Q. D. Leavis

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Queenie Dorothy Leavis (née Roth, 7 December 1906 – 17 March 1981) was an English literary critic and essayist.[1]


Born in Edmonton, England, Queenie Leavis came from a Jewish family; her marriage to her Gentile husband F. R. Leavis caused a permanent rift with her relatives.[1]

Her Ph.D thesis, published under the supervision of I. A. Richards, became the book Fiction And The Reading Public (1932). Fiction and the Reading Public was influenced by Robert and Helen Lynd's book Middletown, the work of the anthropologist A. C. Haddon,[1] and Instincts of the Herd in Peace and War by Wilfred Trotter.[2] It sought to account for what Leavis regarded as the cultural decline of literary standards by surveying the marketing of modern fiction.[1] Queenie Leavis regarded modern literature as largely inferior to "unitary" literature of the sixeenth and seventeenth centuries.[1] She wrote about the historical sociology of reading and the development of the English, the European, and the American novel. She paid particular attention to the writings of Jane Austen, George Eliot, Herman Melville, the Brontës, Edith Wharton and Charles Dickens.

Mrs Leavis was noted for scrupulous detail in her research, but also for being sometimes irrationally pertinacious in the maintenance of her opinions. An example was the experience of her one-time pupil Valerie Grosvenor Myer, who came up to Cambridge as a Mature Student and was taught by Mrs Leavis in her final year. In a supervision on Hardy's Jude the Obscure, as Mrs Leavis held forth on the virtues of the 'organic community' (an article of faith among the Scrutiny set), her student Mrs Grosvenor Myer, who had been brought up in a remote part of the Forest of Dean, commented that such communities could have their drawbacks. "I grew up till the age of 19 in a house without electricity or indoor sanitation," she pointed out. "Nonsense, dear," rejoined Mrs Leavis in not-to-be-contradicted tones; "you're much too young!"

Queenie Leavis was unsympathetic to the feminist movement,[1] and attacked Virginia Woolf's feminist polemic Three Guineas.[3]

Much of her work was published collaboratively with her husband, F. R. Leavis. She contributed to and supported as an editor Scrutiny (1932–1951), an influential journal that sought to promote a stringent and morally serious approach to literary criticism.[4]

Stephen Fry reported that she had the reputation of being a harridan.[5]

The mathematician Leonard Roth was her brother.


  • Fiction and the Reading Public (1932)
  • Lectures in America (1969, with F. R. Leavis)
  • Dickens, the Novelist (1970, with F. R. Leavis)
  • Collected Essays, Volume 1: The Englishness of the English Novel (1983)
  • Collected Essays, Volume 2: The American Novel and Reflections on the European Novel (1985)
  • Collected Essays, Volume 3: The Novel of Religious Controversy, (1989)


  1. ^ a b c d e f Mary Grover, "Leavis, Q.D." in Faye Hammill, Esme Miskimmin, Ashlie Sponenberg (eds.) An Encyclopedia of British Women's Writing 1900-1950. Palgrave, 2008 ISBN 0230221777 (pp. 140-4)
  2. ^ Chris Baldick, The Social Mission of English Criticism, 1848-1932. Oxford: Clarendon, 1987. ISBN 0-19-812979-3 (p. 194)
  3. ^ Leavis, Q.D. "Caterpillars of the Commonwealth Unite!" Scrutiny (Sept 1938): 208
  4. ^ Francis Mulhern, The Moment Of "Scrutiny" London: Verso, 1981. ISBN 0860917452 (pp. 34-41)
  5. ^ Stephen Fry (2011) The Fry Chronicles: An Autobiography (Penguin, London) page 46, ISBN 978-0 -141-03980-0

Further reading[edit]

  • P. J. M. Robertson (1981) The Leavises on Fiction: An Historic Partnership (London)

External links[edit]