Leavis on Tragedy


Why did F. R. Leavis write so little about tragedy? Searching for an answer, this paper examines all his existing discussions in detail and sets them in the context of his lifelong study of T. S. Eliot and D. H. Lawrence, polar opposites as artists and thinkers. Leavis sees that “impersonality” is a key term for both writers, but with crucial differences of emphasis: for Eliot a denial, for Lawrence a transcendence, of selfhood. Leavis rejected the Christianity that underpinned Eliot’s idea of tragedy, preferring the more positive approach of Lawrence, for whom tragedy never had the last word on human life.