major acts of our democracies. Yet pondered thought, critical thinking, survives this swirl of data, and does not require a protected enclave of the converted, which anyway would seem non-inclusive to anyone thinking about joining in judgments of culture or politics. What pondered Leavisian ‘messages’ still hold in the turmoil?
Here is one thought. In the three papers going under the title of Notes in the Analysis of Poetry, namely, Thought and Emotional Quality, Imagery and Movement, and Reality and Sincerity, Leavis laid out the core of what he understood by quality in poetry.


They were so important to him that, over thirty years later, he reprinted them, and developed them further, in The Living Principle.  

In that section of three essays, Leavis goes a long way in explaining that poetry and dramatic prose encompass the whole multifaceted character of human existence, cross connecting meaning as enactment in a way that is unparaphrasable, a way that is not representational/mimetic in any literal sense. If there is one thing Leavis brings home everywhere, more than any other critic, it is this; and its implications have even now not yet been fully tapped.

As he wrote in Johnson and Augustanism:

     'Johnson cannot understand that works of art enact their moral valuations. It is not enough that Shakespeare, on the evidence of his works, ‘thinks’ (and feels) morally; for Johnson a moral judgement that isn’t stated isn’t there. Further he demands that the whole play shall be conceived and composed as statement. The dramatist must start with a conscious and abstractly formulated moral and proceed to manipulate his puppets so as to demonstrate and enforce it.' (Leavis, 1952/1962, p. 110/11)

And the implications for poetic language:

     '…even when he is Johnson, whose perception so transcends his training, he cannot securely appreciate the Shakespearean creativeness. He will concede almost unwillingly that here we have ‘all the force of poetry, that force which calls new powers into being, which embodies sentiment and animates matter…’, but as conscious and responsible critic he knows what has to be said of the Shakespearean complexity:

          "It is incident to him to be now and then entangled with an unwieldy sentiment, which he cannot well express, and will not reject; he struggles with it awhile, and if it continues stubborn, comprises it in words such as occur, and leaves it to be disentangled and evolved by those who have more leisure to bestow on it." (Preface to Shakespeare)   

     Johnson, the supreme Augustan writer, is never entangled with an unwieldy sentiment, which he cannot well express; the mode of creation suggested by ‘comprising’ anything in ‘words such as occur’ is one the Augustan tradition cannot recognise. '(Leavis, 1952/1962, p. 109)

I believe this central conception of enactive creativity is at the heart of Leavis’s apprehension of literature. And does it, - the essential conception of enactment, - apply as powerfully to Proust and Flaubert as to the author of Daniel Deronda? Does Leavis’s conception reach further than he envisages? Was he more ‘Johnsonian’ then he realised?

Contributors, including the Editor, do not necessarily express the views of the Society or the Committee. Any comments, suggestions or contributions can be sent to the editor Heward Wilkinson at The next newsletter is due to come out within the next 6 months or so.

General News

Steven Cranfield stepped down from his position as Vice Chair due to pressures at his university. We are very grateful for the hard work and creative effort Steven put in, in many different ways. 

Social Media

The Revolution is happening on Twitter. We now have forty followers, but we are now unsure who is winning. Jesting aside, we now have a steadily increasing and developing Social Media presence, and every Newsletter and other pieces of news, along with blog posts, are linked on both Facebook and Twitter.

Please share our items on Facebook and Twitter with websites or home pages to which you have legitimate access. Our Facebook and Twitter addresses are:

The Leavis Society has also updated its website address to conform with current security standards (sometimes the older 'http' addresses are discouraged by google). Please be sure always to check that you have the new address in your address/URL bar, whilst we are finishing cleaning up all the old links.

