John Haffenden

John Haffenden’s books include The Life of John Berryman and a two-volume biography of William Empson.

The Queen and I

William Empson and John Haffenden, 26 November 1987

On 27 October 1954 the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh visited the University of Sheffield in order to inaugurate its Jubilee Session. No other reigning sovereign had visited the principal university buildings since King Edward VII opened them in 1905. Six months before the Queen’s visit, the Vice-Chancellor, Professor J.M. Whittaker, put to his recently-appointed Professor of English...

Just what the name ‘Eliot’ conjures up has always been a problem. It was hard even for the man himself.

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Buffed-Up Scholar: Eliot and the Dons

Stefan Collini, 30 August 2012

Writing in his best haughty-provocative manner, T.S. Eliot described Coleridge as ‘one of those unhappy persons … of whom one might say that if they had not been poets, they might...

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‘Disgusting’: remembering William Empson

Frank Kermode, 16 November 2006

In 1940 Empson was back in England, having spent much of the previous decade in Japan and China. His arrival in China had coincided with the Japanese invasion and the resulting southward...

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Replying in 1934 to a Japanese poet who had asked for advice about writing ‘modern’ poetry, William Empson recommended ‘verse with a variety of sorts of feeling in it...

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John Haffenden opens the proceedings with a long extract from one of Empson’s letters and goes on to provide a leisurely commentary on it, so, even if you hadn’t noticed the bulk of...

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Empson has been dead these 16 years, and although his voice was often recorded it now seems difficult to describe it. John Haffenden says he had one voice for poetry and another for prose. Empson...

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Glittering Fiend: John Berryman

Ian Hamilton, 9 December 1999

In one of John Berryman’s more lucid dream songs (No. 364), there is amusing reference to the reading habits of Henry, the song sequence’s screwed up protagonist: O Henry in his...

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Wild Bill

Stephen Greenblatt, 20 October 1994

It would be easy for a reader who was encountering Empson for the first time to wonder what on earth this critical performance was about and why these ragged relics – the second part of a...

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Cold Feet

Frank Kermode, 22 July 1993

William Empson maintained that there was a right and a wrong moment to bring theory into the business of intelligent reading, and that the professionals chose the wrong one, but he could not do...

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David Trotter, 4 February 1988

‘I thought I had best begin by expressing some old-buffer prejudices in general,’ Empson told the British Society of Aesthetics in 1961: ‘but now I will turn to English...

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Golden Boy

Denis Donoghue, 22 December 1983

Auden’s reputation couldn’t have got off to a faster start. In January 1930 Eliot printed ‘Paid on Both Sides’ in the Criterion, and let it be known that he thought its...

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John and Henry

Christopher Reid, 2 December 1982

When John Berryman’s first full-length collection of poems, The Dispossessed, was published in 1948, Yvor Winters wrote a notice of it for the Hudson Review. Here Winters drew attention to...

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Best Things

Alan Hollinghurst, 20 August 1981

By and large we are interested in the thoughts, opinions and intentions of writers we are interested in, and by and large writers are keen to express these things in reviews, essays and memoirs...

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