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.’ Rooks caw speculatively on the wind, and the weather is appropriately Gothic too, a ‘bitter cold’ February day with ‘vicious showers of sleet and snow’. The mourners make their way along the ‘tatters’ of the old, winding road, passing Harry and Gwen Williams’s cottage, where Raymond grew up. Assembled in the churchyard, ‘Raymond’s young men’ (as his wife, Joy, used to call them) are now middle-aged and showing signs of wear and tear, ‘thinning and unkempt hair ... a bad back here, a heavy paunch there’. Sartorially, they are drabbies, ‘awful old grey suits and worse black ties ... or else the ... uniform of the Left on parade, a dark old coat left open to the weather ... corduroy trousers ... Tuf boots’. Acting as MC for the occasion, Inglis introduces us to the mourners – Terry Eagleton, ‘small, solid, mischievous’; Charles Swann, ‘wheezing with his awful respiration’; Patrick Parrinder, ‘silent, smiling, ironic’, the best-dressed of the party; Tariq Ali with ‘lustrous brown eyes’ but (Inglis claims) ‘a bit out of it all’.

As a narrative device it is brilliant, setting the scene for what is to be a bleak story, introducing some of the leading characters, and insinuating that the author was eyewitness to an intimate gathering. It comes, then, as something of a surprise to learn that this evocative account was written by someone who was not there, was indeed so far ‘out of it’ that no one in the family had dreamed of inviting him. And if, given the absence of footnotes for the passages in question, one were to ask how he came by such detail, one possible answer is that he made it up.

As this episode may suggest, the author of this book is the omniscient narrator personified, a participant-observer in every drama. Thus when the young Raymond, a lad of 11 or 12, rushes out onto the hills, Fred lumbers after him, noting the way the bracken bends and breaks under the thunder of his running. When, in Normandy, in 1944, Raymond is commanding an anti-tank unit, Inglis, a military enthusiast, is sweating in the turret. When Raymond goes to Italy, on a rare foreign visit, Inglis is his invisible companion, helping him to change trains at ‘Milano Centrale’ (‘faster by far and more splendid than Euston or Paddington’), giving him a cheery wave, and then, on the final stages of the journey, ‘watching the pink almond blossom’ as the train speeds south to Naples beside the deep blue sea. Cambridge, when Raymond goes up as an undergraduate, sends Inglis into raptures, and we are treated to location shots of Trinity College’s ‘great quad’ (‘one of the loveliest sights in ... any ... university town’), Dorothy’s Tearooms and King’s Parade. Later, he gives us an inside dopester’s account of the English Faculty Board on which, though exiled to the provinces, he seems to have been sitting for the last thirty years. Inglis seems almost equally besotted with Oxford, and a WEA summer school at Balliol, where Raymond lectured in the Fifties, becomes the occasion for an inspirational (if inaccurate) Baedeker of the Broad.

Likewise, Inglis seems to be on familiar terms with all his chosen players, seldom allowing a name to pass by without offering a thumbnail sketch. Indeed, the book is a sort of stage, on which Inglis’s gods and heroes disport themselves. Thus at the memorial meeting in Conway Hall there is Nick Garnham, ‘elegant, intelligent, disdainful Wykehamist’. Earlier, at the Garden House Hotel riot – a Cambridge protest against the rule of the Greek colonels – there is Bob Rowthorn, ‘then as now the best-looking economist in a not very photogenic class’; in Cambridge, among those who sat at Williams’s feet in the early Sixties, there is Terry Eagleton, ‘as allusively charming as Peter Wimsey’; at New Left Review, when it was embarking on its theoretical turn in 1962, the ‘virtuoso eloquence’ of Perry Anderson was backed by Robin Blackburn, ‘a beautiful, big, shock-headed youngster’ who had read Sartre and de Beauvoir in the French.

Chubby, chummy and balding, imperturbably good-humoured and everybody’s pal, Inglis has a distinct resemblance to Bob Hoskins, the interfering busybody and cheer-leader of the current British Telecom ads. He may not, like Hoskins, pop up at the back of the family car, but in his persona as family friend he seems to be on intimate terms with the Williams household, and conversant with every last detail of their domestic routines. He describes Raymond’s baths, ‘in which he would soak for hot, steam-filled hours’; Joy’s alleged nervousness; the children’s way of addressing their parents (‘the Williams family adopted the conventions of Bloomsbury and used first names for all its members’). Inglis also claims to be privy to the secrets of the marriage bed. He tells us (wrongly as it turns out) that in their later years Raymond and Joy kept separate rooms; he offers us the testimony of unnamed female informants, who told him that Raymond was ‘without sexual presence’; and he wonders aloud whether for such a man a love-life was possible.

