A critical life

11th August 1995 at 01:00
I have just read with disgust the review by Christopher Hawtree of Ian MacKillop's book, FR Leavis: A Life in Criticism. The petty Bloomsbury-type malice of its comments on Leavis's life and work are beneath contempt, and should have no place in your normally quite sensible pages. Nor does it do any sort of justice to the merits of MacKillop's book, which is certainly providing a fascinating read for me, who attended Leavis's Cambridge University lectures in the late 1930s, and had also the privilege of attending the Leavises' "Friday afternoon teas".

One peculiarly inappropriate observation may be worth commenting on. Edmund Wilson was a critic whose work Leavis recommended on at least one occasion, but he was a very minor figure. However, Hawtree extols his wide range, contrasting this with Leavis's dwelling on "a few authors". I have just looked at the contents page of Leavis's The Common Pursuit and find that it contains the names of Eliot, Milton, Hopkins, Swift, Pope, Johnson, Shakespeare, Bunyan, Henry James, Wyndham Lewis, Lawrence, Keynes and EM Forster (and this is only one of the 20 Leavis volumes listed by MacKillop). What one can perhaps agree is that the authors he wrote about were invariably ones worth reading. Moreover, reading his criticism invariably leads one back to the author with increased understanding and enjoyment.

FRANK WHITEHEAD 26 Victoria Road, Sheffield

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