At the very beginning of his career, as we saw in the last chapter, Leavis identiﬁed ‘culture’ with ‘the minority capable not only of appreciating Dante, Shakespeare, Donne, Baudelaire, Hardy (to take major instances) but of recognising their latest successors’ (FC 15; my italics). Shakespeare remained central, but the other authors mentioned as ‘major instances’ here did not play a great part in Leavis’s later work. The task of ‘recognising their latest successors’, on the other hand, was foundational, and his ﬁrst book, New Bearings in English Poetry: A Study of the Contemporary Situation (1932), was devoted to this task. It established Leavis as an authoritative critic of contemporary poetry, but did so by installing another critic as the ultimate authority: T. S. Eliot. The new bearings were those which Eliot had made possible: New Bearings was ‘a tribute’ to Eliot, who had made possible a re-reading of past and present, and Leavis’s whole career as a teacher and critic was in a sense founded on insights that he got from Eliot. But it was also founded on the insight that Eliot was not enough. There had to be another ‘successor’ to the tradition – D. H. Lawrence: ‘our time, in literature, may fairly be called the age of D. H. Lawrence and T. S. Eliot’(DHLN 303). This chapter looks at why these two ﬁgures were so signiﬁcant for Leavis – and what each signiﬁed; and it concludes by looking brieﬂy at Leavis’s comparative neglect of other writers who constituted ‘the contemporary situation’.
‘ELIOT’S HEAD AND LAWRENCE’S TAIL’