Raymond’s powers of withdrawal, his lack of close friends, his absence of hilarity or gregariousness ... must have made him a terribly matter-of-fact father and husband; he couldn’t possibly have been a lover. His massive pipe was scarcely [sic] out for a start – the White Cottage carpets reeked of pipe tobacco for twenty years ... he hadn’t that ‘mind’s recoil upon itself’ which makes possible passionate uncertainty, the loss of all gravity which goes with falling in love, the giving-of-oneself, the abandon. He was a sparing giver. He stuck to his timetable.

In another persona, Inglis is a grimacing, capering Quilp, turning up in the most unlikely places with a nod, a wink or a leer. When, for instance, in 1982, Raymond gives an address at the founding conference of the Socialist Society, Inglis is on hand to tell us, à propos of nothing in particular, that his new false teeth were ‘fitting him a dream’. A Welsh Arts Council photograph of Raymond has as its gratuitously spiteful caption a quotation from Dafydd-Ellis Thomas, ‘the best-cut tweeds on the Left’. Still more gratuitous is the sneering caption which Inglis has dreamed up for a photograph of Raymond and Joy, taken in 1940-1 during their courting days – the kind of loving picture which would not look out of place in a Bert Hardy gallery of war-time romance. Inglis’s caption? ‘Raymond had wiped off Joy’s lipstick, of which he disapproved.’

The show of authorial omniscience conceals from the reader (and possibly the author) the fact that this biography is, by conventional standards, spectacularly under-researched. Documented, quite largely, by hearsay; conceived, executed and despatched in a very short space of time, it shows every sign of being written on the hoof. Solecisms, in some cases, it seems, the product of ignorance rather than carelessness, abound. Hastings is not in ‘The Garden of England’ (the title Inglis gives his Chapter 6), but in the Fifties, when Raymond took up a tutorship and residence there, was (as it still is) a run-down seaside resort. The Workers’ Educational Association was not started in 1906 nor the BBC in 1926. The Daily Herald, ‘that much lamented Labour paper’, died in the Sixties (when it transmogrified into the Sun), not in the Forties. The ‘famous Twentieth Party Congress’, at which ‘Krushchev ... had blown the gaffe on Stalin’s unspeakable terror’, took place in 1956, not, as here, 1953 – an odd error for one who, among his many books, seems to give pride of place to a blockbuster history of the Cold War. Dr John Lewis, editor of the Modern Quarterly, so far from being, as Inglis would have it in one of his punchy characterisations, a ‘hard nut’ of the Communist Party, was an ex-Unitarian minister, much given to moral discourse and retaining a distinctly clerical air. The Labour guru in postwar Oxford was David Worswick, the well-known economist, not David Worick, as he appears both in the text and the index. By no stretch of the imagination can the students of T.H. Green be said to have ‘invented’ the Fabian Society (perhaps Inglis was thinking of Toynbee Hall). Broad Street, Oxford, ‘one of the noblest university thoroughfares in the world’, does not lead past Duke Humfrey’s library; nor can a street with the Indian Institute at one end of it plausibly be represented as ‘the Oxford bastion of ... anti-imperialism’.

Inglis believes that biography, ‘insofar as it is both truthful and serious, is only a record of what other people can tell you on the life and death in question’. He sticks loyally to this brief. Instead of sources, such as the unpublished writings of his subject (denied to Inglis because the family had already given his papers to the Welsh historian, Dai Smith), or the records of the organisations in which he worked – John McIlroy, in his fine study of Williams in adult education, the basis of Inglis’s Chapters 6 and 7, though he contrives not to mention it in his acknowledgments, draws liberally on the correspondence and papers of the Oxford University Tutorial Classes Committee – Inglis gives us what he proudly lists at the front of the book as dramatis personae. These are some seventy people whom he interviewed. The names are, to use one of Inglis’s favourite terms, a ‘rum lot’, the dramatis personae not of Williams’s life – some of them, like the present writer, scarcely exchanged a word with him – but rather of Inglis’s mental universe. The so-called ‘interviews’ – in my own case, a pleasant Oxford lunch in which Fred and I managed to discuss everything except the supposed occasion for our meeting – were not necessarily about Raymond Williams at all. With the exception of Quentin Skinner, with whom, by his own account, Inglis seems to be in more or less continuous converse, the interviews are almost all one-off affairs, a procedure increasingly unacceptable to the oral historian, and almost guaranteed to provide stereotyped answers (a second interview is usually more revealing than a first, a third than a second; I once spent some five years interviewing an East End villain, and still felt I had not got to the bottom of the story).

