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The Leavises on Fiction: An Historic Partnership by P.J.M. Robertson

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By P.J.M. Robertson

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Count in the same way as the major poets, in the sense that they not only change the possibilities of the art for practitioners and readers, but they are significant in terms of that human awareness they promote; awareness of the possibilities of life. (p. 10) I say 'his "great tradition" ' mindful of the many readers and critics who have called Leavis's selectiveness narrowness, and poured cold water on his book saying that it constitutes an arbitrarily private tradition 19-as if it were capricious or narrow to base a tradition of greatness on artistic excellence and human centrality.

They are all distinguished by a vital capacity for experience' (p. 17), he says; and he speaks more than once of the 'energy of vision' (pp. 29, 232) that relates Conrad to Dickens. But for Leavis, unlike Hicks, the energy must be directed toward affirming life. It is not enough that a writer devote his art to saying F. R. Leavis and The Great Tradition 31 no to life's ugliness, however brilliantly he may do so, as Leavis feels that Dos Passos does. For him Dos Passos is a 'serious' novelist, but not a great one, since he never succeeds in indicating how life might continue to be lived humanly, according to the fmer capacities and resources of the human spirit, in spite of the mechanical jungle of the modem world he so brilliantly depicts.

But in these the Laurentian-Dickensian criteria of vitality and reverence for life are not uppermost or obvious. Leavis will continue to try to reconcile 'classical' with 'romantic' criteria more openly in D. H. Lawrence: Novelist, in an explicit counterpointing ofT. S. Eliot and Lawrence. This he will do to clarify the strengths and weaknesses of each so as to discover better 27 28 The Leavises on Fiction where he himself stands in relation to them. Already he looks forward to this exercise at the close of the keynote chapter on the 'great tradition': Eliot is mildly rebuked for championing Joyce and his lesser imitators, and Lawrence is named the sole modern heir of the great novelists (pp.

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