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Eliot, Leavis, Lawrence: Nature and Significance of Value-judgement in Literary Criticism

Eliot, Leavis, Lawrence: nature et sens du jugement de valeur en critique littéraire.
Gulshan R. Taneja


Longtemps la production critique d’Eliot est parvenue à maintenir son influence, bien après les années de gloire du modernisme, et en dépit des coups de boutoir de la critique derridéenne. Toutefois, il est peut-être pertinent d’avancer que les travaux critiques qu’Eliot a consacrés au roman n’ont pas à ce jour reçu l’attention qu’ils méritent. C’est notamment le cas des pages qu’Eliot a consacrées à Lawrence.
Les critiques qu’il a formulées à l’encontre des romans de Lawrence (‘ . . . he never succeeded in making a work of art’, The Criterion, vol. x), ses commentaires sur la ‘morbidité sexuelle’ et sur le ‘manque d’intelligence’ de Lawrence, ainsi que la résistance que leur ont opposée nombre des partisans de ce dernier ouvrent de fascinantes perspectives sur l’œuvre critique d’Eliot. Il convient d’ajouter à cela la question de la nature et du sens du jugement critique en matière de critique littéraire, et de nous interroger sur la validité de tels jugements. Le rejet de Lawrence formulé par Eliot, les réactions de F.R. Leavis à ses propos, mais également l’évaluation de la vision éliottienne de l’existence que l’on doit à Leavis sont autant d’éléments qui nous permettront de soulever des questions sur la sensibilité et le jugement de valeur critiques.

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1T.S. Eliot’s literary criticism persisted in maintaining a significantly high profile even after the high tide of British modernist writing had receded and the Derridean initiative had brushed all aside. The continued appeal of Eliot’s verse has perhaps something to do with it. But the intrinsic, essential strength of Eliot’s critical enterprise had an independence of its own. Many of his contemporaries, such as James Joyce, did not show much interest in criticism, while writers such as Virginia Woolf, D.H. Lawrence, and E.M. Forster did not for the most part dwell upon it.

2Eliot’s life-long commitment to creation and consolidation of critical standards includes such milestones as the impersonal theory of poetry, his notion of ‘criterion’, his insistence that ‘pure literature’ is a ‘chimera of sensations’, and that we must examine ‘the elements in the situationpolitical, social, philosophical or religious’which ‘frustrate’ the artist; notions such as dissociation of sensibility, objective correlative, the idea of order, authority, community, and the common pursuit of true judgement. He refined and refashioned the concept of tradition, which is ‘inherited’ and, Eliot wants us to appreciate, is not merely a ‘handing down’. When following the publication of a work of literature a new order is created, finding a rightful place in it, ‘the fitting in’, is a test of its value. Poetry should affect us directly as does a physical sensation. It has something to do with morality, religion, even politics. And, in fact, perhaps, much more. In the true tradition of poet-critics such as Dryden, Johnson and Arnold, Eliot developed himself into an ‘exhaustive critic’, one who maps the entire history of a literary tradition and culture, and examines all its dimensions (see Eliot 1933).

3Yet it would perhaps not be considered too off the mark to mention that Eliot’s role as a critic of the novel has not received as much attention. Eliot’s assessment of Joyce, in my opinion, needs to be examined more carefully and its contribution appreciated for whatever it is worth.

4Eliot’s response to Lawrence, for example, is another case in point. And yet, I have discovered of late, at least in the circles that I move, that Eliot is not a name mentioned when you are teaching or otherwise exchanging notes about D.H. Lawrence. Undergraduate students are encouraged not to mention the two in the same breath. That this has the approval of the ‘Academy’ becomes obvious if you examine such popular sources of undergraduate wisdom as Gamini Salgado’s Sons and Lovers in the Casebook series published by Macmillan 1969. Or the Lawrence volume in the Readings in Literary Criticism series published by Allen and Unwin two years later. Published in the late eighties, T.S. Eliot: Essays from Southern Review contains in its index to the book four entries on Lawrence for thirty or so essays spanning three hundred and fifty pages. These, of course, go back some years. A later publication, similarly widely read I think, such as the 1994 Cambridge Companion to T.S. Eliot, mentions Lawrence thrice in its index, and, in fact, on actual examination, only twice in the body of the book’s seventeen essays: it is like adding index to injury. To bring the matters up-to-date would be, I am certain, to confirm these impressions.

