The description of this book in Goodreads suggests that the reader will be introduced to a donnish enclosed garden world of cloisters and tea-at-four.The description of this book in Goodreads suggests that the reader will be introduced to a donnish enclosed garden world of cloisters and tea-at-four. We might indeed expect such an account or at least influence in a biography of F.R. Leavis but Ian MacKillop does not provide it, for better and for worse, for worse because this biography arguably lacks colour, for better because the writer avoids the temptation of concentrating so far on Leavis as a character or his life as so much a life of Cambridge that he would lose focus on the issues at stake. (Ironically, it is CP Snow, the notorious scientist challenger of the Leavis vision who provides the reader with that very nostalgic cloistered, tea-at-four world in his Strangers and Brothers novels.) This biography is monotonous without being boring. It does not change pace and does not allow itself to be diverted by entertaining anecdote by peeps into the private lives of the protagonists of the story, other than is absolutely necessary when writing any biography. The account of a life in criticism is sympathetic and resolute but its sobriety sometimes detracts from the clarity. In the first place the biographer, perhaps out of extreme scrupulousness, fails to account for the relation between personal antipathy and opinion and action which seems to be so crucial in accounting for both the actions and attitudes of Leavis himself and those of his enemies. I may have missed a beat but I cannot find out for what Leavis is accused of being a liar by his opponents. I cannot find why his wife so loathed one of the players in this saga (Harold Mason I think). This biographer does not highlight what is really important by describing it in a louder, more stressed, more emphatic tone. There should be no mistake: the issues at stake here are important, are not parochial concerns of one or two dons or lecturers alone but issues which concern the nature and aim of education itself. Leavis targeted, if I have understood this account correctly ( and I have not, so far as I am aware, read Leavis myself so I am relying on this biography) the tradition of regarding works of art integrated within classes and trends and genres to the detriment of an intense understanding of a given work of art itself. For example Wordsworth's poem the Lonely Reaper, instead of being appreciated for itself might be dismissed or classified to death as a typical instance of romanticism. It seems however, that Leavis replaced the tradition of genre description with that of pedestals, pedestals of English literature and a small number of writers. No doubt this incurred envy and resentment: who is this doctor to tell us which writers are to be placed on pedestal? Certainly, this seems to me to be very problematic when English writers are to be compared favourably with writers in another language. Here I found the biography inadequate. Mentioned in passing is Leavis' irritation at TS Eliot's preference of Dante to Chaucer. Does Leavis give us an account of why Chaucer belongs on a pedestal denied to Dante? There are similarities between the two writers at least in respect of their establishment of a vernacular as a language of the literature of their emerging nations or national entities. Does not English literature begin with Chaucer and Italian with Dante? However the entire vexed question of how we may usefully compare works written in different languages and to what extent it is is even helpful to do so, is not broached nor do we learn whether Leavis examined this question or not. If he did, we are not told, if he did not, is this not a lack? Does Leavis have nothing to say about a Western canon of literature, he who wrote so much about the contribution of the English novel to the English canon and to literature? Admirable and well examined on the other hand, is Leavis's commitment to education in the true sense of the word of leading young people out of ignorance and purely emotional response or categorising and attenuating, with an intense analysis and appreciation of individual works which offer the reader a judgement of life. FR Leavis seems to have been very shoddily treated by Cambridge over the years. At his death we are told that Leavis' wife was "astonished to receive letters of condolence from Labour politicians Shirley Williams and Dennis Healey. There were no letters from Cambridge professors, except one from the Secretary of the English Faculty, John Stevens of Magdalene College, saying that his colleagues had asked him to write." Comment superfluous I think. His wife wrote a book which I shall try to acquire called "Fiction and the Reading Public" which by the sound of it contain theses centred on a commitment to excellence, with which I am full agreement myself.
