F.R. Leavis

F.R. Leavis account of the project involving his surgical ‘liberation’, from George Eliot’s Daniel Deronda, of the novel ‘Gwendolen Harleth’ may be seen as an interesting document of a confident time which is now past: such-and-such a chapter ‘had to go in’, and others had to stay out. Bodley Head were, in the event, in 1976, unable to proceed with the publication of the liberated text.

‘Gwendolen Harleth’

F.R. Leavis, 21 January 1982

George Eliot called her last novel Daniel Deronda, so that to separate part of it off for publication under another title than her own might seem to be challenging the judgment, the deliberate and emphatic intention, of the author herself in the most questionable way. But there are two George Eliots, and they both – neither, it seems, embarrassed by consciousness of the duality – play dominating roles in the massive book: they dominate it together as if they were one. But the essential spirits in which they dominate are so much not one that the creatively vital of them by its mere presence as what it unmistakably is exposes the creative impotence of the other. That George Eliot should have been so unconscious of the incompatibility of the spirits she has in fact married together is one of the things that seem most to justify the usual dismissal of Daniel Deronda. It also makes the book in a special way a rewarding critical study, one that notably illuminates the nature of creativity. But my directing purpose here is not what such a statement suggests: it is to establish in the only way possible that there is a major classic, which may be suitably called Gwendolen Harleth, hidden from the general recognition it deserves in the voluminous mixed work that George Eliot published – a classic it is incumbent on us to reclaim for English literature.

Leavis bequeathed a confidence in the essential value of any intelligent reader’s intense engagement with the best literature.

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Placing Leavis

Geoffrey Hartman, 24 January 1985

The astonishing importance of Leavis in the English academic consciousness does not seem to be a passing fad. The scandal-maker of the 1930s became, by a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy, part of...

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