[the change is simply the addition of the 's' to the 'http' in web addresses, as in the web addresses above] 

Articles Section

In relation to Conference Materials and other relevant references, for instance in relation to the 2016 York (below) and Eastwood Conferences, we now have a dedicated Bibliographical Page under 'Articles' in the menu, thus to be found at:  

Summary of York Conference Proceedings

in collaboration with the Department of English & Related Literature and the Centre for Modern Studies at the University of York

Leavis and the Confrontation with Modernity
University of York, 28-29 October 2016

The York Conference on Leavis and Modernity gave us a rich tapestry of dimensions in which Leavis's relation to modernity was addressed, led off by Jean Liddiard's sensitive and subtle introduction to Rosenberg's poetry, especially the First World War poetry, considered so highly by DW Harding and Dr Leavis, and the development involved in it. Her book of, and introduction to, his selected writings, Selected Poems and Letters: Isaac Rosenberg (2010, London: Enitharnon) was introduced alongside of and supporting her presentation.  Other contributions addressed: Leavis's (with Lawrence's) relation to America and urban modernity; Leavis's relation, in the post-Nietzschean age, to resurgent mythopoeia in great writers; Leavis's relation to modern media and the work of his pupil McLuhan; the relation between Leavis's radical educational thinking, in Education and the University, and that of Alexander Meiklejohn; the value and the pitfalls of QD Leavis's methodology of 'radical insider ethnography', regarding the conflicts between status and and the expression of quality in university life, developed onwards from Fiction and the Reading Public; and the continuity between Leavis's early writings about mass civilisation and culture, and later developments which developed from his. Summaries of several of these are included below.    

Rosenberg's War – “Iron, Honey, Gold”

Jean Liddiard

Jean Liddiard was taught at Cambridge by both F. R. and Q. D. Leavis.  She is a former Press Officer of the National Portrait Gallery and is an Associate of Newnham College Cambridge.   In her lecture, Jean Liddiard drew out the relationship between Rosenberg's poems and his comments on them in his letters.  She referred to Leavis's war experience and discussed his admiration for Rosenberg and that of his student and later colleague on the board of Scrutiny, D. W. Harding, one of Rosenberg’s early editors.  

Lawrence, Leavis, America, Dos Passos, and Modernism

Jeremy Tambling

Lawrence’s interest in American literature is an essential part of his writing, marking Women in Love and Kangaroo, while his interest in America shows itself in such texts as St Mawr ,The Plumed Serpent and Mornings in Mexico, and numerous journalistic pieces and reviews of which his comments on Dos Passos’ Manhattan Transfer are an instance. Leavis was also to review Dos Passos favourably in Scrutiny, as well as USA, for which another review was also provided by Q.D. Leavis. Writing this paper took its hint from Richard Poirier’s sense of America as ‘a world elsewhere’, a title taken from Shakespeare’s Coriolanus, as the hero goes into exile, and I was interested in speculating how much of a Coriolanian spirit there was in the Pilgrim Fathers and their like, as discussed in ‘The Spirit of Place’, and in thinking about American culture as that of the ‘isolato’, a term used by Cooper and Melville, and descriptive, perhaps of Coriolanus too. Poirier’s reading of Lawrence’s style, and of the place of style in American literature comes in here, while Poirier himself is taken as writing inside Leavis’ broad influence.

Discussion of the generating of Lawrence’s interest in America from Twilight in Italy also provided the opportunity for thinking of Coriolanus in comparison with Hamlet, so essential to Lawrence’s reading of America and of the Italian who has to go to America under a powerful historical impulse that cannot be quite accounted for. I wanted to compare that compulsion with Leavis’ insistence that Pip in Great Expectations must leave the forge, and in that way, be committed to a modernity (city-based) that Lawrence and Leavis both struggle with in terms of their sympathies, though there is nothing simple to be said about that and the extent to which Leavis or Lawrence underwrites a city-based ‘modernism’ in Dos Passos, and the extent to which Dos Passos requires thinking about film as an analogous art to his own.

The crisis which causes the impulse for America is both obscurely, and openly, related to the Great War, as a crisis for Europe, as well as the USA, and as marking the necessity of a ‘modernism’ which takes leave of ‘organic’ roots, in favour of the modern.