Reading this biography I felt inspired to pen a short tribute to this man. Here it is:
For F.R. Leavis
For years I thought of you If I thought at all As a don who put The Lady C. Lover man On some such exalted pedestal As generals buoy in city parks A man I had no time to scrutinise. Too late I realise You meant the work is all All you know All you need to know Pedestals are dead and stone Our knowledge groans In first perceptions It grows out of them And you show We learn and learn What we know and What we need to know....more
je suis en train de lire avec beacoup de plaisirs ces commentaires très beaux, très éclairants. Si j'aurais le temps j'ajuterais des observations plusje suis en train de lire avec beacoup de plaisirs ces commentaires très beaux, très éclairants. Si j'aurais le temps j'ajuterais des observations plus tard.....more
A little personal background first. I studied Shakespeare at school and was struck at the time I did so by the fact that in class virtually no biograpA little personal background first. I studied Shakespeare at school and was struck at the time I did so by the fact that in class virtually no biography of the man was offered at all, in contrast to the biographical details which were readily supplied to us for Chaucer and Milton. There was always an aura of mystery about the man William Shakespeare. I had somewhat vaguely heard of doubts about the main referred to as the author. I think my mother once mentioned that some people questioned the official biography and a friend of mine lent me a book when I was quite young in which one of the main characters argues that Francis Bacon wrote the Shkespeare plays. In that book by the way, there is a hilarious review of a Shakespeare production in which the reviewer concludes by stating that the Shakespeare controvery will be settled by this production, for if the coffins of the Shakespeare contenders are opened one only has to see which corspe will have turned! Shortly after school I decided to buy a biography and picked up the one by AL Rowse I think it was. I was disappointed and uneasy. The work was replete with speculation and supposition. Astonishingly little was known as fact about the most famous writer in the Western world. The book wa sfull of hypotheses and suppositions "it may be" "probably", perhaps" etc. For years I let it rest. Shakespeare was a phenomenon rather than a person. Years later I came across this book in a British Council library and I found Charlton Ogburn echoing thoughts which had been slumbering within me so to speak for the last 30 years. This book is really two books, one pointing out what an edifice of fraudulent assurance has built on foudntationms of speculation and scant evidence and in so arguing, Ogburn denyiesauthorship to the man from Stratford. The second part of the book presents Edward de Vere, the Seventeeth Earl of Oxford Earl of Oxford, on avialable evidence, as the only conceivable writer of Shakespeare's works. I shall not enter into the details of the argument-that is what the book is for-but would like to make a few observations on the signficance of this debate and the issues at stake in conspiracy theories in general. Firstly, when a conspiracy is suspected and the cry of "hoax!" is raised in connection with some historical event-to take another example than this, Josephine Tay's challenge to Shakespeare's own portrayal of Richard III as the murderer of the two princes in the Tower in a book called "The Daughter of Time" BOTH sides become committed to their positions in such a manner that neither side is disinterested. Both sides in such debates in the great majority are highly partisan. In the case of the authorship debate both sides tend to have a political agendas in a broad sense of the word agenda, one eltist and one anti-elitist. Orthodox scholars never tire of insisting that challengers to the Stratford theory are motivated by snobbery and elitism, overlooking the fact that upholders of orthdoxy are equally inspired by the myth of a "man of the people" showing that genius can sprout up anywhere and that a man or woman of the humblest circumstances can be Shakespeare. Many of those involved in this debate on both sides have an agenda. More importantly however is the personal commitment. For example, if one has written a book like this it very hard and takes a deal of moral courage to retract one's views-even if the "smoking gun" had been produced, anti-Stratfordians would be denying it to the bitter end, they have invested too much in their case. Likewise orthdoxy-those who have committed themsleves in print to the Stratford cause will look very foolish accepting they were wrong. This should be borne in mind when considering arguemnts from either side. I am convinced by the argument that Shakespeare was not the the obscurecommoner from Stratford. Ogburn's enormous rivetting work goes to great length explaining how claiming authorship for the man from Stratford runs in the face of everything we know about human nature. The core of this work however, is the argument that Shakespeare's plays are the fruit of experience. If this is accepted, then the works, aristocratic and elitist through and through can only be accepted as having been written by a member of the aristocracy. Common sense prompts me to accept Ogburn's arguments. There is also an instinctive reason. The dismissive and defensive reaction of upholders of orthodoxy, who seem unwilling to even discuss the issue, does not give the impression of much self-assurance on their part. Their invective and abuse of doubters is remarkable and calls to mind the loud protests of someone rightly accused of some misdemeanour. In this context I would note especially 1) the cynical accusationm that "Oxfordians" blithely ignore the fact that the Earl of Oxford died in 1604, years before many major works were written. Those who use this argument, hoping thereby to make challengers to orthodoxy seem like "conspiracy nuts who ignore the facts when they are inconvenient" simply neglect to inform the unwary that nobody has any evidence as to exactly in what year Shakespeare's plays were written in any case. No original copies exist of any play and no date of composition. All is speculation. 2) the repeated statement or implication that alternative theories as to the true authorship have been "laid to rest". They have not. To my knowledge, nobody has made any systematic attempt to challenge Ogburn's arguments in this book. The usual reaction by the hostile is "elitist claptrap" "lunacy" and other even less complimentary comments. Another especially silly and fatuous argument (used by the late critic Bernard Levin among others) is that many people have been put forward as "candidates" which shows how shallow the anti-Stratford arguments are. That is like saying, -"three members of the jury disagree with the majority that the accused is guilty but disagree as to who is guilty. That proves that the accused is guilty." Whether conclusive evidence will ever be found I doubt but surely common sense and all evidence is weighed heavily against the authorship of the man from Stratford. Anyone sure that traditonal orthdoxy got it right should treat the many arguments which have gathered over the years with respect and point out in an intelligent and well informed way why they are wrong. To Stratfordians the question is: where is any measured, intellgient and densely argued risposte to this and other challenges to the orthdox biography? ...more