Dr. F. R. Levis is a Professor and an academic critic who is also regarded as one of outstanding figures of New Criticism in England. Sometimes his criticism is called ‘Philosophical Criticism’ as it is the revive of the philosophical criticism whose great supporters were Sidney, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Shelley and Arnold. It protects poetry on the highest altar of Truth, and teaches to grow poetry as an abstract quality. But Literary Criticism to Leaves is not Philosophy.
The aim of the critic is to realize as sensitively and completely as possible this or that which rights his attention. The business of the literary critic is to attain a peculiar completeness of response and to observe a peculiarly strict significance in developing his response into commentary. His first concern is to enter into possession of the given poem in its concrete fullness, and his concern is never to lose his completeness of possession, but rather to increase it. In making value-judgments, implicitly or explicitly, he does so out of that completeness of passion and with that fullness of response.
Contribution of F. R. Levis in ‘Cultural Criticism’
F. R. Levis is also studied as a leader of’ Cultural’ criticism supported and practiced by such authentic and respectable critics as Matthew Arnold, Lionel Trilling, and Raymond Williams.
According to Prof. Naresh Chandra, the basic argument of the critics of this influence, is that literature is the best medium for preserving and the best vehicle for the transmission of culture from generation to generation, this forming an perpetuating a tradition in culture.
This function of criticism has become all the more important in our time when cultural values are in the danger of being denigrated by hostile forces like industrialism, political factionalism and fanaticism, political and capitalistic exploitation, scientific and technological materialism, threat of war, and general deterioration in human relations.
F. R. Levis’ English Literature puts forward a strong case for the place of English literature in University studies, mainly on the ground that no other subject presents cultural values in a more forceful, believable and beautiful manner. Poetry and literature are concerned with universal and enduring objects, but culture cannot title any such attributes. It cannot be accepted as pure literary criticism as it has a list towards propaganda.
Levis as a New Critic: Dr. F. R. Levis is the outstanding critic of the Cambridge school of criticism. He is one of the most distinguished and most influential figures among them. He writes in a quite peculiarly difficult and has a manner, in criticizing other critics. As a matter of fact, he is the follower of I. A. Richards. He was the editor of the distinguished critical journal, Scrutiny to which a number of potential literary critics have made vital contribution. Main works of Levis are New Bearings in English Poetry, Revaluations, in which he strongly supplicated for the help of the literary reputation of Marvell, Pope and Emile Bronte. His other notable works are The Great Tradition in which he set out the excellence of George Eliot, Henry James and Joseph Conrad, and The Common Pursuit which is a nice collection of the articles published from time to time in Scrutiny.
Dr. Levis is a man of very strong tastes. He loves simplicity, solidity and hardness. He does not like the romantic haziness in criticism or creation. He is an analytical critic and does not believe in making extensive simplifications. Except T. S. Eliot, he is the greatest contemporary critic. He is a man who would not produce since he is so sure of his being right. The strength of his beliefs can be seen in his evaluation of Milton and Shelley. He criticizes both these poets harshly. He has done to literary criticism what Eliot has done to English poetry.
Dr. Levis wants particular and real criticism. He does not love mere jugglery of words. He considers Eliot to be a great critic, but he was not afraid of taking him to task when Eliot revised his opinion about Milton.
“The Scrutiny represents an influential but isolated point of view. The ‘group’ principles consists of taking Mr. Eliot’s work very seriously, knowing that Mr. Eliot takes the work of the late Charles Williams work very seriously, too. The ‘personal’ principle derives from the fact that most metropolitan authors and reviewers know each other reasonably well, like to keep on good terms with each other and therefore in reviewing each other’s work are tempted to pull their punches. The ‘deference’ principle is that, one should treat a book of his which is under notice; even if one feels that it does not represent his highest achievement, with a certain tender forbearance.
Dr. Levis’ great admiration for the earlier poems of pound and for very much of Mr. Eliot’s work does not prevent him from being severe about the Cantos and much of Mr. Eliot’s later prose; the more one respects a writer, he feels, the less deferential one should be, and on the contrary the more unsparing when he feels short of his highest level. Dr. Levis who was a university teacher, yet his review, Scrutiny (1932-53), though originally intended to revalue people and things in a freelance spirit, exercised for twenty years a veritable academic dictatorship.