Poetry, History and Myth: the Case of F. R. Leavis

Michael Bell

Poetry, in the older sense of imaginative literature, has retained an inextricable relation with history ever since they both emerged from the unity of myth. For Leavis, great poetry leads the process of cultural-historical change and constitutes its most comprehensive and intimate record. In this respect, his understanding was close to that of Wilhelm Dilthey except that where Dilthey, as philosopher, accepted as a given the category of great art, Leavis, as literary critic, sought to discriminate the rare quality in question. In Leavis’s criticism, this ambitious conception was deployed to telling effect in affirming or rejecting ‘major’ status. Nonetheless it has problems with respect to the representative nature of the great poet whose work must be both representative and unique. Ideally, the uniqueness lies in being profoundly representative but it is not always clear how greatness relates to the more average language and sensibility which it represents. There is a further problem in the almost exclusive emphasis on poetic creativity as opposed to philosophical, scientific or social thought.

Leavis was a contemporary of the post-Nietzschean modernist generation, including Yeats, Joyce, Thomas Mann and Lawrence, who turned to self-conscious myth as a recognition of this problematic yet vital ambition in their work. In retrospect, one of the most successful myths produced by the literature of the time was the view of the Great War promoted by the small group now thought of as the ‘war poets’: principally Owen, Sassoon and Rosenberg. Of course, they thought of themselves as telling historical truth and over the course of the twentieth century their initially minority view became mainstream despite the counter-case put by many historians. But Leavis, while admiring their verse, especially Rosenberg’s, denied them the ‘major’ status he was arguing for T. S. Eliot and he was not sympathetic to the self-conscious mythopoeia of contemporary writers. It may be, however, that from the viewpoint of the new century it is right to accept both the historical accounts which vindicate the necessity and conduct of the war and also the poets’ sweeping outrage at catastrophic failure of political leadership across Europe. In a longer historical perspective they can be seen as instances of the poetic crystallisation of epochal sensibility claimed by Dilthey and Leavis. 

Does McLuhan destroy Leavis?

Heward Wilkinson

I argue that, despite appearances, McLuhan’s work is in continuity with Leavis’s insights. I use the McLuhan’s Doctoral Dissertation from 1943, The Classical Trivium: The Place of Thomas Nashe in the Learning of his Time, to illuminate McLuhan’s later work in Understanding Media. I argue that McLuhan already uses the three dimensions of the Trivium, Grammar, Dialectic, and Rhetoric, as operators with which to understand the 2000 year evolution of humane learning up to the time of Thomas Nashe. And McLuhan’s later work, extrapolating from such conceptions as the dynamic analysis of the movement of civilisation by Leavis, when he is considering the 17th Century in Education and the University, is arguably an application of these operators in the context of the transformations of media by and with technology in modern civilisation.

I illustrate this by way of using Wittgenstein’s two phases as illustration. McLuhan’s ‘dialectic’ (which is pre-Hegelian) is objectivist, and is now seen to correspond to the objectivising machine technology of the 19th Century, is mirrored in logical atomism, positivism, and the radical objectivism of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. It is ‘dissociation of sensibility’ based. But the earliest world view was based on a conception of cosmic grammar, linguistic structuration of the world and of human process, and this is now, in the later 20th Century, revived in the inclusivity of media in the post-electrical epoch. The developed enactivist linguistic conceptions of the later Wittgenstein and of Leavis (and, I argue, Derrida) correspond to this phase. Finally, I ask whether the sense of enactivist historicity, which has come into view in all of this - illustrated in two advert clips - is something we could make our own as source of meaning in our epoch, straddling past and the pure culture of the present of the electric age. 
[the links are to the pdf, and to the mp3 recording of the talk]

Modernity versus Continuity in Leavis (on the early socio-cultural criticism)

Paul Filmer

Leavis, Meiklejohn, and Universities: the Idea of ‘a New Idea’

Richard Storer

I started this paper by noting two features of Leavis’s writing in the early 1930s which are missing from much of his later work. One is the ‘journalistic’ character of the many short pieces he wrote for the early Scrutiny and other publications – with his PhD thesis not too distant a memory, the adjective perhaps still had some positive connotations. The other feature is Leavis’s preoccupation with American culture, determined by his perception that ‘For “drift of American life” . . . we can read “drift of modern life”: American conditions are the conditions of modern civilization’.

