F. R. Leavis and The Great Tradition: George Eliot, Henry James, Joseph Conrad

  • P. J. M. Robertson


In spite of its air of Johnsonian authority, The Great Tradition (1948) strains at its seams. The core chapters on George Eliot, James and Conrad were written first, and they reflect the earlier Leavis of ‘classical’ rigour, who with his wife chiefly admired Johnson, Arnold and T. S. Eliot, but who was not yet completely certain of Lawrence’s greatness as a novelist. But the framing chapters—‘The Great Tradition’ and the ‘Analytic Note’ on Hard Times—came later, as much as seven years after the chapters on Conrad, and they show Leavis leaning enthusiastically towards the ‘romantic’ strengths of Lawrence, and now convinced of his greatness (p. 34).


Hard Time Moral Intensity Moral Awareness Moral Tradition Reverent Openness 
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  1. 1.
    D. H. Lawrence, ‘Morality and the Novel’, in D. H. Lawrence: Selected Literary Criticism, ed. Anthony Beal (1961) p. 110.Google Scholar
  2. 12.
    Granville Hicks, The Great Tradition: An Interpretation of American Literature since the Civil War (New York, 1935).Google Scholar
  3. 14.
    René Wellek, ‘The Literary Criticism of Frank Raymond Leavis’, in Carroll Camden (ed.), Literary Views: Critical and Historical Essays (Chicago, 1964) p. 189.Google Scholar
  4. 16.
    See also Leavis’s Foreword to Nostromo in the Signet Classic edition (New York, 1960), where he expands the comparison to good effect.Google Scholar
  5. 20.
    According to Richard Stang in Discussions of George Eliot (Boston, Mass., 1960) pp. vii–viii; and R. W. Stallman in The Art of Joseph Conrad (East Lansing, Mich., 1960), p. xviii. Leo Gurko in Joseph Conrad (New York, 1962) p. 167, credits Leavis with having first discovered the importance of The Secret Agent. Leavis’s achievement with James must largely be his demonstration that James belongs as indisputably to the great English as to the great American tradition of the novel.Google Scholar
  6. 21.
    Matthew Arnold, ‘On Translating Homer’, Essays Literary and Critical (1928) p. 249.Google Scholar
  7. 23.
    ‘My aim does not comprise exhaustiveness; on the contrary it involves a strict economy. It is … to give, as it were, the essential structure’—Revaluation (Harmondsworth, 1964) p. 10.Google Scholar
  8. 28.
    Richard Chase, The American Novel and Its Tradition (New York, 1957), pp. 3–4.Google Scholar
  9. 30.
    Lionel Trilling, ‘Dr Leavis and the Moral Tradition’, A Gathering of Fugitives (Boston, Mass., 1956) p. 104.Google Scholar
  10. 41.
    What Georg Lukács says of Cézanne seems to me to apply equally to Leavis: ‘The rendering of the many-sidedness and many levels of visible reality as well as of what is not directly visual but is transmitted through various mediations is what Cézanne was accustomed to call “realization”’—Writer and Critic (New York, 1970) p. 10.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© P.J.M. Robertson 1988

Authors and Affiliations

  • P. J. M. Robertson
    • 1
  1. 1.KingstonCanada

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