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Leavis and literature

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What are the implications of Leavis's argument for a definition of literature? Case study based on the extract of F.R. Leavis 's The Great Tradition. As this essay is going to be a short one, I shall - as briefly as I can - try to demonstrate F.R. Leavis's complex classification of literary works, which implicates his definition of literature. There are various aspects worth mentioning in order to answer the essay question, however I decided to focus on the factors that I consider the most important: The Great Tradition in light of style and form, presentation of human issues, author's individual approach to life and the ideas of 'Englishness'. From early 19th century critics and academics have attempted to define the notion of literature and standardize its criteria. Frank Raymond Leavis belonged to the group of most influential thinkers who desired to analyse literary works in the light of the growing study of literary criticism. Firstly, it is significant to notice that The Great Tradition, published in 1948, can be treated as a sort of guide with the purpose of showing why some novels deserve to be in literary canon and some do not. Leavis's argument: which narratives are worth of recognition, might be considered as his implications of the definition of literature. ...read more.


Even though they learnt from their predecessors and each other, Austin, Eliot, James and Conrad posse strong individual approach to life. As a consequence, their dissimilarity can be treated as another feature of authors who are part of the great tradition. As said by Leavis, Henry James in comparison with others, posses a natural sense of humour and is able to communicate by ' the finest shades of inflection and implication'. 5 Joseph Conrad, in his works, brought up various aspects of human personality. His unique style lies in sophisticated form, techniques and background that are used for character's scrutiny. In many Conrad's novels, as suggested by Leavis, one can find not only 'consciousness of dependence', which constitutes one of his major themes but also various juxtapositions of characters facing hostile natural elemental forces. Conrad's interests in life and human morality, made him possible to be one of the greatest authors. What is more, Leavis highlights Conrad's skilful usage of English language. Conrad, who was of Polish origin, decided to write in English not Polish or French, which he knew fluently. Thus, he is true ' master of English language (...), and who was concern with art (...) is the servant of a profoundly serious interest in life.'6 Conrad wrote in an innovative way and most importantly desired to show human destiny, loneliness, wickedness as well as weaknesses. ...read more.


In addition to the previous paragraph, we can see that F. R. Leavis has put together a highly selective, distinctive method of putting literature into categories. Works of authors such as Jane Austen, George Eliot, Henry James and Joseph Conrad, Leavis would classify as classical examples of traditional literature. Novels by the above authors contain specific characteristics of what Leavis describes and defines as a literature. These characteristics are: authors' interest in life, distinctive form as well as style, a particular depiction of moral issues and the idea of Englishness. Chris Baldwick conveys the reasons behind Leavis' categorisation, the major point being that literature has a certain moral function within society. Furthermore, to remember 'past experience with the use of the portrayal of life, to preserve culture, and to maintain the language within.' 11 Overall The Great Tradition celebrates English language and certainly encourages the reader to take pride in English Literature, but on the other hand one could say that it unfairly excludes the wide range of world literature that have plenty to offer. One thing is for certain, whether or not one agrees with Leavis, his influence in defining what "literature" is continues to be held with great esteem. ...read more.

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