5If one were now to turn to Eliot’s judgements on Lawrence, one would find fascinating stuff indeed. In a Foreword that he contributed to Father William Tiverton’s D.H. Lawrence and Human Existence, Eliot tells us:

[Lawrence] was an impulsive and impatient man. […] He was a man of fitful and profound insights, rather than of ratiocinative powers; and therefore he was an impatient man; he expressed some of his insights in the form least likely to make them acceptable to most of his contemporaries, and sometimes in a form which wilfully encouraged misunderstanding.
(Eliot 1951, 5)

Eliot continues in the same paragraph:

Wrong he often was (I think) from ignorance, prejudice, or drawing the wrong conclusions in his conscious mind from the insights which came to him from below consciousness: it will take time to dissociate the superficial error from the fundamental truth. (Eliot 1951, 5)

6And then Eliot does turn to matters literary: ‘To me, also, he seems often to write very badly: but to be a writer who had to write often badly in order to write sometimes well’ (Eliot 1951, 6). But the final blow is yet to come:

As for his religious attitude [. . .] we can now begin to see how much was ignorance, rather than hostility; for Lawrence was an ignorant man in the sense that he was unaware of how much he did not know. (Eliot 1951, 6)

  • 1 New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, Inc., 1934. The British edition was published by Faber and F (...)

7Eliot’s engagement with D.H. Lawrence goes back, in fact, to his Page- Barbour Lectures at the University of Vi rginia which he delivered in 1933 and published a year later as After Strange Gods: A Primer of Modern Heresy.1 ‘The point is’, Eliot tells us, ‘that Lawrence started life wholly free from any restriction of tradition or institution’ (Eliot 1934, 64). He betrays, Eliot continues, ‘a lack not so much of information as of critical faculties which education should give, an incapacity for what is ordinarily called thinking’ (Eliot 1934, 63). He goes on to speak of Lawrence’s ‘lack of intellectual and social training’ (Eliot 1934, 64).

8He analyzes Lawrence’s ‘The Shadow in the Rose Garden’ (along with Katherine Mansfield’s ‘Bliss’ and James Joyce’s ‘The Dead’) and notices an ‘alarming strain of cruelty’ in the then contemporary literature and observes:

[W]hat strikes me in all of the relations of Lawrence’s men and women [is] the absence of any moral or social sense. It is not that the author, in that Olympian elevation and superior indifference attributed to great artists, and which I can only imperfectly understand, has detached himself from any moral attitude towards his characters; it is that the characters themselves, who are supposed to be recognisably human beings, betray no respect for, or even awareness of, moral obligations, and seem to be unfurnished with even the most commonplace kind of conscience. (Eliot 1934, 39)

He then draws attention to three aspects of Lawrence’s personality he wishes to comment on:

[The first being his] lack of a sense of humour, a certain snobbery, a lack not so much of information as of the critical faculties which education should give, and an incapacity for what we ordinarily call thinking. […] Secondly, there is the extraordinarily keen sensibility and capacity for profound intuition—intuition from which he commonly drew the wrong conclusions. Third, there is a distinct sexual morbidity. Unfortunately, it is necessary to keep all of these aspects in mind in order to criticize the writer fairly. (Eliot 1934, 39)

A little later he remarks:

‘The man’s vision is spiritual, but spiritually sick’ (Eliot 1934, 65). ‘The author of [The Lady Chatterley’s Lover] seems to me to have been a very sick man indeed. […] I fear that Lawrence’s work may appeal, not to those who are well and able to discriminate, but to the sick and debile and confused; and will appeal not to what remains of health in them, but to their sickness’ (Eliot 1934, 66).

Much before this Eliot had written in 1931 in a review:

  • 2 Eliot had reviewed John Middleton Murry’s Son of Woman: The Story of D. H. Lawrence (1931) in the J (...)

