F. R. Leavis: The "great tradition" of the English novel and the Jewish part

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F. R. Leavis is typically seen as a powerful agent in the formulation both of an imperial canon and of reading practices that promote Englishness as universally human. In this essay I reassess The Great Tradition (1948) by stressing its non-English constituents and by pondering Leavis's three attempts to accommodate George Eliot's Daniel Deronda (1876), a novèl that he could neither live without nor (as his career wore on) live with: his chapter in The Great Tradition, calling for the excision of the "Jewish part" of the novel; his 1960 Commentary essay, nullifying Zionist sections by positing an exclusively English genealogy of Eliot's novel; and the 1974 preface to Gwendolyn Harleth, which cast the excision of the Daniel and Mordecai sections as a rescue work of national urgency. I show how the prominence of Klesmer and Arrowpoint in Leavis's thoughts points to an unspoken but crucial distinction between the Zionist part of the novel, which deprivileges the English foundations of Leavis's canon, and the Jewish part of the novel, which Leavis identified with and drew upon in his opposition to the philistinism of English culture. By calling attention to Q. D. Leavis's pivotal role in including Daniel Deronda as an "English" classic in the first place, I conclude by suggesting that deracina-tion and dispossession, rather than parochial English and possession, condition Leavis's great tradition.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)198-227
Number of pages30
JournalNineteenth-Century Literature
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2001

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Literature and Literary Theory


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