FR, Queenie, and Q*

*nom de plume of Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch.

Alexandra Lawrie writes in Arthur Quiller-Couch, Taste Formation and the New Reading Public (The Cambridge Quarterly, September 2014):

“…The shift towards greater professionalisation in literary criticism was very much at odds with the principles held by Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, appointed to the new Cambridge chair in 1912 following the early death of the first incumbent A. W. Verrall. At this stage Quiller-Couch was known to the public as the bestselling author of adventure stories set in Cornwall, including Astonishing History of Troy Town (1888) and The Delectable Duchy: Stories, Studies, and Sketches (1893). He had also completed R. L. Stevenson’s draft of St. Ives in 1898, and produced the Oxford Book of English Verse, 1250–1900 in 1900 (extended to 1918 in a new edition of 1939), which became the standard anthology of English poetry for a generation. John Gross’s description of Quiller-Couch’s appointment as an ‘astonishingly unacademic choice’ therefore seems an accurate one, as is the suggestion that this was a political move instigated by Lloyd George, who wished to reward Quiller-Couch for his work for the Liberal Party in Cornwall. Quiller-Couch expressed his own feelings about the new job to his friend Sydney Cockerell in 1912: ‘I am in a dreadful funk, of course, but marching forward … with my eyes shut.’…”

From Wikipedia:

“Frank Raymond “F. R.” Leavis CH (14 July 1895 – 14 April 1978) was a British literary critic of the early-to-mid-twentieth century. He taught for much of his career at Downing College, Cambridge, and later at the University of York.

Leavis became a Cambridge institution. J. B. Bamborough wrote of him in 1963: “it would be true to say that in the last thirty or more years hardly anyone seriously concerned with the study of English literature has not been influenced by him in some way.”

According to Clive James, “You became accustomed to seeing him walk briskly along Trinity Street, gown blown out horizontal in his slipstream. He looked as if walking briskly was something he had practised in a wind-tunnel.” “.

From Claire Harman’s review of F R LEAVIS: A Life in Criticism by Ian MacKillop (1995):

“…Leavis is said to have had two breakdowns in the year of his marriage but this is not explained or elaborated at all; Queenie’s cancer is not identified though she suffered it for 35 years – it is first mentioned in an aside; and the exit of the Leavises’ beloved child-prodigy son, Ralph, is marked only by this peculiarly unrevealing sentence: “In all the talk about decisions for his future there was a quarrel between the eldest son and QDL, and all relations between them ceased.” Inevitably, Leavis’s personality becomes less explicable and more unsympathetic as the book progresses, and an objective evaluation of his work as a critic and teacher becomes difficult…”

From Wikipedia:

“Queenie Dorothy Leavis (née Roth, 7 December 1906 – 17 March 1981) was an English literary critic and essayist. She came from a Jewish family and her marriage to her Gentile husband F. R. Leavis caused a permanent rift with her relatives.

In a supervision on Hardy’s Jude the Obscure, as Leavis held forth on the virtues of the organic community (an article of faith among the Scrutiny set), her student Grosvenor Myer, who had been brought up in a remote part of the Forest of Dean, commented that such communities could have their drawbacks. “I grew up till the age of 19 in a house without electricity or indoor sanitation,” she pointed out. “Nonsense, dear,” rejoined Leavis in not-to-be-contradicted tones; “you’re much too young!”

Leavis was unsympathetic to the feminist movement, and attacked Virginia Woolf’s feminist polemic Three Guineas.

Much of her work was published collaboratively with her husband, F. R. Leavis. She contributed to and supported as an editor Scrutiny (1932–1951), an influential journal that sought to promote a stringent and morally serious approach to literary criticism.

Author and actor Stephen Fry reported that she had the reputation of being a harridan.

Claire Harman, in The Independent of 6 August 1995:

“…This intractability was consistent with Leavis’s intellectual attitudes. He was most pleased with his own work when he felt it was “unanswerable”. Discourse did not interest him because his method was based on singling out excellence. The concept of identifying a “Great Tradition” of English fiction that consists of only three writers (Eliot, James and Conrad, with Austen, Dickens and Lawrence mentioned in a subsidiary capacity) seems hopelessly dogmatic. His later books, on Dickens and Lawrence, apply the same method and in them Leavis makes no apology for discussing only a limited part of each writer’s oeuvre.

The marking out of territory obsessed Leavis. Despite his and Queenie’s own debts to the method, style and substance of the work of I A Richards, Eliot and Pound (amounting to a sort of chameleonism), he developed a mania for detecting plagiarism of his own work. He once attacked the editor of the TLS for not reviewing Scrutiny and sustained an acrimonious correspondence with him. “Leavis’s replies are not pleasing reading,” Ian MacKillop says, refraining from quoting them. Leavis’s subsequent behaviour, circulating a cyclostyled “dossier” entitled Virtue in Our Time, was typically wrong- headed and inflammatory. As early as 1939 Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch had written of Leavis that “no good fortune would easily equal his sense of his desserts”, and an acute sense of grievance stayed with him for life. The question of where it came from, or if it was a symptom of psychosis, is not tackled at all by Ian MacKillop, but left in rhetorical form in a footnote.

During his lifetime, Leavis managed to factionalise every English department in the country, but contemporary undergraduates are unlikely to respond to the initials “FRL” or “QDL”. The word “Leavisite” itself has disappeared, replaced by the more abstract term “Leavisian”…”

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