Had Lawrence been sent to a public school and taken honours at a University he would not have been a jot the less ignorant; had he become a don at Cambridge his ignorance might have had frightful consequences for himself and the world, ‘rotten and rotting others’.2 (Eliot 1931)

It is interesting to recall when Lawrence died on March 2, 1930, E.M. Forster wrote to Nation and Athenaeum during the same month:

Now he is dead, and the low-brows whom he scandalized have united with the high-brows whom he bored to ignore his greatness. This cannot be helped: no one who alienates Mrs Grundy and Aspasia can hope for a good obituary Press. All we can do […] is to say straight out that he was the greatest imaginative novelist of our generation (Forster 1930, 34).

Eliot responded a week later that though he would be the ‘last person to wish to disparage the genius of D.H. Lawrence’, yet:

the virtue of speaking out is somewhat diminished if what one speaks is not sense. And unless we know exactly what Mr. Forster means by greatest, imaginative and novelist, I submit that his judgement is meaningless (Eliot’s italics; Eliot 1930).

9Lawrence did not earn an obituary notice in The Criterion, but within the year, he did have an article published on him with the title ‘The Perversity of D.H. Lawrence’ (Thomas 1930). As Leavis would later describe it, thus the enemy had ‘maligned and slighted and dismissed’ (Leavis 1937, 367).

10By way of an interlude, we might recall here that this full and final dismissal of an author on account of a variety of apparently well considered grounds by the ‘dismissing agency’ is hardly a unique instance. As we all know, The Waste Land had, at least initially, provoked a similarly decisive dismissal. The Waste Land had appeared in the October 1922 issue, the very first issue, of The Criterion and the reviewers soon after its publication wondered if they were being subjected to a prank. Amy Lowell had famously remarked: ‘I think it is a piece of tripe’ (Brown 1938). The writers in Time and New York Herald-Tribune were suspicious of a hoax. Charles Powell wrote in The Manchester Guardian:

The thing is a mad medley. It has a plan, because its author says so: and presumably, it has some meaning because he speaks of its symbolism. But meaning, plan, and intention alike are massed behind a smoke screen […]. For the rest one can say that if Mr Eliot had been pleased to write in demotic English, The Waste Land might not have been […] so much waste paper. (Powell 1923, 9)

11And again, as we would all agree, the early reviewers can be forgiven in hind sight for their atrocious judgements upon what eventually became the very icon of the life and mind of the times, because Eliot had snatched new sentiments, wrought new words, and fashioned new forms to articulate the spirit of a new age. But how does one respond to Eliot’s judgement of Lawrence?

12A critical assessment of Eliot’s reading of Lawrence would reveal how erratic it was considered, for example, by F.R. Leavis. Dr. Leavis’s view of Lawrence is actually well-known. He maintained that

not only he is our last great writer; he is still the great writer of our own phase of civilization. The question and stresses that preoccupied him have still the most urgent relevance for us today. The way things have developed since his death has had no tendency to make his diagnostic insight the less important to us, or the positive enlivening and enlightenment—the education—he brings the less necessary. (Leavis 1973, 9)

13And if the major novelists, we would recall, Leavis had said in The Great Tradition, promote ‘awareness of the possibilities of life’ (Leavis 1974, 10), Lawrence for him had ‘an unfailingly sure sense of the difference between that which makes for life and that which makes against it; of the difference between health and that which tends away from health’ (Leavis 1974, 10). Leavis believed his task in his book on Lawrence was to ‘win recognition for Lawrence, and to kill the currency of the grosser misconceptions and prejudices’ (Leavis 1973, 10) surrounding Lawrence’s reputation. The primary source of such misconception, Leavis believed, was Eliot. He quotes the Cambridge Journal for authority where a commentator had remarked: ‘With one or two exceptions critics since Lawrence’s death have tended to follow the lead of Mr Eliot in After Strange Gods (quoted in Leavis 1973, 370). No wonder Leavis defiantly seeks to subvert the lead offered by Eliot. He counters Eliot blow by blow. To Eliot’s remarks on Lawrence’s lack of education, intellectual ability, ability to think at all and social training and the charge of bad writing and a lack of a sense of humour, Leavis asserts reasoned and firm dissent. When Eliot draws attention to ‘the crippling effect upon men of letters, of not having been brought up in the environment of a living and central tradition’ (Eliot 1934, 53) with Lawrence as an example, Leavis says:

  • 3 F.R. Leavis here is responding to Eliot’s ‘Foreword’ to D.H. Lawrence and Human Existence by Father (...)

