Memoirs of a Leavisite

The Decline and Fall of Cambridge English

David Ellis

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ISBN: 9781846318894

Publication: March 28, 2013

In the USA? Buy the Hardback US edition
In the second half of the last century, the teaching of English literature was very much influenced and, in some places, entirely dominated by the ideas of F. R. Leavis. What was it like to be taught by this iconic figure? How and why did one become a Leavisite? In this unique book, part memoir, part study of Leavis, David Ellis takes himself as representative of that pool of lower middle class grammar school pupils from which Leavisites were largely recruited, and explores the beliefs of both the Leavises, their lasting impact on him and why ultimately they were doomed to failure. At the heart of this book are questions about what English should and can be that are by no means finally settled.

David Ellis is Emeritus Professor of English at the University of Kent. His previous books include 'Death and the author: how D. H. Lawrence died, and was remembered' (OUP, 2008) and 'Literary Lives: Biography and the search for understanding' (EUP, 2003). His website can be found at:

Preface 1. Holloway 2. First Impressions 3. Sanctimonious prick? 4. Close reading 5. Time out 6. QDL 7. Class 8. Politics 9. France 10. The Richmond lecture 11. Loose end 12. Research 13. Theory 14. Australia 15. Shakespeare, Stendhal and James Smith 16. Teaching in the UK 17. Lawrence 18. …and Eliot 19. Epilogue Acknowledgements Bibliography Index

A personal memoir cannot pretend to be an easy introduction to the study of literature; yet the modest frankness with which he shows his colours, with no attempt to disguise personal preferences and standards (rather too cheerful to be strictly “Leavisian”), makes this “confession” a richly rewarding joy to read.
  Archive fur das Studium der neueren Sprachen und Literaturen

Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates, faculty, general readers.
  Choice, Vol. 51. No. 07

David Ellis's final affirmation that the approach that Leavis advocated still provides the best insurance that he has come across against "the tendency of institutions to churn on regardless, quite cut off from any initial social aim or utility" resonates in the mind after one has closed this brief, tactful and deceptively quiet book.
  Times Literary Supplement

I loved two works of non-fiction that could have been written just for me - Alwyn W Turner's A Classless Society and David Ellis's Memoirs of a Leavisite.
Leo Robson   The New Statesman, 'Books of the Year 2013'

I also enjoyed David Ellis's Memoirs of a Leavisite (Liverpool University Press), an autobiography that, while providing first-hand evidence of Leavis's influence on university English departments the world over, distinguishes itself from many a work by Leavisite hands by its note of self-deprecation.
D. J. Taylor   Times Literary Supplement 'Books of the Year 2013'

A memoir of beautifully evoked ghosts.
  Times Higher Education

[A] wise, patient and delightful book.
  The Spectator

A beautifully written, engaging and informative work ... It gives vivid and witty accounts of both F.R. and Q.D. Leavis’s fraught and often fractious relationships with colleagues and contemporaries, but the tone is never malicious or one-sided. Above all, it is a book about the role that literature might play in a life.
Laura Marcus  
Goldsmiths' Professor of English Literature, University of Oxford

Format: Hardback

Size: 239 x 163 mm

160 Pages

ISBN: 9781846318894

Publication: March 28, 2013

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