Leavis defence

6th September 1996 at 01:00
How strange that a reputable educational journal should give the two recent books on Leavis to a reviewer (TES, August 23) who has little use either for Leavis or for English literature - as is clearly indicated by his hopelessly unjust, prejudiced final sentence.

To take one other small instance: the reviewer, Harry Ritchie, uses the incident with Peter Greenham as an example of Leavis's autocratic authoritarianism, completely ignoring the whole tone of Greenham's account, which illustrates the painter's own friendly feeling towards Leavis as a sitter who was courteous, kind and surprisingly knowledgeable in Greenham's own field of painting.

Greenham explicitly associates the word "courtesy" with Leavis's comment, "No, you don't", and notes both that Leavis pointed to Henry James, not himself, as the authority on Bennett, and that he did finally concede some value to Bennett's writing.

My own encounter with Leavis's books of criticism came some time after three not particularly inspiring years at London University (where his name had not been mentioned). I found them a revelation. His comments, together with the quotations so unaccountably castigated by Ritchie, sent me back to the original writers with renewed interest, insight and enjoyment, in a way achieved for me by few other critics. I am sorry Ritchie did not have this experience. There was certainly nothing "joyless, elitist, woolly" or "narrowly donnish" about it.

WINIFRED WHITEHEAD 26 Victorian Road Sheffield, South Yorkshire

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