Quotations, culled from the interviews, are given great prominence in Inglis’s text. They are printed, apparently, verbatim (though Stephen Heath, Lisa Jardine and others have protested they are garbled), and are treated as though they were primary sources. Yet the quotations are oddly at variance with the interpretation they are supposed to support, and seem often to serve as tokens of authenticity rather than as corroborations or illustrations of an argument. The two pages given up to Lord Carrington’s reminiscences of his wartime experiences as a Guards officer (an ex-Foreign Secretary who in his interview apparently had not a word to say about Williams) can only be explained by the fact that Inglis has rather a thing about the military. (Where others, evoking the Forties or Fifties, might refer to ‘the Army’ or ‘National Service’, Inglis prefers to speak of his ‘regiment’. Unlike Raymond, who could not bear to talk of his time in Normandy, Fred, though too young to have fought in the war, seems to think of himself as a ‘tank man’.)

Like a good gossip, Inglis is ready, indeed eager, to accept scandalous stories without too much regard to whether or not they are true. One disturbing example occurs when, drawing on the Chatto and Windus archive (one of his very few manuscript sources), Inglis comes on a 1953 letter by one Kay Burton accusing Williams of plagiarism and claiming that the section on Ibsen, in his first book, rested on some Cambridge lectures by Muriel Brad-brook. Inglis quotes from Williams’s ‘cross’ denial, claims (without giving chapter or verse) that his letter contained a ‘not very veiled threat of libel action’, and then records the end of the correspondence. For his own part, he leaves the accusation to hang in the air, a nasty suspicion which it is apparently beyond his power, as a biographer, to exorcise, ‘I don’t know; the lectures were so very well known ... And the closeness of treatment is certainly striking ... Williams wrote damn fast and always used his authorities swiftly and silently; he acknowledged rarely; he scanted the scholarly conventions; it’s a bit rum.’ No textual comparison is brought into play, as it might have been by a biographer seriously concerned with a subject’s reputation. No attempt is made to square this passage with Raymond’s lifelong Ibsenism, nor with the glowing accounts of Williams by Miss Bradbrook, quoted elsewhere in the book. It is as though Inglis was too lazy to follow up his own leads, even when – as a result of his own cavalier insinuations – the intellectual integrity of his subject is at stake.

It is instructive to compare the sources for Inglis’s account of Raymond’s childhood with the draft chapters of Dai Smith’s projected biography, a manuscript of which I am fortunate enough to have before me as I write. The first is a bravura piece of atmospherics. It begins with a How Green Was My Valley evocation of the landscape (‘Always there was the mountain’), and goes on to spatchcock pages from Raymond’s last novel, with others taken from his first. There are very few footnotes and the only reference to a primary source (characteristically vague: ‘Pandy School Log, 1925-1932’), seems to have become untethered from the text. Putting on short trousers, Inglis contrives to tag along with a school party to London, noting the ‘garrulous way’ in which the juvenile Raymond explains the railways to his fellow pupils. Otherwise he adds little of substance to the biography, other than a fanciful portrait of the village headmaster. Remembered in the village (and in Raymond’s autobiographical novel Border Country) for the enthusiasm of his canings, he appears here as a lifelong Labour stalwart and a precocious advocate of progressive education.

