Boris Ford

Boris Ford an emeritus professor of education at the University of Bristol, is the editor of the New Pelican Guide to English Literature and of the Cambridge Guide to the Arts in Britain. He is now editing a series of books on the arts and civilisation of the Western world.

Manly Decency

Boris Ford, 23 April 1992

To arrive in Cambridge to study English literature with F.R. Leavis in the mid-Thirties was an act, on my part, of unconsciously astute timing. Since coming to Downing in 1932 as Director of Studies in English, he had written New Bearings in English Poetry and Revaluation, among other books, and had helped to launch Scrutiny. His reputation for iconoclastic criticism, his demotion of Milton compared with Dryden, Pope, and the ‘Line of Wit’, or of Shelley compared with Wordsworth and Keats, underpinned by his close reading of ‘the words on the page’, had linked his name with Richards and Empson, two other Cambridge figures whose work had blown gusts of fresh air across the face of English literary studies.

Maerdy Diary: The last pit closes

Boris Ford, 21 February 1991

As the miners’ lamps at Maerdy, the last of the working pits in the Rhondda, are extinguished for the third and no doubt the last time, a short chapter in my revolutionary past comes back into sharp focus. It was at the end of my first year at Cambridge, in 1937, that I accepted a suggestion from Kay Garland, a fellow student, that we should go off to the Gower Peninsula for a fortnight and help run an inter-universities’ camp for unemployed miners from South Wales. There was a great deal of unemployment in the mining community, especially in the Rhondda, where many pits had been closed down in the depression of the early Thirties. And so, for card-carrying student comrades like ourselves, going off to help unemployed miners in South Wales seemed at least a modest, if feeble alternative to going off to fight with the embattled miners in Spain.


The Buttocks Problem

5 September 1996

Paul Foot’s reference to F.E. McEachran as a rare and civilised teacher is, I suspect, more ironic than he realises (LRB, 5 September). For when, in the Thirties, McEachran was teaching at Gresham’s School in Norfolk, he became involved in a farcical and rather tragic episode to do with beating that resulted in his resignation.McEachran was one of those eccentrics who are only employable...

My Nirvana

19 October 1995

Duncan Campbell’s review of The Autobiography of a Thief (LRB, 19 October) convinces me that it must have been Bruce Reynolds who delivered one of the great utterances of the 20th century, one that should not be lost to posterity. He was being interviewed on Radio 4 about the possibilty of Biggs returning to England and was asked what people like Biggs and himself hoped to get out of big robberies....

Gentle Questions

6 April 1995

Peter Wollen’s copiously documented article (LRB, 6 April) about Virginia Woolf’s involvements with British feminism, European Modernism and its attendant sexual revolution, and with her own social-intellectual milieu raised an uneasy question or two in my mind. For in the midst of his 630 lines there appear the following six: ‘James King’s new biography, punctilious but pedestrian,...

The Good Old Days

26 January 1995

In his account of the political and ideological circumstances in which the Beveridge and Borrie Reports emerged. Ross McKibbin describes the remarkable ‘politicisation’ of many in the Forties ‘for whom overt political discussion had been hitherto unacceptable’ (LRB, 26 January). He attributes ‘the intensity of public discussion’ at that period in part, at least,...


4 August 1994

Gerald Long’s assertion that ‘there are no limericks in French’ (Letters, 18 August) reminds me of a dilemma that faced me some years ago when I was invited to deliver the concluding speech at an Anglo-Canadian conference of adult educators. I was required to provide a commentary on the discussions held during the previous three days, and thus the speech had, in theory, to be composed...

The View from on High

24 February 1994

Towards the end of his excellent Diary on anti-Rushdie pathology (LRB, 24 February), Christopher Hitchens stated that on matters of blasphemy the Vatican, the See of Canterbury and the Rabbinate identify with the Ayatollah. This struck me as improbable, not least because identifying with the Ayatollah would imply sharing his view that blasphemy should be punished by death. I therefore wrote to the...

Manly Decency

23 April 1992

It is not, as Mr Kinch surmises (Letters, 14 May), my imagination that runs away with me but, quite possibly, my memory. I had it from Dr Leavis himself that he often sat with Q in his study drinking his most excellent – whisky, I’m sure he said. But if Queenie Leavis says that her husband never would touch whisky, then what touched their lips was brandy. And I believe Leavis occasionally...

The Great Mary

13 September 1990

John Sutherland’s handsomely produced and handsomely reviewed biography of Mrs Humphry Ward might lead unwary general readers to suppose that Mrs Ward is an established classic of English literature. Not having read any of her novels themselves (in all probability), they may now be setting out to buy a copy of Helbeck of Bannisdale, described by your reviewer Dinah Birch as ‘an impressive...


22 February 1990

When reading (if I may venture to use so tempestuous a term) the review by Terence Hawkes and the subsequent letters (Letters, 14 June) from John Drakakis and Alan Sinfield, I found myself speculating when they last read one of Shakespeare’s major plays as they might perhaps listen to one of Bach’s unaccompanied cello sonatas or Mozart’s string quintets: because they find them profoundly...

‘New Pelican Guide’

2 September 1982

SIR: Marilyn Butler’s article about the New Pelican Guide to English Literature (LRB, 2 September) is such an odd jumble of notions and assertions, such an exercise in the art of giving but then taking, that I hope you will allow me to offer a modest account of what the Guide (now the New Guide) is about. Mrs Butler seems to be indignant that the Guide has continued in being for so long and is...

Seeing through Fuller

Nicholas Penny, 30 March 1989

It has been respectable for some while now to admit to being bored by the huge, flat, ‘pure’ abstracts on the white walls of the museums of modern art. And yet non-representational...

Read More

Textual Harassment

Claude Rawson, 5 April 1984

In a recent review in this paper, Edward Said used the word ‘narrative’ about thirty times. This might have seemed a lot even in the present state of litcritspeak, and even in an...

Read More


Marilyn Butler, 2 September 1982

It is a current preoccupation on the Left, more fashionable now among many students of English than Post-Structuralism, that English Literature as an academic subject is a conspiracy of the...

Read More

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.

Newsletter Preferences