Frank Raymond Leavis (1895-1978) was an influential British literary critic of 20th-century English Literature. T.S. Eliot influenced him to a great extent. Leavis possessed an apparent idea of literary criticism, and he was well-known for his predecessors and his contemporaries.
F.R. Leavis shares some ideas, theories, and practices with the New Critics. Instead of concentrating on literary history and biography, like the other New critics of the period, Leavis advocated the close reading of the text itself, arguing that the critic should analyze the words on the page rather than work from extrinsic evidence.
More Notes: Literature and Society
Leavis’ conception of criticism is very different from the contemporary understanding of the term. To Leavis, the purpose of evaluating literature is to keep the tradition of the human world alive, not by admiring its achievements but by bringing its values, meaning, and significance to bear on the present. So, it is the business of the critic to explore and rediscover the social culture and the art of living behind the literature.
Leavis was a controversial critic. He was frequently urged for what was, in fact, his greatest strength: his consistent refusal to define a clear theoretical basis for his work. As a literary critic, he felt little sympathy for others. He didn’t hold any of the critics who had preceded him in high esteem. Even the great classical critic Aristotle was not exempted from his unsympathetic attitude. His only concession was given to Mathew Arnold.
The essay “Literature and Society” is a substance of an address given by the author to the students’ Union of the London School of Economics and politics. According to Leavis, society consists of individuals, and individuals live in society, so society is more comprehensive than individuals. Again, a society may have two sides to its culture- popular and sophisticated. Literary creation is impossible without an individual creative gift. But the individuals live in a society, so he must contain some social elements.
In fine, we can say that despite his shortcomings and limitations, Leavis “was a charismatic and undisputed leader of the New critical World of England.” He did not advance any general aesthetic or literary theory. He is even despised by many for his aggressive attitude.