Dai Smith, on the other hand, a man of parts and a wit as well as a scholar – he is the historian of Welsh rugby, and currently Head of English Language Programmes at BBC Wales – has assembled a feast of primary sources. There is the pocket diary of Harry Williams, Raymond’s father, starting in 1919, and also his First World War papers. There are numerous entries from the Pandy School log-book, dated as a matter of course by one who has spent his scholarly life in the archives. There are extensive interviews and correspondence with Pandy people (on a flying visit in November 1993, Inglis seems to have seen just four of them). And there are the different manuscript drafts of Border Country. Smith gives us an illuminating ethnography of Abergavenny, the ‘border country’ town where Raymond went to grammar school. One of his discoveries is that Gwen Williams, Raymond’s mother, who is a mere cipher in Inglis’s book and (it must be admitted) Raymond Williams’s own accounts of his childhood, was a leading member of the Women’s Institute movement in the village ‘and eventually, to her intense pride, the local President’. No less interesting, in throwing light on Border Country, is Smith’s insistence on the local importance of the railways, the storm-centre of the General Strike in 1926, and the lifelong employment of Raymond’s father. In Abergavenny, in the Twenties, the railways employed no fewer than a thousand men, amounting, with their families, to a third of the town’s population. Without resorting to grand guignol, or stooping to pastiche. Smith makes them a vivid presence.

Even those who had no working involvement with the railways found their lives filled with the sights and sound of steam. The railway lines enclosed the town as surely as the walls held in the medieval settlement ... The noise of express trains and shunting engines was constant night and day – and nothing was more emphatic than the shrill whistle and frantic puffing of the banking engines which helped to haul the long trains up the gradient from Monmouth Road station to the Junction and on to Llanvihangel. This was the line the schoolboy would take home every day, up the steep incline to Pandy, on trains passed through on the authority of his father’s signal box.

Iconoclasm is the nether side of what Inglis calls ‘hagiology’. Love can very easily turn murderous, when thwarted of its objects of desire. The devil of the Middle Ages was a fallen angel, ‘very close’ to God in nature (Freud suggested) even though supposedly his antithesis. Icons, hitherto credited with magical powers, quite suddenly, at the Reformation, came to seem malevolent, not images to worship or relics to treasure but superstitions and weaknesses to crush. Reversals like this seem often to be involved in the tutorial relationship, as in intellectual discipleship generally, where the good father is seen to turn into the bad father, a monster of egotism, or Sphinx-like figure, wrapped up in his own preoccupations and apparently indifferent to his followers. This is the gravamen of the charges brought against Raymond Williams by some of his former Cambridge students (they were well represented among the enthusiastic reviewers of Inglis’s biography).

It is possible that Fred Inglis has become involved in a negative dialectic of this kind, and that the Raymond Williams of his biography is the fall guy for the author’s lost illusions. Inglis has a Tory craving for authority figures, and a Leavisite belief in the teacher’s vanguard role. He is on record as a lifelong hero-worshipper. He peoples his world with giants, and one way of charting his trajectory would be to see it as a succession of intellectual crushes (‘The great John Keane’ seems to be his latest pin-up; Clifford Geertz, fulsomely acknowledged in the preface to his 1993 Cultural Studies, a slightly earlier one). Inglis’s Radical Earnestness (1982), a truly dreadful book, is a kind of Boy’s Own guide to English social theory which resolves itself into a portrait gallery of gung-ho gurus. Raymond Williams, ‘the man who has retranslated Marxist concepts into a spoken idiom’, is one of the Bulldog Drummonds of the narrative. Along with ‘his great associate’ Edward Thompson, he is ‘a plausible candidate ... for leading hero of the years in which the forward march of consumer individualist values halted at the cliff edge, and the call for different, new, vastly more mutual, altruistic, and less destructive values-with-practices became paramount’.

Raymond Williams could be seen as a recoil from the extravagance and absurdities of such idealisations. Where previously he would devote page after page to exegesis of Williams’s major books, Inglis can now dismiss them with a parody, an innuendo or a joke. With the wisdom of hindsight he pins the convict’s badge on him for giving support to the Chinese Cultural Revolution (‘Rotovating a few beds of nettles up the hill at the cottage in Craswell wasn’t what the Red Guards had in mind’); for fathering an impossibilist and utopian politics (in the May Day Manifesto movement of 1967); and, as a student journalist, for supporting the Russians in the Finnish war of 1940.

If ever a book had a subtext, it is this one. Inglis tells us that it was conceived as an act of homage, a ‘cheerful encomium’ on a great spirit, and that it is offered in a spirit of ‘reverence’. The author is profuse in his expressions of admiration and even love for his subject. His reviewers may have been truer to the book’s unconscious representation of its subject. ‘A puzzling polemical cold fish,’ wrote Roy Hattersley, in the Independent: ‘Few of the personal testaments with which Inglis enlivens Williams’s biography portray an affable or sympathetic character.’ ‘The tank commander of the New Left, but dull in college,’ according to Robin Blake, a former student of Raymond’s who remembered him as ‘elusive, reluctant, uninspiring, even deadening’ in tutorial. ‘We ... were rarely more successful in setting him alight than he was in firing up that damn pipe.’ ‘Consistently melancholy’, wrote the reviewer in the Guardian, praising the ‘sadness and honesty’ of Inglis’s book. ‘He ruefully chronicles the self-delusions, and above all the foolish self-righteousness of socialist intellectuals in Britain.’

