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'Puritano frenetico’ - 27 letters by F R Leavis

 
'Puritano frenetico’ - 27 letters by F R Leavis by LEAVIS F R [Philip Dosse] (1972)
Author: LEAVIS F R [Philip Dosse]
Title: Literary Letters about E M Forster and Wittgenstein
 
Year: 1972
Publisher: Unpublished
Place: Cambridge
Dust Jacket: No
Signed: Yes
 
Price: £1250
 
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Added under Manuscripts  

27 autograph letters (40 pages) offering advice and literary opinions to the "Books and Bookmen" editor, Philip Dosse, complete with Cambridge memories of Wittgenstein and a damning judgement on E M Forster's recently republished Aspects of the Novel. Written in Leavis's black spidery handwriting on mostly Cambridge headed paper from 1972-1976 to Dosse, at his office in Artillery Mansions off Victoria Street where his magazine was published, the letters reveal Leavis's undimmed ambition to write, to engage with and to perpetuate his school of criticism and fellow literary critics in their work even as physical decline overtook him: ‘I am 77 and have to fight to combine my essential work – I have a number of books still to write – against distractions that often seem on the point of beating me.’ Leavis who dubs himself in one letter - 'puritano frenetico’ - responds at some length to the London editor's request to review a book on Ludwig Wittgenstein: ‘I myself couldn’t have reviewed the book on Wittgenstein in any Case: I am not philosophically qualified… we didn’t discuss philosophy… Technically unqualified as I am, in my not modest way I’ve decided against W[ittgenstein]. Philosophers call their philosophies “linguistic” but have very rudimentary ideas about what a language is.’ In a letter from January 1974 Leavis considers potential reviewers for A J 'Freddie' Ayer's "Central Questions of Philosophy": ‘I’m an anti-philosopher. (My next book says so)... if Scrutiny were still going I shouldn’t have given Ayer’s book to him [Roger Poole] – because I should have wanted a positively Scrutiny-line review (that is, an opportunity taken).’ The letters reveal Leavis still scheming to 'advance the purposes' of the critics and criticism that he had advocated throughout his career - though his partisanship meant he sometimes had to resort to subterfuge in his recommendations: ‘Try David Pears… You mustn’t say I recommended him. All the Wittgensteinians regard me as the enemy.’ In his letter of 15 January 1975, Leavis reacts with damning criticism to the first edited version of E M Forster's "Aspects of the Novel" with its new introduction by Oliver Stallybrass: ‘Forster's “book” has just come. I suppose Arnold [Edward Arnold the publisher] know their business & they won't lose on it! Incredible, really . . . The book is too silly; it contains nothing to argue with, or about. I don't want to waste on it, at any time, observations about “the novel” - or EMF or Kings - that would properly belong to a more serious “taking of opportunities” . . . Give the word, & I'll send Aspects back to you.’ As the letters continued through the early 1970s so infirmity eventually overtook Leavis though he was careful to downplay the consequences of a fall: 'Bones still very hard. Old distance runner’s heart.’ and even his renown irritates the critic: ‘having become respectable in my old age… And people are apt to assume I’m too illustrious to be feed [sic] – they give me, as at Eton recently expensive presents I don’t want’. And there are family problems, notably in relation to ‘my elder son, the musical genius…. Dealing with a genius of that order is exhausting.’ The final letter dates from 29 January, 1976; Leavis died in April 1978.
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