These two tendencies in Leavis’s early writing bore fruit in Education and the University (1943), which had its origin in a short review he wrote in 1932 – and which in its final form is a kind of extended dialogue, about modernity and the proper response to it, with five modern American authors : Pound, Eliot, Babbitt, Brooks Otis – and Alexander Meiklejohn.

My view is that Education and the University is Leavis’s most important book – the groundwork for what is important in the others. But Meiklejohn’s significance, as the educational reformer whose 1932 work The Experimental College helped Leavis to focus his own thinking about universities, has not been much considered. For this paper I drew on a useful new source for revisiting this issue, Adam R. Nelson’s Education and Democracy:

The Meaning of Alexander Meiklejohn (2001). Though Nelson does not mention Leavis, the issue I wanted to consider was: Education and the University - the meaning of putting Meiklejohn and Leavis together.

I began by outlining some of the background to Meiklejohn’s experiment in college education at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. What appealed to Leavis about the experiment was the idea of the ‘scheme of reference’ – the attempt to understand modern America by being able to compare it to ancient Athens - around which the experimental curriculum was organised. Leavis rejected the idea of an Athens-America comparison but retained the idea of an organising ‘scheme of reference’ which would enable students – and the university – to get a critical perspective on the ‘drift of modern life’. In Leavis’s scheme, the study of the seventeenth century as a ‘key phase, or passage, in the history of civilization’ fulfilled this function.

I concluded by comparing the profiles of Leavis and Meiklejohn as educational reformers, noting their differences but also the aptness of Meiklejohn’s belief, even after the failure of his experiment at Madison, in ‘radical departures’.

Modernising higher education: Q. D. Leavis and insider ethnography 

Steven Cranfield

Q. D. Leavis’s pioneering doctoral research published as Fiction and the Reading Public (1932) committed her to a method of investigation which she famously described as ‘anthropological’. This anthropological approach or method informed much of her and F. R. Leavis’s’ subsequent literary and social criticism and that of the Scrutiny movement generally. In calling on anthropology to illuminate literary studies, Q.D.L. drew on an innovative, distinctly modern(ist) knowledge paradigm and she was among the first to apply its ethnographic procedures and tools to the analysis of higher educational contexts. Q.D.L.’s case studies of academic life and traditions, produced for Scrutiny in the 1930s and 1940s, originated in ad hoc book reviews but were evidently intended to form a synoptic socio-cultural survey. They set out to analyse the micro-processes and dynamics of career- and identity-formation in academic working contexts, focusing on representative figures in Cambridge and Oxford from the late Victorian period to the (then) present. Themes explored included feminism and higher education, the establishment of university education for women, academic journalism, and the founding of Anthropology and of English as disciplinary studies at Cambridge. Through telling ethnographic anecdotes, Q.D.L. created a series of parables intended to illustrate principles about the advancement and impediment of academic careers. By drawing on extant historical accounts of successful and stymied careers and on her personal experience of as a university teacher-researcher, Q.D.L. posited an intensive personal process of identity construction that likewise aimed to enhance understanding of the connections between the individual academic, social class, and associated rites of passage within the organisation, with its coded systems of reward and patronage. By bringing to light mundane, ignored and distorted aspects of academic life, Q.D.L. embodied the risks of insider organisational ethnography whereby, then as now, fierce resistance to open discussion of defensive organisational routines may be the norm.

She thus provides a still timely illustration of how the inquiring academic ethnographer’s own career path within the university can consequently be fraught with obstacles.


