Or, What are Leavis’ objections Wordsworthian theory of poetry?
“Literature and Society is a thought-provoking essay by F.R. Leavis (1895- 1978), one of the influential figures in 20th-century literary criticism. The essay, originally a substance of an address given to the Students Union of the London School of Economics and Politics, appears in his book “The Common Pursuit,” published in 1964. In this essay, Leavis stresses the social aspect of literary study.
More Notes: Literature and Society
Romanticism was an artistic, literary, musical, and intellectual movement that originated in Europe towards the end of the 18th century and, in most areas, was at its peak in the approximate period from 1800 to 1850. The Romantic Period began roughly around 1798 and lasted until 1837. The political and economic atmosphere at the time heavily influenced this period, with many writers finding inspiration from the French Revolution. There was a lot of social change during this period.
F.R. Leavis, in his famous essay “Literature and Society,” comments on the traditions and attitudes of Romantic poets. Commenting on the Romantic concept of literary creation, Leavis says that the Romantic poets placed all the stress on the feelings and talents of individuals. According to him , inspiration and individual genius mattered much in the romantic tradition. He tries to explain the mystery behind the creation of a masterpiece in the Romantic age.
Leavis, however, does not openly comment in favor or against the theory of poetic creation expounded by the Romantics. His writings make it clear that he agrees with T. S. Eliot, who, in his essay “Tradition and the Individual Talent,” challenged and rejected the Romantic idea of literary creation. Being influenced by Eliot’s writings, Leavis opines that “other things…besides individual talent and originative impulse from within” must be considered. By “other things,” he means “influences, environments, and extra-literary conditions of literary production.”
Further, F. R. Leavis points out that there is no general definition of Romanticism. He calls the romantic attitude misleading and raises an allegation against the romantic poets, saying that they were widely different from one another. There is hardly any common factor among the romantics except that they belong to the same age. He says Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron, Shelley, and Keats differ widely. No general description worth offering will cover them. Though as influences, they merge later into a Romantic tradition, they do not exemplify any typical Romanticism. What they have in common is that they belong to the same age.”
In conclusion, F. R. Leavis, in his essay “Literature and Society,” criticizes the Romantic tradition in English literature. In his approach to critical scrutiny, he appears to be anti-romantic, and this is quite natural for him because he was greatly influenced by the critical writings of T. S. Eliot, an avowed anti-Romantic and modern critic who also rules out the romantic theory of poetry in his epoch-making essay, “Tradition and the Individual Talent.”