The Great Tradition
From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
The Great Tradition: George Eliot, Henry James, Joseph Conrad is a 1948 work of literary theory by F. R. Leavis focused on fiction. In it, Leavis traces the 'canonical' English novel through Jane Austen, George Eliot, Henry James, and Joseph Conrad. Leavis purposely excluded major authors such as Sterne and Hardy.
As a critic of the novel, Leavis’s main tenet stated that great novelists show an intense moral interest in life, and that this moral interest determines the nature of their form in fiction. Authors within this tradition were all characterized by a serious or responsible attitude to the moral complexity of life and included Jane Austen, George Eliot, Henry James, Joseph Conrad, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, Charles Dickens, and D. H. Lawrence. In The Great Tradition Leavis attempted to set out his conception of the proper relation between form/composition and moral interest/art and life. This proved to be a contentious issue in the critical world, as Leavis refused to separate art from life, or the aesthetic or formal from the moral. He insisted that the great novelist’s preoccupation with form was a matter of responsibility towards a rich moral interest, and that works of art with a limited formal concern would always be of lesser quality.