A charitable interpretation of this book is that Inglis is a fantasist, and that just as he could palm himself off to his dramatis personae as ‘Raymond Williams’s official biographer’, even though the personal and family papers had already been assigned to someone else, so he may have persuaded himself that what he has portrayed is ‘a character of remarkable grace and poise’. Yet Inglis’s asides are systematically belittling, while the quotations are artfully selected to suggest a monster of egoism, a bad teacher, who never prepared his work, a muddled thinker, a philistine who was deaf to music and indifferent to the arts. Carmen Callil, Raymond’s publisher, is wheeled on to say that he was no novelist; Eric Bellchambers, WEA organiser in his Sussex days, remembers him as a prima donna; Jim Fyrth, an extra-mural tutor who prides himself on using ‘simple but lively language’, rebukes Raymond for being ‘convoluted’, ‘dense’ and ‘impenetrable’ (‘I often could not understand what he was talking about’); his Cambridge colleagues charge him with lack of interest in his job, his students with ducking tutorials.

It is possible that Inglis began this book in good faith and then came across things he did not like. Or that he was waylaid by his informants, the Cambridge ones in particular, who seem to have used the occasion to settle old scores. Perhaps he grew envious of his subject, and of that ‘terrific self-assurance’ to which he returns obsessively, and which he himself so conspicuously lacks. What does seem possible is that, like many biographers before him, he grew to dislike or even hate his subject, despising on a close view what he had admired from afar. Not content with denigrating Williams, he also kills him off, charting, in morbid detail, the progress of his fatal illness, and then playing the part of the coroner to offer us a post-mortem. Where modern biography is typically reticent about death, Inglis wallows in it, describing Raymond’s physical collapse as though vicariously enjoying the man’s final loss of his virility.

At a quarter to nine, pain hit him like a punch. In the great aorta, the artery which carries the blood away from the top of the heart to the upper organs and the brain, a veinous purple membrane which had been bulging and depressing under the systole and diastole of his heart ... bulged again like the inner tube of a tyre, and split wide. The blood pumped copiously into his chest cavity. He fought gaspingly for breath, aware of nothing except the need for air. Then brain and vision darkened together, he stumbled a pace or two, and toppled face forward into a chair. There is a seal around the aorta which, in one case out of five, contains the blood long enough for emergency surgery. But not in this case ... A second, sudden rupture tore open flesh and muscle once again, and damaged the heart and brain ... beyond repair. Raymond Williams was dead.

A Freudian might speculate on the castration anxieties which such a passage both carries and conceals. The lay reader might wonder how on earth Inglis persuaded himself that he was eyewitness to the scene.

Whereas Inglis’s 15 previous publications sank without a trace, despite his best efforts to boost them (in Cultural Studies he recommends his Cruel Peace as an ur-text for students, bracketing it, ‘at the risk of immodesty’, with Paul Fussell’s Great War and Modern Memory), this one has been a great success. It has been widely and sympathetically reviewed in the national press without anyone questioning either its scholarly credentials or its ethical legitimacy. It also seems to have succeeded in placating or silencing Williams’s numerous followers; among the endorsements on the back cover is one from Tony Benn, while even New Left Review, to whose survival and prosperity Raymond made so signal a contribution, found it possible not only to print a friendly appreciation of the book, but also to couple it with a Vicar of Bray piece by Fred, celebrating ‘the magnificent achievement of the British New Left’ and aligning it with the ‘great tradition’.

High-level gossip makes compulsive reading, especially when it is laced with spite, while puritan-baiting is an ancient national sport. (One of the most frequent charges in this book, especially by Williams’s Cambridge critics, is that he was a very domestic man, ‘pathologically’ private, who led an unadventurous social life, shunned the international conference circuit and preferred the company of his wife and children to that of College students.) Moreover, whatever the criticisms that can be levelled against it, the scandalous history has long served as a counterpoint to the pieties of the public memoir. The literature of disenchantment, written more in sorrow than in anger, and exalting common sense at the expense of dogma, also has a venerable ancestry, though in the present instance it involves some rewriting of the author’s own past. (A footnote to Chapter 8 – characteristically self-inflating – credits his Radical Earnestness with ‘trying to repair the thoughtless damage done to Fabianism by Williams.’)

