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This review is taken from PN Review 45, Volume 12 Number 1, September - October 1985.

BETWEEN TWO WORLDS The New Pelican Guide to English Literature: Vol. 8: The Present, edited by Boris Ford (Penguin) £3.50 pb.
Society and Literature 1945-1970, edited by Alan Sinfield (Methuen) £4.95 pb.

The seven-volume Pelican Guide to English Literature was an outward and visible sign of the triumph of liberal-conservative Leavisism in literary studies in England. Now a new, revised edition has been brought out, and a fresh volume added: The Present. Society and Literature 1945-1970 is the latest in Methuen's 'Context of English Literature' series which, the blurb says, 'sets the literature of different periods directly in its political, historical and cultural context'. This collection of essays exemplifies, in its sociological concern and its underlying (and sometimes overt) political radicalism, significant aspects of the post-Leavis approaches now gaining dominance.

Difficulties are evident in the projects of both books. The Pelican Guide as a whole was heavily influenced by the concept of 'minority culture', but it used the popular format of the paperback, and catered for the expanding student population that Leavis deprecated. This fresh volume runs into particular problems, for the present, at least in a hard Leavisian perspective, is almost beyond hope. Inevitably, the spectre of decline is conjured up, for example by John Holloway in his survey of 'The Literary Scene': 'to recall the great figures of the early years of the century is to decide that something has been generally wanting in the later years'. But a wholly dismissive attitude is clearly impermissible, and Holloway makes a brave attempt at inclusiveness, although it sometimes seems as if he is handling unpleasant substances with tongs.

Society and Literature, however, despite - and partly, of ...


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