Christopher Hilliard
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Scrutiny abroad
Literary criticism and the colonial public
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This chapter explores the imperial careers of the literary and cultural criticism of F. R. Leavis and his collaborators on the Cambridge journal Scrutiny (1932-1953). For the Scrutiny group, a training in close reading promised a way of resisting the seductions of contemporary culture and a means of engaging with what was authentic and sustaining in the European tradition. The active commitment of “Leavisite” school teachers and adult education tutors turned a Cambridge school into a broader-based and self-described “movement”. The Scrutiny tradition held in tension a variety of ideas and practices that could serve different intellectual and political ends, underwriting both conservative and “left-Leavisite” cultural criticism and educational initiatives. The Scrutiny project was also appropriated in unexpected ways in colonial settings, not only buttressing the claims of metropolitan culture, but also offering models for interpreting indigenous and settler-colonial literatures. This chapter begins with a survey of the intellectual and institutional networks linking “Cambridge English” to the empire, and then examines the ways in which the Scrutiny group’s early work, especially Q. D. Leavis’s path-breaking study of bestsellers, Fiction and the Reading Public (1932), provided models for the study of “colonial” or “national” literatures as cultural formations—in the cases of India, Australia, New Zealand, and Scotland.

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