It is when I come to these things in Mr Eliot that I find myself saying: ‘I am a fellow-countryman of D.H. Lawrence’. Mr Eliot is not—the fact that is in any case sufficiently obvious insists here upon recognition. For no educated Englishman of Mr Eliot’s generation and Mr Eliot’s intelligence could so confidently have expressed such ignorance. (Leavis 1951, 68)3

He goes on to point out that Lawrence had

enjoyed advantages that a writer middle-class born could not have had: the positive experience and a freedom both from illusion and the debilitating sense of ignorance. On the other hand, gifted as he was, there was nothing to prevent him from getting to know life at other social levels. (Leavis 1951, 69)

— and:

Lawrence had an extraordinary active intellectual life enjoyed by that group of young people of which Lawrence was the centre. (Leavis 1951, 69)

14To Eliot’s belief that Lawrence lacked both religion and theology, Leavis asserts how he is not —

impressed by any superiority of religious and theological knowledge in a writer capable of exposing what is to me is shocking essential ignorance that characterizes The Cocktail Partyignorance of the possibilities of life; ignorance of the effect that the play must have on a kind of reader or spectator of whose existence the author appears to be unaware: the reader who has, himself, found serious work to do in the world and is able to be unaffectedly serious about it, who knows what family life is and has helped to bring up children and who, though capable of being interested in Mr Eliot’s poetry, cannot afford cocktail civilization and would reject it, with contempt and boredom, if he could afford it. (Leavis’s italics; Leavis 1951, 70)

15Dr. Leavis goes on to point to ‘Eliot’s ignorance of English cultural history, of the English civilization’ (Leavis 1955, 70). For him, ‘genius in Lawrence was, among other things, supreme intelligence’ (Leavis 1955, 71). He asserts:

If ‘ratiocinative powers’ means anything worth having, then Lawrence’s seem to me superlative; in logical stamina, the power to pursue an organizing process of thought through a wide and difficult tract, with a sustained consistency that is at the same time a delicate fidelity to the complexities of the full concrete experience, Lawrence seems to me to be superior to Mr. Eliot (yes, to the author of Four Quartets). (Leavis 1955, 71)

16Lawrence, for Leavis, had unfailing critical sense, a sureness of touch and was ‘radically free from egotism’ (Leavis 1963, 234) and he considers Studies in Classical American Literature a neglected masterpiece and maintains that moral or religious criticism cannot be a substitute for literary criticism (Leavis 1963, 241). To the charge of sexual morbidity in Lawrence, Leavis reacted:

It is an odd insistence in one whose own attitudes with reference to sex has been, in prose and poetry, almost uniformly negatively—attitude of distaste, disgust, and rejection. (Leavis 1963, 245)

  • 4 In ‘Minority Pamphlets’ series issued by Gordon Fraser.

17Dr. Leavis, one might mention, does not merely rise to the challenge posed by Eliot’s denunciations. Leavis had engaged with Lawrence over a long period of time. He had written a pamphlet on Lawrence in 1930.4 Considering his later enthusiasm for Lawrence, here he appears judicious. ‘Lawrence is not my prophet’, he had written in July 1932. When Scrutiny was founded, it found space for appreciation of Lawrence in many ways from the very first issue. Books and views concerned with Lawrence by Eliot, Aldington, Murry, and Father Tiverton were reviewed or discussed. Leavis reviewed Huxley’s edition of his letters (Leavis 1932) and Phoenix (Leavis 1937), appropriated The Rainbow and Women in Love for inclusion in The Great Tradition and drew attention to, and gave remarkably perceptive account of, the major strength and significance of Lawrence’s tales (Leavis 1974). Scrutiny carried at least ten essays on Lawrence in its last four volumes published from 1950 onwards. Leavis wrote on Lawrence in several other journals after Scrutiny ceased publication after its last issue in October 1953.

