Memoirs of a Leavisite

BookMemoirs of a Leavisite

Memoirs of a Leavisite

The Decline and Fall of Cambridge English


March 28th, 2013



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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.

An insider's account of being taught by F. R. and Q. D. Leavis at Downing College, Cambridge Explores the influence of Leavis on the discipline of English Literature in the latter half of the twentieth century through the authors personal experience as a distinguished scholar in the field in his own right. Examines the reasons why the Leavisite project failed and explores the tensions in academia that remain to this day.

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

[A] wise, patient and delightful book.

The Spectator

A memoir of beautifully evoked ghosts.

Times Higher Education

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'

Times Literary Supplement 'Books of the Year 2013'

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'

The New Statesman, 'Books of the Year 2013'

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

Recommended. Upper-division undergraduates, faculty, general readers.

Choice, Vol. 51. No. 07

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

Author Information

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:

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Section TitlePagePrice
Title page4
Copyright page5
Chapter 114
Chapter 220
Chapter 328
Chapter 435
Chapter 543
Chapter 650
Chapter 757
Chapter 864
Chapter 972
Chapter 1080
Chapter 1187
Chapter 1295
Chapter 13103
Chapter 14111
Chapter 15119
Chapter 16127
Chapter 17134
Chapter 18142
Chapter 19150