Michael Bell is a Fellow of the British Academy, Professor Emeritus in the Department of English and Comparative Literary Studies at the University of Warwick, and Associate Fellow of the Centre for Research in Philosophy, Literature and the Arts. He has written mainly on literary and philosophical themes from the European Enlightenment to modernity including several essays on Leavis. His book-length publications include Primitivism (1973), The Sentiment of Reality: Truth of Feeling in The European Novel (1983), F. R. Leavis (1988), D. H. Lawrence: Language and Being (1992), Gabriel García Márquez: Solitude and Solidarity (1994), Literature, Modernism and Myth: Belief and Responsibility in the Twentieth Century (1997), Sentimentalism, Ethics and the Culture of Feeling (2001), Open Secrets: Literature, Education and Authority from J-J Rousseau to J. M. Coetzee (OUP, 2007), The Cambridge Companion to European Novelists ed. (2012).

Steven Cranfield is a Senior Lecturer in Pedagogic Research in Higher Education at the University of Westminster. He is a contributing author to Enhancing Teaching Practice in Higher Education (Sage, 2016). Recent papers delivered on Leavis have explored the impact of WW1 military psychiatry on the founding of Cambridge English (University of Westminster, June 2016) and philosophical aspects of Leavisian pedagogy (Philosophy of Education Society of Great Britain, October 2016). He is the author of F. R. Leavis: the Creative University (Springer, 2016). He was until recently Vice-Chair of the Leavis Society.

Paul Filmer has taught in New York, San Diego, Melbourne and Sydney and has published on sociological theory and methods, phenomenological and cultural sociology.

Chris Joyce has a long-standing interest in Leavis and has convened a number of conferences on his work, at York and at Downing College Cambridge, where he continues to be involved in the development of the College’s Leavis archive. He has taught at the universities of Reading (where he took his PhD) and Surrey following a first degree at Cambridge and has published a number of essays and chapters on Leavis, including ‘F. R. Leavis and the “New Criticism”’ in The New Criticism (Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2013) and most recently ‘Rethinking Leavis’ in Philosophy and Literature, April 2016 (Johns Hopkins University Press). He is currently writing a biographical-critical study of Leavis. He was the founding chair of the Leavis Society.

Jean Liddiard was taught at Cambridge by both F. R. and Q. D. Leavis. She is a former Press Officer of the National Portrait Gallery and is an Associate of Newnham College Cambridge.

Dr Richard Storer is Senior Lecturer in English at Leeds Trinity University and a Senior Fellow of the Higher Education Academy. He is the author of F. R. Leavis (2009) in the Routledge Critical Thinkers series, and also co-edited, with Ian MacKillop, F. R. Leavis: Essays and Documents (1996). He will be the author of the forthcoming article on F. R. Leavis in the Oxford University Press ‘Oxford Bibliographies’ online series.

Jeremy Tambling was Professor of Comparative Literature at the University of Hong Kong until 2006 and then 2013 Professor of Literature at the University of Manchester until December 2013.

Heward Wilkinson D Psych, MSc Psych, MA, BA, lives in Scarborough, and is an Integrative Psychotherapist, and a literary scholar and philosopher. He was Senior Editor of International Journal of Psychotherapy, the journal of the European Association for Psychotherapy (EAP), from 1994-2004. He was taught by Dr Leavis at Cambridge in 1965-66. He pursues in depth studies, teaching, and presentations in relation to literature, philosophy, and psychotherapy, with a special interest in the revival of FR Leavis studies, and the Shakespeare authorship question, and has speaks regularly at literary conferences on these themes, in both the UK and the Americas. He has had papers and reviews published in Brief Chronicles. He is Editor of the Leavis Society Newsletter, and a committee member of the Leavis Society, as well as of the De Vere Society. He is author of The Muse as Therapist: A New Poetic Paradigm for Psychotherapy (Karnac/UKCP 2009), which is a Leavisian book, and also contains a chapter on the Shakespeare Authorship Question, drawn from in his Brief Chronicles paper on Cordelia and Edgar in King Lear. His current focus is the historicity of consciousness.