Theoretically, Williams’s work came from nowhere, unless it be from that strain of Ibsenite individualism, by turns stoic and heroic, which was the obsession of his later student years. It is perhaps a sign of his instinctive refusal to bow the knee to orthodoxy or to follow intellectual fashion, that, at the risk of baffling the reader, he constructed a conceptual vocabulary of his own. Never, so far as I know, engaging consciously with Freud, he constructs Border Country as an Oedipal drama, in which the father represents a principle of authority rather than a real-life character – ‘more than a person, he’s in fact a society, the thing you grow up into.’ He is moreover, in good Freudian fashion, split in two: the ‘bad’ father, Morgan Prosser – a great friend and an attractive figure to the young Raymond – goes off to start a haulage business after the failure of the General Strike, while the ‘good’ father, Harry, remains loyal to the union. In the Seventies, when Williams adopted a notional Marxism, he seemed unable to bring himself to talk of the master, let alone to quote from him. ‘Cultural materialism’, though it sounds Marxist, was a term of his own coinage and insofar as it has a lineage it is one which could be traced back to the biological and technological determinism of those ‘proletarian philosophers’ about whom Jonathan Rée and Stuart MacIntyre have written so illuminatingly, the writers and lecturers of the Plebs League (one of the many possible feeders of Williams’s thought, as of the adult education movement, who are absent from Inglis’s text).

Raymond Williams’s special gift was that of drawing up new maps of knowledge. Indifferent to academically-defined boundaries, starting his enquiry, quite often, from personal experience, he would alight on a subject whose importance was so obvious, once he had targeted it, that it seemed to have always been there. The Country and the City (1973) has none of the magic of Empson’s book on the pastoral; it relies on a measured tread where Empson goes in for startling arabesques; yet it reaches out for one of the grand permanences of European thought, highlighting a central dialectic both in relation to memory-work, and to the opposition between ‘nature’ and ‘culture’. Despite the bleakness and difficulty of his style, both as a writer and a lecturer, Raymond Williams was one of the most influential educators of the Sixties and the Seventies. His books are remarkable for their teacherly qualities: open texts which positively invite classes to re-work the argument, and make it their own.

As a chronicler of working-class community, Williams cannot begin to compete with Richard Hoggart, though, as an article in the current issue of Radical Philosophy reminds us, the two names continue to be bracketed. He has no ear for working-class speech, no taste for title-tattle, of the kind which gives such vernacular strength to Hoggart’s memorable opposition between ‘Us’ and ‘Them’. He does not try to write in dialect (Hoggart is a past master at it, indeed incomparable in catching the cadences of Forties’ speech). He has no feel for the ‘full rich life’ of the working-class interior, no eye for what Hoggart calls ‘working-class baroque’, that mixture of seaside tat, holiday souvenirs, family photographs and furry animals which can make the mantelpiece or the sideboard into a miniature shrine. As a boy, in his autobiographical writings, he does not nip out to the corner shop, peer into the public library, or run errands for uncles and aunts. Rather he communes, as a solitary, with the mountains, or listens gravely to his father’s talk.

The nether side of this impersonality, Terry Eagleton interestingly suggests, was a profound ‘historic’ sense. The ‘solidarity’ which he sought and championed, was, in his mind’s eye, ‘very local, even physical’, and it had its unspoken points of reference in the General Strike. Likewise, his notions of ‘culture’ and ‘community’ are not sociological but have reference, in the first place, to the little commonwealths of the Welsh valleys, while his notions of class dissolved into the wider notion of the gwerin (people). What some people complain of as the intrusive self in his writings – the autobiographical reference never seems far away – was also ‘historic’, having about it nothing of the confessional. Williams conceived of himself as a representative type, following in the footsteps of generations of writers, bards and teachers, an ambassador of Wales to the outside world.