18Eliot’s erratic, motivated, and unsubstantiated value-judgements offer sharp contrast to the reasoned arguments offered by Leavis. Eliot’s value-judgements of the kind that have been quoted at length above should remind us of what Northrop Frye said of value-judgements in literary criticism. He vehemently attacks the practice of making value-judgements as being unavoidably subject to what is ‘fashionable’ (Frye 1972b, 67) at a particular time, as well as to ‘one’s sense of social acceptance’ (Frye 1972b, 67) and as such considers them of no lasting significance. In fact, the general view of value-judgement among the students of literature can be summed up as follows: Value-judgements are merely personal, subjective and impressionistic, and therefore highly unreliable and unacceptable; also, that if value- judgements could somehow be made thoroughly objective and freed from the vagaries of individual judgement, it would somehow accord general validity to an otherwise parasitical discipline that literary criticism, according to some, tends to become. Northrop Frye rejects literary criticism which bases its validity on value-judgement of any kind whatsoever. Frye maintains that ‘[t]he sense of value is an individual, unpredictable, variable, incommunicable, indemonstrable, and mainly intuitive reaction to knowledge’ (Frye 1972b, 66), that ‘a writer’s value sense can never be [. . .] part of a critical discussion’ (Frye 1972b, 70), and that ‘the values cannot be demonstrated, the possession of them is realised only by the possessor’ (Frye 1972b, 73). Also, Frye believes, ‘[e]valuative criticism is [. . .] effective only when its evaluations are favourable’ (Frye 1972a, 79). Frye sees an unresolved contradiction between knowledge and value-judgements, though he never defines what knowledge, for him, of literature, as opposed to its appreciation in terms of values, is.

Also, in Anatomy of Criticism Frye proposes:
We have to adopt the hypothesis, then, that just as there is an order of nature behind the natural sciences, so literature is not a pile or aggregate of ‘works’, but an order of words. A belief in an order of nature, however, is an inference from the intelligibility of the natural sciences; and if the natural sciences ever completely demonstrated the order of nature, they would presumably exhaust their subject. Similarly, criticism, if a science, must be totally intelligible, but literature, as the order of words which makes the science possible, is so far as we know, an inexhaustible source of new critical discoveries, and would be even if new works of literature ceased to be written. (Frye 1957, 17)

19Here, one’s urgent response to Northrop Frye can be nothing but a strong desire to defend value-judgements generally, even though not of the kind Eliot offers in the context of Lawrence. In dismissing value-judgements as completely irrelevant, Frye reveals a regrettable lack of appreciation of the very spirit of literature. Movement towards civilized culture is not a movement towards a predetermined goal, or even the accumulation of certain values. It is a process of continuous refinement of values that a culture is possessed of. If literature expands the horizons of culture, value-judgements are of the utmost importance. Without value- judgements, there can be no sense of fact in criticism, no sense of relevance.

  • 5 See, for example, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 19 (...)
  • 6 See, for example, The Logic of Scientific Discovery (1935; Eng. tr. 1959; rpt. London: Hutchinson, (...)

20Frye’s understanding of hypotheses in sciences conforms neither to the explanations set forth by a philosopher of science such as Thomas Kuhn,5 nor do Frye’s critical postulates meet the demands of falsifiability, the criterion established by Karl Popper6 to separate the scientific from the non-scientific. While Frye seems to assume that ‘scientific’ critical theories can be derived from literature, a philosopher of science would respond by pointing out that scientific theories are not derived from data. In scientific theories, inferences are derived from theories, while Frye seeks to infer theories from observations from literature. Observations from literature, at best, can only provide a basis for testing hypotheses. Scientific hypotheses are not derived from observed facts but are invented to account for them, a view that Popper shares with Hempel. When Frye seeks to replace literary critical value-judgements by proposing a kind of data-based ‘scientific’ alternative, he seems to be unaware both of the needs of his own discipline as also the very mode of scientific thought.

