QD Leavis was born Queenie Dorothy Roth at Edmonton, North London, on 7th December 1906, the eldest child of Morris and Jane Roth. She attended the Latymer School in Edmonton and came up to Girton College in 1925 to read English. Among her supervisors was Frank Raymond Leavis, whom she married in 1929. In the same year she won a research fellowship which enabled her to work for her PhD, under the supervision of I A Richards. Her thesis was published in 1932 as 'Fiction and the Reading Public'.
Q D Leavis and F R Leavis had three children: Ralph, born in 1934 and educated at Dartington Hall and Oxford, who showed prodigious musical talent; Kate, born in 1939, who also went up to Oxford, and then held administrative posts successively with the London County Council, the Greater London Council, the Inner London Education Authority and the Continuing Education Department of the University of East Anglia; and Robin, born in 1944, who went to Clare College, Cambridge and became a lecturer in English in the Netherlands. The family lived first at 6 Chesterton Hall Crescent in F R Leavis' childhood home, then at 16 Newton Road, and later at 12 Bulstrode Gardens.
Through much of her life Q D Leavis suffered from chronic illness while bearing the brunt of the domestic and family work of the Leavis household. She did not, however, believe that running a household and family necessarily hinders creativity and intellectual thought. A generous hostess to generations of students, her hospitality was well known in Cambridge.
'Scrutiny: A Quarterly Review', a literary periodical, was published by F R Leavis from 1932-1953. Q D Leavis not only undertook a considerable proportion of the typing and editorial business but also made nearly fifty contributions of her own, on fiction and the sociology of the literary world. She typed all of F R Leavis' work as well as her own, making suggestions as she did so. She also produced other work in collaboration with F R Leavis, notably 'Dickens the Novelist' in 1970, in addition to her individual work, which included essays, review and lectures. During the 1960s and 1970s, Q D Leavis taught students for the English tripos at a number of Cambridge colleges, although she never received any formal academic recognition.
F R Leavis' health began to fail in 1977 and Q D Leavis nursed him at home until his death in April 1978. She continued to lecture after his death, when she could: her last lecture, on 'The Englishness of the English Novel', was delivered as the Annual Literature Lecture at the Cheltenham Festival of 1980. She died of heart failure in Cambridge on 17th March 1981. Many of her essays and lectures were published posthumously.
Girton College holds some personal papers of Q D Leavis, together with Leavis related papers accumulated by members of her family (chiefly her daughter, Kate Varney), and papers acquired from other sources, including former students and friends of Q D Leavis, because of Q D Leavis' early connection with Girton College. All of these papers have been gathered under the heading of Q D Leavis for ease of reference. She is referred to throughout the catalogue as Q D Leavis as she was known as such throughout her lifetime by friends and family.