Raymond Williams was not a historian, and except for his riveting little book on William Cobbett, never wrote a line of conventional historical narrative. But his intelligence was preeminently a historicising one, and it is perhaps symptomatic of this that Matthew, the fictional self he created in his trilogy, is a university lecturer ‘working on population movements into the Welsh mining valleys in the middle decades of the 19th century’. Whereas the ‘close reading’ of a limited number of texts was the basis of his extra-mural teaching – excellently described in John McIlroy’s book – it was a method he progressively abandoned. On the other hand, the contextual and historical is a leitmotiv, even the leading inspiration in all his published work, the books on mass communications no less than those on the prehistory of the people of the Black Mountains. His work has page after page of dense historical analysis. There are some seven chapters of it in The Long Revolution, among them a pioneering account of the growth of standard English and an ambitious attempt to relate the ‘structures of feeling’ in 1840s England to the social order as a whole. Keywords is not a contribution to the linguistic ‘turn’ but a sustained demonstration of the utility of a historical semantics. The Country and the City, perhaps his most original work, anticipated, by almost a decade, the deconstructive turn in historical thought represented by Hobsbawm and Ranger’s The Invention of Tradition. Television doubles back on itself to show the play of cause and effect in earlier forms of social drama. His little book on Culture, though travelling under the flag of sociology, takes us back to the ‘characteristic case’ of the Celtic bards (‘a remarkable poem’ by the sixth-century Welsh poet Aneirin figures in his argument) and makes detours to ‘English renaissance drama’, ‘soliloquy’ and the ‘comedy of manners’, before returning to more contemporary matters such as the rise of market professionalism and the mechanical reproduction of art (the contrast to the impoverished frame of literary reference in Inglis’s Cultural Studies is striking in the light of his innuendoes about Williams’s supposed philistinism).

Gareth Stedman Jones, one of Inglis’s interviewees, is quoted in the book as complaining of Williams’s ‘sentimentalising’ of the General Strike. I would argue, to the contrary, that in making it the central drama of his own earlier life, and a defining moment for 20th-century Britain, he showed a remarkable historic sense. It made him in some sort the voice of a prior generation, upholding a working-class and vernacular socialism which, by the later Thirties, with the advent of war, Fascism and the Popular Front, and of a Labour Party hell-bent on ‘planning’, was all but extinct. (Perhaps it was a memory of the non-denominationally ‘Red’ Twenties which allowed him to wear his Communist Party membership so lightly: he abandoned it in 1940 or 1941, when comrades complained of his falling in love with a Labour girl.)

Williams’s General Strike was in some sense his own. In Border Country he conceived of it not as a mass action in which millions were engaged, but rather as a crucible in which individual character was tried and tested – an Ibsenite drama rather than a Brechtian one. It may be, though, that he stumbled on truths hidden to a more conventional historian. Throughout his childhood, he told a meeting of Llafur, the Welsh labour history society, the pros and cons of what had happened in 1926 were batted to and fro by his father and his cronies. He thought of Pandy as being – by contrast to the Welsh mining valleys – ‘marginal’ to the strike, and the three men in the signal box, faced with an agonising choice of whether or not they would come out (the stationmaster, ‘who was subsequently victimised’, and the platelayers), as a little cadre of industrial workers marooned in a rural village. I think they were figures as representative as one could find, ex-servicemen who put their jobs on the line not expecting victory but rather, in the spirit of Passchendaele and the Somme, trying to hold their corner. The General Strike, though fought on behalf of the miners, was to an extraordinary extent a railwaymen’s affair and it was their unexpected show of solidarity and discipline – the railway clerks not less than the footplatemen – which gave the appearance of total stoppage (railways in 1926 seem to have occupied the symbolic space of power stations in the miners’ strike of 1972 as an industrial equivalent of the nation’s heartbeat).

Inglis’s biography is so thoroughly in tune with the Zeitgeist that it is perhaps pointless to sound a note of dissent. As the light of socialism fades, we can expect others of its ilk. Hegel famously remarked that Clio, like Minerva’s owl, took wing at dusk. He might have added that this was also a time when all kinds of other creatures crawled out of hiding.

