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Whose 'Great Tradition'?

If I could send something from the present into the literary past it would be a shrink to the mind of F R Leavis (amongst others). The man was obsessed with Jane Austen and her place on his throne as the monarch of the Great Tradition of the 'English Novel'. I hang those words from the fingertips because he also allows Henry James and Joseph Conrad to be her courtiers in this faraway palace. The former was American (whatever that is/was) and the latter, Polish. He also grants the role of lady-in-waiting to George Eliot. I have been quite verbose in earlier posts about Austen - i.e. She wasn't fit to clean the boots of the Brontes! If we can thank Austen for any tradition it is that of the silly, the trifling, the middling; her tradition leads onto nought more than Mills and Boon, and chick-lit. I think it may have been different if Aphra Behn had taken the title - as mother of the novel (1688) she was considered a slut for earning a living by the pen in her own lifetime. She had guts, just, it has to be said, like the later women characters of Defoe, another one who, in Leavis' mind, does not even warrant a full mention. Henry James! From Behn we rightfully lead to the Brontes. Leavis had good social intentions, like Im sure many dictators thought they had, but he was somewhat blinded, I feel, by this obsession he had for Austen.

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