21In proposing an alternative framework for literary criticism in which value- judgements play no part, which is in some way mechanically specific, Frye, for example, betrays not only a failure to appreciate the true nature of literary criticism as practised by critics from Dryden to Leavis, he also reveals a regrettable lack of adequate acquaintance with the functioning of scientific thought. A science is not a block of concrete, impregnable and impenetrable and therefore in some way embodying the final truth. A scientific thought, theory, or judgement is not a never- changing fact with an in-built unfailing finality, a view of the scientific disciplines commonly held by the uninformed. A scientific theory is truly scientific only when it admits falsifiability. Hypotheses are workable when they can be proved wrong and facts are held to be facts until they are proved incorrect. Along with many who share this viewpoint, Frye holds the mythical view of science in which facts are final, theories beyond the reach of question, and laws forever unalterable. In proposing a science of literary criticism, Frye in no way improves upon the so-called unscientific approaches to literary criticism which he appears to resent so much. The fact is that Frye fails to appreciate both the given and the alternative he seeks to promote.

22In fact, if we look back we would find that Dryden was one of the first to judge by the rule. But he himself remarked that, on the one hand, personal preferences or taste cannot be taken as the criteria of poetic value in a work of literature, and on the other, that it is possible to ground the rules on objective principles and to support them on reasoned arguments. In addition, Dryden had pointed out, such principles are not dogmatic, since they are not claimed to be demonstrative. In short, there is a middle ground between individual taste, or personal and subjective, impressionistic, judgement, and the arbitrary law, that combines the two, in which sound criticism ought to operate (Ker I 1926, 110–33). This viewpoint can be illustrated from Dryden’s A Defense of An Essay of Dramatic Poesy, and, of course, this is to be found consistently operative in his later writings, too. In Defense, Dryden observes:

The liking or disliking of the people gives the play the demonstration of good or bad, but does not really make or constitute as such. To please the people ought to be the poet’s aim, because the plays are made for their delight; but it does not follow they are always pleased with good plays, or that the plays that please them are always good. (Ker I 1926, 120)

23Dryden more than once distinguishes between a blind admirer and a true critic. A true critic, for him, not only loves poetry but understands it also. Dryden defends himself at one point because he admires not ‘blindly’ but ‘knowingly’ (Ker I 1926, 115).

24Again, he says: ‘[. . .] if nature be to be imitated, then there is a rule for imitating Nature rightly, otherwise there may be an end and no means of conducing to it’ (Ker I 1926, 123)meaning thereby, that art is a skill directed to some end and the existence of an end implies some means of attaining it, too. Now, having emphasised the significance of rules, as the foregoing remark quoted from the Defense reveals, Dryden goes on to assert that he makes no claim to the certainty of rules. Both in the Essay and the Defense he suggests that he considers his position regarding rules very reasonable, but does not claim that its validity has been established beyond doubt. He is never dogmatic about it, saying:

[S]o having laid down that nature is to be imitated, and that preposition proving the next, that then there are means which conduce to the imitation of nature, I dare proceed no further positively; but having laid down some opinions of the ancients and the moderns, and of my own, as means which they used, and which I thought probable for attaining of that end. (Ker I 1926, 123)

25Since the rules are confessed to be merely probable, his position could not be called dogmatic; on the other hand, since they have sufficient plausibility to justify assent he also avoids the opposite extreme of anarchic individualism.

26It is certainly odd that a neat distinction between an objective response to literatureand to the cynic there is no such thing as a completely objective response to literatureand an impressionistic, personal, and subjective response to literature is often taken for granted. The fact of the matter, one might propose, is that in practice, genuine critics in the past and presentwhether a neo-classicist such as Dryden, a romantic critic such as Coleridge, or an avowed ‘classicist’ such as Eliot, or someone writing in the tradition of Coleridge, Arnold, and Eliot, a critic such as Leavishave never recognised an insurmountable barrier between one’s personal response and its objective, demonstrable validity. A single work of art provokes a wide variety of responses, but what is common to responses that critics like Dryden, Coleridge, Eliot or Leavis bring to bear upon a work of literature is the fact that while ‘dead laws’ are never permitted to ‘judge’ ‘living literature’ (Eliot’s phrases; Eliot 1926), an instantaneous, impressionistic and subjective response has never been considered valid either.