The power of literature in real lives by Glenys Willars

Any Monday morning, visit Melton Mowbray Library and find me and perhaps 15 retired people sharing reading. We focus on the importance of a variety  of texts taken from serious ‘classic’ literature, a mix of fiction and poetry, and its role in mediating experience and offering models of thinking and feeling. We all agree that our health and well-being benefit from the reading together, the open-ended discussion and the bonds and friendships that have been created. Groups like this operate all over the country, having been pioneered by The Reader Organisation in the North-West; the emphasis is on reading aloud. Personal responses are invited, encouraged and freely shared in little,  reading ‘communities' of individuals with a diversity of backgrounds and education, individuals who read together short stories, novels and poetry in a range of health and social care settings (community centres, libraries, homeless centres, schools, hospitals, offices, doctor’s surgeries, prisons, drug rehabilitation units and care homes).

Readers participate personally out loud only in so far as they wish to and interact in response to the text itself (its themes, description, language etc) and may draw upon what is happening within themselves as individuals (in terms of recollections about personal experiences, feelings and thoughts).

A study made of the groups discovered the following.  Participants reported feeling more confident, more willing to talk, to listen and to interact with each other. They appreciated reading together as a stimulating, meaningful, challenging activity which at once helped them to relax, putting personal concerns aside, while also developing increased concentration and attention in relation to the text being read and to others’ responses to it. Becoming involved, hearing other people’s opinions and interpretations and sharing details of their own thoughts, feelings and experiences required no further justification. The groups create a sense of community.  Some people said:

 “I just love coming. It’s something to look forward to. It makes you think….when I am here I don’t think of anything else.”

“I went in there, not knowing; I didn’t know I was going to come across that. When you read a text, your own experience comes into reading that text. and you identify different parts and that is what  a lot of literature is… I was totally taken aback and it felt so important both on an emotional level and also on an intellectual level…and I felt it mattered and could be pursued by myself because my response was so great.”

“You remember when you read very very very good writing, you forget - it’s just like a portal into another person’s consciousness… You know exactly what George Eliot’s describing in Silas Marner…”The thoughts were strange to him now, like old friendships impossible to revive” …its that portal into the accumulated experience of an individual, every single human being, the store of experience and memories - everybody has the capacity to have their memories brought back to them. I think you need really, really good writing to do that. I think it depends massively on the quality of the writing.’

In Black Rainbow (2014) Rachel Kelly describes a more personal experience, after a nervous breakdown:
“On difficult days, the timeless ending of George Eliot’s novel Middlemarch still consoles me. I would quote it to any mother who feels daunted about stepping off the career ladder, or indeed anyone afflicted with a tendency to perfectionism, or suffering from depression, who is questioning their personal worth. ‘ For the growing good of the world is partly dependent on the unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been is half owing to the numbers who have lived faithfully a hidden life and rest in unvisited tombs.’

Q.D.Leavis in Fiction and Reading Public, 1932, says :
“The peculiar property of a good novel is the series of shocks it gives to the reader’s preconceptions - preconceptions, usually unconscious, of how people behave and why, what is admirable and what reprehensible; it provides configuration of special instances which serve as a test for our mental habits and show us the necessity for revising them. George Eliot, characteristically, seems to have been the first novelist to be conscious of this most important function of the novel; her comment on the crisis of The Mill on the Floss is extended into a general insistence that ‘we have no master-key that will fit all cases…moral judgements must remain false and hollow, unless they are checked and enlightened by a perpetual reference to the special circumstances that mark the individual lot’. The ordinary reader is now unable to brace himself to bear the impact of a serious novel, a novel, that is, in which words are used with fresh meaning and for ends with which he is unfamiliar.”

All true, except the final sentence, which is refuted weekly by my group of ordinary readers, and, I am sure, by other groups, too.

“Cambridge Criticism” beyond Cambridge: F. R. Leavis and Others - an International Conference

Tsinghua University, Beijing
29-30 June/1 July 2017

Recent years have seen a revival and a new growth of interest in the phase of English literary and cultural criticism known as ‘Cambridge Criticism’ or ‘Cambridge English’.  That phase – from the early 1920s (soon after the founding of the English Faculty at Cambridge) to the mid-1930s – is especially associated with the work of I. A. Richards and his student William Empson; both taught in China at Tsinghua University, Yenching University and the Southwest Associated University (Xinan Lianda). Richards is often identified as the progenitor of the American ‘New Criticism’ (though he himself demurred). He had a close association with T. S. Eliot, a major influence on the contemporary poetry and criticism.

