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Gravity’s Python

Raymond Williams, 4 December 1980

From Fringe to Flying Circus 
by Roger Wilmut.
Eyre Methuen, 264 pp., £7.95, October 1980, 0 413 46950 6
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... What is the difference between a satirist and an impressionist? I don’t know – what is the difference between a satirist and an impressionist? The sad little question is properly cast in the form of a comic routine. There must be some people, perhaps most of us some of the time, who can look back on the wit of the last twenty years and simply revive old laughter ...

Ruskin among others

Raymond Williams, 20 June 1985

John Ruskin: The Early Years 
by Tim Hilton.
Yale, 301 pp., £12.95, May 1985, 0 300 03298 6
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... 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 ...

English Brecht

Raymond Williams, 16 July 1981

Collected Plays: Life of Galileo 
by Bertolt Brecht, edited by Ralph Manheim, translated by John Willett.
Methuen, 264 pp., £7.50, October 1980, 0 413 39070 5
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Collected Plays: Mother Courage and her Children 
by Bertolt Brecht, edited by Ralph Manheim and John Willett, translated by John Willett.
Methuen, 154 pp., £7.50, January 1980, 0 413 39780 7
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Collected Plays: The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui 
by Bertolt Brecht, edited by John Willett and Ralph Manheim, translated by Ralph Manheim.
Methuen, 144 pp., £7.50, August 1981, 0 413 47270 1
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... Bert Brecht, the Communist poet and playwright, has become a cultural monument. Is it then not time, he might ask, to consider blowing him up? One of the problems is this kind of tough talk. A certain recklessness of language, a down-to-earth bluntness, has been widely received as his most valuable legacy. It is what makes him, some say, an essentially popular writer ...

The Red and the Green

Raymond Williams, 3 February 1983

Socialism and Survival 
by Rudolf Bahro, translated by David Fernbach.
Heretic Books, 160 pp., £6.95, December 1982, 9780946097029
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Capitalist Democracy in Britain 
by Ralph Miliband.
Oxford, 76 pp., £8.95, November 1982, 0 19 827445 9
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Socialist Register 1982 
edited by Martin Eve and David Musson.
Merlin, 314 pp., £8.50, November 1982, 9780850362923
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... Some very important changes in socialist ideas are now beginning to come through in Europe. Yet at the surface of politics they are invisible in Britain, even though there are those here who have contributed to them. Where they have become visible at the surface, as most notably in the rise of the Green Party in the German Federal Republic, they are still commonly interpreted as a local ‘ecological’ variation, without long-term effect on the main body of socialist institutions and ideas ...

Past Masters

Raymond Williams, 25 June 1987

Joachim of Fiore and the Myth of the Eternal Evangel in the 19th Century 
by Marjorie Reeves and Warwick Gould.
Oxford, 365 pp., £35, March 1987, 0 19 826672 3
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Beauty and Belief: Aesthetics and Religion in Victorian Literature 
by Hilary Fraser.
Cambridge, 287 pp., £25, January 1987, 0 521 30767 8
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The Correspondence of John Ruskin and Charles Eliot Norton 
edited by John Bradley and Ian Ousby.
Cambridge, 537 pp., £45, April 1987, 0 521 32091 7
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... 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’? ‘Aggregate of symbols’, ‘vague and powerful assumptions’, ‘more or less imbued’: whatever the actual history, these phrases bear the mark of very recent times; all were written, in fact, within the last twenty years ...

Desire

Raymond Williams, 17 April 1986

Landscape for a Good Woman: A Story of Two Lives 
by Carolyn Steedman.
Virago, 164 pp., £3.95, April 1986, 0 86068 559 4
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... 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 ...

Community

Raymond Williams, 24 January 1985

The Taliesin Tradition: A Quest for the Welsh Identity 
by Emyr Humphreys.
Black Raven, 245 pp., £10.95, April 1984, 0 85159 002 0
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Jones: A Novel 
by Emyr Humphreys.
Dent, 144 pp., £8.95, July 1984, 0 460 04660 8
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Wales! Wales? 
by Dai Smith.
Allen and Unwin, 173 pp., £9.95, March 1984, 0 04 942185 9
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The Matter of Wales: Epic Views of a Small Country 
by Jan Morris.
Oxford, 442 pp., £12.50, November 1984, 0 19 215846 5
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... in industrial South Wales, is that the remarkable school of modern historians of which Gwyn A. Williams is the leading member and to which Dai Smith is a vigorous contributor, had no sooner got their work into print, in what was consciously described as a restoration of memory, than events as dramatic as they had described, and in some cases uncannily of ...

Isn’t the news terrible?