27While the detractors of value-judgement in literary criticism have taken its illusory character for granted and have, therefore, sought a firmer ground from which to appreciate literature and have presumed its total lack of any theoretical, objective, or demonstrable basis, the fact is that sophisticated personal value- judgements have always been based, paradoxically, on certain objective principles. The resolution between these two apparent extremes is achieved through a critical sensibility which is essentially a literary sensibility, a sensibility which achieves its profoundly systematic character from the fine balance it achieves between guiding principles and spontaneous response. A critic’s judgement may be personal yet it derives its strength and validity from carefully considered opinion and a sensibility that is nurtured on the works of literature. Leavis’s use of the term ‘trained sensibility’ and Frye’s phrase, ‘trained imagination’, impart the same suggestion. As Wellek and Warren point out, ‘reasoned judgement, in matters of literature cannot be formulated save on the basis of some sensibility’ and the sensibility ‘judge[s] in detail and judge[s] while analysing instead of making the judgement a pronouncement in the final paragraph’ (Wellek and Warren 1968, 251).

28Value-judgements, thus, have a place in literary criticism. They are not merely impressionistic, personal, and subjective; they involve judgement, knowledge, taste, and thought, and have a degree of demonstrable objectivity. Dryden as critic certainly gives evidence not only of the awareness of the nature and significance of value-judgements; he stands as precursor who taught his successor how to exercise them.

In ‘James as Critic’ Leavis had summed up Henry James’ view:
In respect of any art one takes seriously, one has to make value-judgements, since a real response entails this: it entails forming an implicit critical sense of the human significance of the art in question, and the demand of intelligence is that one should bring one’s sense to conscious definition. (Leavis 1957)

29On the subject of value-judgement in literary criticism, Eliot himself has much useful thinking to offer. He has never recognised an insurmountable barrier between one’s personal response and its objective, demonstrable validity. If for Eliot ‘dead laws’ can never be permitted to ‘judge’ ‘living literature’, [Eliot’s phrases that I quote above], he does not consider an instantaneous, impressionistic and subjective response valid either. If in his admiration for Donne and Dryden, and the eighteenth century in general, in his harsh treatment of the Romantic poets, and disparagement of D. H. Lawrence, and, of course, as an avowed ‘classicist in literature’, Eliot gives the impression of neo-classical tendencies, his poetic practice, especially in the forms that he ultimately chose to embody his poetic vision in, yields some ‘romantic’ flavour. And the resultant contradiction was consciously resolved by Eliot when he wrote in The Dial a year after The Waste Land was published that classicism is not an alternative to ‘romanticism’, as of political parties, conservatives and liberal, Republican and Democratic on a ‘turn-the-rascals-out- platform’ (Eliot 1923). He writes:

It is a goal, towards which all good literature strives, so far as it is good according to possibilities of its place and time. One can be classical, in a sense, by turning away from the nine-tenths of the material which is at hand and selecting only mummified stuff from a museum. [. . .] Or one can be classical in tendency by doing the best one can with the material at hand. [. . .] And in this material, I include the emotions and feelings of the writer himself. (Eliot 1923, 482)

30A few years later, writing in The Criterion, Eliot remarked that ‘modern tendency among contemporary literary journals is toward something which, for want of a better name, we may call classicism’ (Eliot 1926, 5) and, for him, ‘it was a tendencydiscernible even in arttoward a higher and clearer conception of Reason, and a more severe and serene control of the emotions by Reason’ (Eliot 1923, 482). Yet, he warned the reader, ‘We must scrupulously guard ourselves against measuring living art and mind by dead laws of order. Art reflects the transitory as well as the permanent condition of the soul; we cannot wholly measure the present by what the past has been or what the future may be’ (Eliot 1926, 5). Eliot’s treatment of Lawrence does not give the impression that he had begun to practice what he had sought to theorize so elegantly. In the ultimate analysis, how does one, then, respond to Eliot’s judgement of Lawrence?

