Methods and Institutions: Eliot, Richards and Leavis

  • Carol Atherton


My discussion of the work of Woolf, Murry and Orage in the previous chapter indicates that the personal authority of the Victorian men of letters continued to be used well into the twentieth century, to underwrite judgements about literature that were set in opposition to the values of scholarship. All three of these critics drew on a rhetoric that helped to surround their status with a certain mystique, allowing little room for dissent. In doing this, they asserted the validity of a form of criticism that could not be made to cohere with developing frameworks of disciplinary practice. Their preferred model of criticism rested on qualities that were somehow indefinable, and as a result, they did little to make criticism teachable: while they helped to sustain a sense of the importance of literary criticism in the face of challenges from the mass market, they did little to support its emergence as an academic discipline.


Academic Discipline Literary Criticism Critical Method Literary Tradition Liberal Ideal 
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  1. 6.
    Louis Menand, ‘T. S. Eliot’, in The Cambridge History of Literary Criticism, vol. 7: Modernism and the New Criticism, ed. A. Walton Litz, Louis Menand and Lawrence Rainey (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), pp. 55, 19–20.Google Scholar
  2. 60.
    I. A. Richards, Practical Criticism: A Study of Literary Judgment (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, [1929] 1978), p. 334.Google Scholar
  3. 62.
    I. A. Richards, journal entry of 17 December 1969; Complementarities: Uncollected Essays, ed. John Paul Russo (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1976), p. 266. Quoted in Russo, Richards, pp. 216, 734–5.Google Scholar
  4. 115.
    F. R. Leavis, Revaluation: Tradition and Development in English Poetry (London, 1936: Penguin, 1972), p. 252.Google Scholar
  5. 116.
    F. R. Leavis, The Great Tradition (London, 1936: Penguin, 1972), p. 51.Google Scholar

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© Carol Atherton 2005

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  • Carol Atherton

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