Raymond Williams

Raymond Williams was born in 1921, the son of a Welsh railway worker. His books include Culture and SocietyThe Long Revolution, The Country and the City and Marxism and Literature. He taught at Cambridge for many years and was professor of drama there from 1974 to 1983. He died in 1988.

Past Masters

Raymond Williams, 25 June 1987

What can we possibly say of the claim that ‘the first great revolutionary movements in Europe’ were all ‘more or less imbued with the ideas of Joachim of Fiore’? Or, if ‘more or less’ offers an escape clause, what can we say of another claim: that ‘Joachim created the aggregate of symbols which govern the self-interpretation of modern political society to this day’? Or that ‘it is hardly too much to claim that the vague and powerful assumptions we all make about historical transition have their roots in Joachism’?


Raymond Williams, 17 April 1986

The simplest autobiographies are those which are ratified, given title, by an achieved faith or success. Among these, what passes for success has come to predominate. It is then not surprising that most are either written by ghosts or by the equally ghostly figures of acknowledged reputations. Many of the harder kinds of achievement are too full of other kinds of content, to say nothing of contradictions and uncertainties, to pass easily into a Life. A memoir of some event or experience is one thing; the composition of what can be seriously taken as a whole life experience quite another.

Torches for Superman

Raymond Williams, 21 November 1985

Who carried a torch for August Strindberg? On his 63rd, and last, birthday, some ten thousand people, led by the Stockholm Workers’ Commune with bands and red union banners, marched past the apartment that he called the Blue Tower, after the name of a Danish prison. The ‘Marseillaise’ and ‘other anthems of liberation’ were sung. There were cheers for ‘the People’s Strindberg’ and ‘the King of Poets’.

Ruskin among others

Raymond Williams, 20 June 1985

‘When I was an undergraduate in the early 1960s,’ Mr Hilton writes, ‘I was asked to understand that an interest in Ruskin was as foolish as an enthusiasm for modern art.’ This is incomprehensible, until it is observed from the cover note that Mr Hilton was at Oxford. Even so, either he was very unlucky or this is an example of that interesting and recurrent phenomenon in which a new generation discovers a well-known writer in its own terms and as it were originally. Mr Hilton goes on to speak – with reference to work in Oxford in the mid-1970s – of ‘the avant-garde of the new Ruskin studies’.’


Raymond Williams, 24 January 1985

Two truths are told, as alternative prologues to the action of modern Wales. The first draws on the continuity of Welsh language and literature: from the sixth century, it is said, and thus perhaps the oldest surviving poetic tradition in Europe. The second draws on the turbulent experience of industrial South Wales, over the last two centuries, and its powerful political and communal formations.

Remembering the taeog

D.A.N. Jones, 30 August 1990

Rightly admired as a critic, an interpreter of ‘culture and society’, Raymond Williams was disappointing as a writer of fiction. The Eggs of the Eagle is the second volume of...

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R.W. Johnson, 8 February 1990

Raymond Williams’s death in January 1988 has been followed by an avalanche of obituarial tribute. To some extent, the tributes were a matter of the Left giving a last, sad cheer for one of...

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Dark Spaces

Dinah Birch, 28 September 1989

One of Raymond William’s polemical purposes in People of the Black Mountains, his final fiction, is to affirm that Wales has its own distinct identity, founded in unremembered time which reaches beyond...

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D.A.N. Jones, 21 November 1985

Security is the problem that exercises both Philip Roth and Raymond Williams. The sort of ‘security’ I mean is the sort that spreads a feeling of insecurity – a fear of...

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Denis Donoghue, 2 February 1984

I’ll talk mostly about Towards 2000, so I should give a brief account of Writing in Society and Radical Earnestness to begin with. Radical Earnestness is a brisk survey of a...

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Literature and the Left

Marilyn Butler, 18 August 1983

It is a surprise to find Raymond Williams, in the year of his retirement as Professor of Drama at Cambridge, editing a series called ‘Literature in History’. In a writing career that...

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The Quest for Solidarity

John Dunn, 24 January 1980

The relation between politics and letters is necessarily a dangerous liaison, and the questions which it raises are huge, blunt and disobliging. Acknowledged too readily, it is apt to highlight...

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