Geoffrey Hartman, 24 January 1985
The astonishing importance of Leavis in the English academic consciousness does not seem to be a passing fad. The scandal-maker of the 1930s became, by a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy, part of the saving remnant on which the future of reading would depend. The photo on the cover of Denys Thompson’s The Leavises shows him in a jacket impermeable to the insults of time and with the open shirt of a Labour leader. He looks indeed, as his wife wrote of both of them, ‘grey-haired and worn down with battling for survival in a hostile environment’. Queenie Leavis stands beside him, also dressed simply, sharing his pursed lips and focused eyes that tilt only slightly towards a better world. Together they make a painful hendiadys, an icon of the threadbare, indomitable British intellectual. The snapshot catches something grim and mortal: an embattled uniformity, rather than their spirit active for half a century to save a culture that had lost, so Leavis wrote, ‘any sense of the difference between life and electricity’.