Another important figure, whose thought and practice eventually moved in a different direction from the others, is F. R. Leavis, about whom much new writing has appeared over the last ten years or so.  Like the others mentioned, Leavis was a close reader and textual critic but his work also concerned itself more than theirs with the cultural context of literature and with the problems of valuation in criticism.

These critics and others (Raymond Williams of a later period, for example) have long held great interest for Chinese scholars, particularly in the contemporary intellectual climate, owing to their critical achievements, relevance and in some cases direct connections with China.  This major international conference will re-assess their work and relevance today in China and internationally.  It falls in the centenary year of the founding of the English Tripos at Cambridge and takes forward some of the discussions held during the colloquium
“ ‘Cambridge English’ and China”, which took place in Cambridge in 2011.

The conference will be jointly organized by the Centre for the Study of European and American Literatures, the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures, Tsinghua University, and the School of Foreign Languages, Hangzhou Normal University. Bookings for this event are now closed.

Confirmed participants are urged to apply for visas and to book their flights at the earliest possible time. For further details, including confirmed speakers, or to propose a paper, please contact Professor Cao Li, the convenor of the conference, at or her colleague, Dr Zhang Ping at, or Dr Chris Joyce, at co-convenor in the UK.
Centre for the Study of European and American Literatures
Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures
Tsinghua University                              

'Art-speech is the only truth' -- exploring the meaning of this in Lawrence

Venue: Eastwood Hall Hotel, Eastwood Nottingham, NG16 3SS

19 Aug 2017 - 10:00am to 5:00pm

 A one day conference organised by the D. H. Lawrence Society, in conjunction with the Leavis Society

'Art-speech is the only truth' -- exploring the meaning of this in Lawrence




To include:

  1. Lawrence, Leavis and Art-speech:  the Evolution and Application of a Reflexive Critical Concept.  Paul Filmer.
  2. Art-speech and 'The Man Who Died'.  Bob Hayward.
  3. Art-speech and Classic American Literature.  Jeremy Tambling.
  4. D. H. Lawrence and the incomparable importance of Literature (provisional title)  Daniele Moyal-Sharrock and Peter Sharrock

The charge of £32 includes a choice of hot or cold lunch and tea and coffee breaks. Book by email through either Malcolm Gray ( or Bob Hayward (  Pay Malcolm Gray on arrival.

Malcolm Pittock may be a guest speaker before lunch with new research-findings on Lawrence and Jesse Chambers.

Re-reading Leavis: valuing literature(s) in our time

Call for Papers

Annual conference: ‘Re-reading Leavis: valuing literature(s) in our time’

18-19 September 2017, Downing College, Cambridge

The Leavis Society invites papers for its annual conference to be held on 18 and 19 September in Downing College, Cambridge.

F. R. Leavis was one of the most influential literary critics in the twentieth-century, known for his insistence on the humanistic value of literature – the value of literature in human life. For Leavis, and literary humanism generally, literature offers insights into the human condition of a kind that cannot be obtained by other means. Since the 1980s, the focus on literature has relaxed in schools and universities to bring in film, media and performance. This year's conference will reflect on the waning place of literature in our time, and examine whether and how potential to counter this can be drawn today from Leavis's critical work.

Confirmed speakers include: Iain Bailey, Catherine Belsey, Michael Bell, Philip Davis, Bob Hayward, Michael Silk, James Smith, Joel Swann, Jeremy Tambling and Heward Wilkinson.

Submissions of abstracts are invited for 20-30 minute papers. The deadline for submission of abstracts or papers is 31 July. Please email them to Glenys Willars at

If you would like to join the Leavis Society, please visit our website:

Further details and exact times will be available soon.