31There is much that can be faulted in Eliot’s judgement of Lawrence. Leavis’s detailed remarks tell us where the errors lie. Frye gives a clue to it too: it’s being ‘fashionable’ at a particular time, as well as to ‘one’s sense of social acceptance’ (Frye 1972b, 67) had much to do with it. There is little doubt that Eliot’s quiet confidence sprang from his lack of adequate acquaintance with Lawrence, and its negation owes much to a mind that was determined to negate. Also, Eliot’s insistence on class and religion led to a major failure of the critical impulse.

32Eliot had reviewed John Middleton Murry’s book on Lawrence in The Criterion (Eliot 1931), that I have referred to above, and he found it ‘a brilliant book’ and ‘a definitive work of critical biography, or biographical criticism’ (Eliot 1931). He also said of the book: ‘The victim and the sacrificial knife are perfectly adapted to it’ (Eliot 1931). The predisposition that Eliot had worked up towards Lawrence in almost all stages in his literary critical career says much about his ability to drop out of the ‘common pursuit of true judgement’ at will. About Eliot’s metaphorical and sharp-edged comment on Murry’s book that I have quoted above, Dr. Leavis wrote: ‘It is a memorable formulationone of those neat and confident strokes (both ‘placed’, and Lawrence placed with Murry) in which Mr Eliot’s impulses have so often betrayed him’ (Leavis 1973, 12).

33Eliot’s failure here stands out in glaring contrast to his contribution to the intellectual life of an age over a long and distinguished career. Peter Scott has said of Eliot’s social criticism: ‘Eliot’s political modesty and self restraint should be counted among his positive achievements. His quest for sanity, and his partial achievement of it, should not be slighted in a century so bent on nightmares (Moody 1994, 73). Eliot’s blind spot in respect of Lawrence would perhaps continue to be regarded as a matter of mystifying curiosity.

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Brown, E.K., ‘Mr Eliot and Some Enemies’, University of Toronto Quarterly 8 (1938) 81.

Dryden, John, A Defense of An Essay of Dramatic Poesy (1668), ed. W.P. Ker, 2 vols, 1900, Oxford: Oxford UP, 1926, 110–33.

Eliot, T.S., The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism, London: Faber and Faber, 1933.

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1 New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, Inc., 1934. The British edition was published by Faber and Faber in the same year but has different pagination.

2 Eliot had reviewed John Middleton Murry’s Son of Woman: The Story of D. H. Lawrence (1931) in the July 1931 issue of The Criterion.

3 F.R. Leavis here is responding to Eliot’s ‘Foreword’ to D.H. Lawrence and Human Existence by Father William Tiverton [Martin Jarrett-Kerr], London: Rockliff, 1951, in a review, ‘Mr Eliot and Lawrence’, which appeared in Scrutiny: A Quarterly Review, 181 (1951), 6673. Page numbers following the quotations above are to the review as it appeared in Scrutiny. But the review can be easily accessed in ‘APPENDIX: Mr Eliot and Lawrence’, D. H. Lawrence: Novelist (1955, Penguin Books, 1973), 367377.

4 In ‘Minority Pamphlets’ series issued by Gordon Fraser.

5 See, for example, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962).

6 See, for example, The Logic of Scientific Discovery (1935; Eng. tr. 1959; rpt. London: Hutchinson, 1972); also Magee, Brian, ‘The Criterion of Demarcation between what is and what is not Science’, Popper (1973; rpt. London: Collins, 1975), 3555.

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Gulshan R. Taneja, « Eliot, Leavis, Lawrence: Nature and Significance of Value-judgement in Literary Criticism »Études britanniques contemporaines [En ligne], 33 | 2008, mis en ligne le 07 juillet 2020, consulté le 15 juillet 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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Gulshan R. Taneja

University of Delhi

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