Wednesday 20 March 2024

FR Leavis

    It’s 50 years since I turned up at Downing College, Cambridge, to read English under FR Leavis. I ran into him on my first day, as I was pushing my case through the college gates. I hadn’t met him before but knew what he looked like.
   Upon being nervously greeted by me, he suggested I go into the porter’s lodge and make myself known. Thereafter, in the week before term began, I continued to run into him, by the gates. I summoned the courage to tell him I was rereading The Dunciad and enjoying it. He looked, I thought, disapprovingly at me. The following day I told him I had finished rereading The Dunciad but had not in the end, enjoyed it all that much.
   He still looked disapprovingly at me. He was not, I realised, going to be easy to please.
   The next week term began in earnest and a person not at all like the person I’d been talking to turned up and distributed practical criticism sheets. If this was Dr Leavis, then who had I been discussing The Dunciad with? I discovered, in due course, that it was a college porter, I believe called Tony.
Howard Jacobson, ‘Howard Jacobson on being taught by FR Leavis’, The Telegraph, 23 April 2011.