The years in which the foreigner Conrad was transformed into an English man of letters began in the ‘Marxizing thirties’, as Leavis would call them, and continued into the decade dominated by the Second World War. After a brief but tantalizing flirtation with Marxism, in the1930s Scrutiny waged a successful academic war against the English version of it. One effect of this victory was to keep political questions out of literary studies for a generation. As Raymond Williams lucidly remarks when discussing Scrutiny’s narrative of ‘the destruction of an organic society by industrialism and by mass civilization’:
In the 1930s this kind of diagnosis overlapped, or seemed to overlap, with other radical interpretations, and especially, perhaps, with the Marxist interpretation of the effects of capitalism. Yet almost at once there was a fundamental hostility between these two groups: a critical engagement between Scrutiny and the English Marxists, which we can have little doubt, looking back, Scrutiny won. But why was this so? That the Scrutiny critics were much closer to literature, were not just fitting it in, rather hastily, to a theory conceived from other kinds, mainly economic kinds, of evidence? I believe this was so, but the real reason was more fundamental. Marxism, as then commonly understood, was weak in just the decisive area where practical criticism was strong: in its capacity to give precise and detailed and reasonably adequate accounts of actual consciousness: not just a scheme or a generalization but actual works, full of rich and significant and specific experience.