Collini has long been interested in the role of intellectuals, and more particularly literary critics, in British public life in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. But in his latest book he examines the tendentious—though not explicitly acknowledged—uses of historical generalization in a number of twentieth-century critics in Britain, beginning with T. S. Eliot, whose vague but pregnant pronouncement on the “dissociation of sensibility” since the seventeenth century insinuated itself into critical discourse as if it were an incontestable fact. Apart from Eliot, Collini focuses mostly on critics active from the 1930s through the 1950s, “a time when . . . such critics occupied a more prominent place in the national culture than either before or since.” Cambridge is heavily represented among the chosen critics: F. R. Leavis, Basil Willey, L. C. Knights, William Empson, Q. D. Leavis, Richard Hoggart, and Raymond Williams (whose Culture and Society appeared in 1958).

The...

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