Raymond Williams, 3 July 1980

More Bad News 
Routledge, 502 pp., £17.50, April 1980, 0 7100 0414 1Show More
The whole world is watching 
by Todd Gitlin.
California, 350 pp., £7.75, June 1980, 0 520 03889 4
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... I see the news is bad again.’ The banal phrase punctuates my memories of the late 1930s. I remember an adolescent anger that people would not name the things that were happening: the invasion of Austria; the cession of the Sudetenland; the invasions of Czechoslovakia and Albania – all packaged as ‘the news’. While in London it no doubt seenmed ridiculous that Chamberlain referred to Czechoslovakia as a far-off country of which we knew little or nothing ...

Distance

Raymond Williams, 17 June 1982

... The most arresting image on television, in recent weeks, has been the stylish map of the world which introduces Newsnight. It does not show the Falkland/Malvinas islands. The problems of television during this crisis can be referred to familiar frames: the issues of control and independence; of the quality of reporting; of access and balance in discussion ...

Torches for Superman

Raymond Williams, 21 November 1985

By the Open Sea 
by August Strindberg, translated by Mary Sandbach.
Secker, 193 pp., £8.95, October 1984, 0 436 50008 6
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August Strindberg 
by Olof Lagercrantz, translated by Anselm Hollo.
Faber, 399 pp., £20, September 1984, 0 571 11812 7
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Strindberg: A Biography 
by Michael Meyer.
Secker, 651 pp., £25, October 1985, 0 436 27852 9
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... 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 ...

A Man without Frustration

Raymond Williams, 17 May 1984

Record of a Life: An Autobiography 
by Georg Lukacs, edited by Istvan Eörsi.
Verso, 204 pp., £15, March 1984, 0 86091 071 7
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Lukacs Revalued 
edited by Agnes Heller.
Blackwell, 204 pp., £17.50, September 1983, 0 631 13159 0
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The Young Lukacs 
by Lee Congdon.
North Carolina, 235 pp., £15.75, May 1983, 0 8078 1538 1
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... It is still very difficult, in the English-speaking world, to focus the work of Lukacs. Any full understanding of it depends on a familiarity with classical German philosophy and with the intellectual development of Marxism which is still relatively uncommon in our language. The intricacy of the current international discussion of various phases of his thought contrasts very sharply with the few relatively general impressions which most of us have been able to register, even through careful study of those more readily accessible works which are said to be his most significant ...

Cambridge English and Beyond

Raymond Williams, 7 July 1983

... Was there ever, in fact, a ‘Cambridge English’? Not as in ‘Oxford English’, which refers in its most general use to a manner of speaking: but in the sense of a distinctive and coherent course and method of study. There has been an English Tripos in Cambridge since 1917, and an independent Tripos and Faculty since 1926. I realised recently that I had been in contact with English at Cambridge for two-thirds of this history, since I came as an undergraduate in 1939 ...

Making It Up

Raphael Samuel, 4 July 1996

Raymond Williams 
by Fred Inglis.
Routledge, 333 pp., £19.99, October 1995, 0 415 08960 3
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... This biography opens with a vivid chapter on Raymond Williams’s funeral. Entitled ‘Prologue, in Memoriam’, it transports the reader to Clodock Church, ‘a plain little building’ in the foothills of the Black Mountains. It is a comfortless day, Fred Inglis tells us. ‘The light fell crooked and the road fell wrong ...

Remembering the taeog

D.A.N. Jones, 30 August 1990

People of the Black Mountains. Vol. II: The Eggs of the Eagle 
by Raymond Williams.
Chatto, 330 pp., £13.99, August 1990, 0 7011 3564 6
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In the Blue Light of African Dreams 
by Paul Watkins.
Heinemann, 282 pp., £13.99, August 1990, 0 09 174307 9
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Friedrich Harris: Shooting the hero 
by Philip Purser.
Quartet, 250 pp., £12.95, May 1990, 0 7043 2759 7
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The Journey Home 
by Dermot Bolger.
Viking, 294 pp., £13.99, June 1990, 0 670 83215 4
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Evenings at Mongini’s 
by Russell Lucas.
Heinemann, 262 pp., £12.95, January 1990, 0 434 43646 1
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... 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 ‘People of the Black Mountains’, his uncompleted ‘historical novel’. There are 17 short stories or sketches, rather dismal slices of life in south-eastern Wales, between the Wye and the Usk: they are set in six different centuries, from AD 82 to 1415 ...

Dark Spaces

Dinah Birch, 28 September 1989

People of the Black Mountains: The Beginning 
by Raymond Williams.
Chatto, 361 pp., £13.95, September 1989, 0 7011 2845 3
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The Politics of Modernism 
by Raymond Williams.
Verso, 208 pp., £24, August 1989, 0 86091 241 8
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A Natural Curiosity 
by Margaret Drabble.
Viking, 309 pp., £12.95, September 1989, 0 670 82837 8
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... is neither the only tradition nor the first language to have grown up within these islands. 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 written records. People of the Black Mountains is in ...

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