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Vol. 18 No. 15 · 1 August 1996

Your heading ‘Making It Up’ for Raphael Samuel’s review of Fred Inglis’s Raymond Williams (LRB, 4 July) is entirely appropriate, since Inglis’s Raymond Williams appears to be at least as fictional as Williams’s Border Country. Inglis’s listing of interviewees, footnotes to chapters etc, seems calculated to give the impression that his book has been carefully researched and carefully written. One reviewer noted an inaccurate reference to Trotsky; other readers will be astonished by Inglis’s assertion that Karl Kautsky, who died in 1938, was murdered along with Rosa Luxemburg in 1919. On page 84 we find a totally fictional account of what my sister Dorothy Wedderburn and I were doing in 1941, or perhaps in 1940. Inglis writes: ‘And in March they’ – i.e. Raymond Williams and Eric Hobsbawm – ‘Dorothy Wedderburn, George Barnard, John Maynard Smith, all Cambridge young Communists with grammar school scholarships, were out leading the campaign to “Stop the War against the USSR", with the revolutionary weapons of posters, lobbying senior members of the University, and a meeting in the Dorothy Tearooms.’ Two glances at Who’s Who will confirm that in March 1941 my sister was 15 years old and still at school, while I was 25 and working for the Plessey Company. In March 1940 we were doing the same things. A third glance at Who’s Who will reveal that John Maynard Smith went to Eton, not commonly referred to as a grammar school.

George Barnard

I hold no brief for Fred Inglis and the way in which he has written his biography of Raymond Williams. I also admire Raphael Samuel’s laudable attempt to defend Williams from undocumented and inaccurate attack. Nevertheless, my own research on Williams for a small part of a book published last year (Dons and Workers: Oxford and Adult Education Since 1850) uncovered inconsistencies in Williams’s work and views, and criticisms of him, that would support some of Inglis’s contentions.

In the University Archives in Oxford I certainly found tributes to Williams as a teacher and writer. And in the present Department for Continuing Education in Oxford I had at least one colleague who worked alongside Williams, and who shared his Welsh background, who always spoke reverently of him. But I had another who overlapped with Williams at the end of the Fifties and who also taught English (and whose judgment I trust, having taught extra-mural courses with him myself) who was critical of Williams on several grounds, both educational and political, and whose comments I included in my own account of Williams as an extra-mural tutor. On the subject of alleged Communist infiltration of extra-mural education in Oxford in the late Forties, I found Williams saying very different things to different audiences in a relatively short space of time. Williams also seemed to me to have been unfairly critical of the Oxford extra-mural department in the interviews he gave to the New Left Review, published as Politics and Letters in 1979. In the same source he spoke of his experiences in adult education with a detachment bordering on the clinical – in contrast to other socialists who had taught tutorial classes for Oxford and the Workers’Educational Association, Tawney, Temple and Cole, among many, who continued to express enthusiasm for the work long after moving on to other things.

Samuel writes that Williams had a ‘special gift’ for ‘drawing up new maps of knowledge’. Many of Williams’s admirers have made a similar point over the years. Yet when placed in the tradition of adult education, it seems to me that Williams’s maps were old ones. Culture and Society, the book that deservedly made his reputation, and one of his works that will surely endure, actually presents the old adult education syllabus in a new form. From the 1880s, Oxford University extension lecturers had gone into the communities of the working class to lecture on Carlyle and Ruskin to audiences of workers who eagerly assimilated their anti-industrialism and anti-capitalism. The staple diet of many early literature classes included Dickens, Kingsley and Arnold, as the well-preserved syllabuses in the Oxford University Archive demonstrate. Later, William Morris was added to the pantheon. The tradition of reading authors who were in critical engagement with the dominant values of British society was entrenched in the adult education movement long before Williams remapped it and set it in an accessible form before a fresh audience in the expanding universities of the late Fifties and Sixties. That Williams did not acknowledge his intellectual debts to this tradition as fully as might have been expected seems to me to have been his greatest omission. Perhaps he was not conscious of what he had absorbed as an extra-mural tutor, or of the historical development of the tradition of which he was himself a part. If this was the case, he would not have been the first scholar to have misunderstood or neglected the roots of his own work. But it seems to me to be a surprising omission in a writer so interested in the lineage of ideas and ‘keywords’.

Perhaps the simple moral of this story is that though Williams was a fine scholar and teacher, he was not without flaws in both capacities and should not be immune from fair criticism. As R.W. Johnson has pointed out before (LRB, 4 July), whatever Williams’s merits as a literary and cultural critic, he had his weaknesses as a writer on politics. Since his death he has generally been the object of veneration. Though unable and unwilling to speak for Inglis, my own work on Williams, setting him in a line of educational activism going back a century and more, leads me to conclude that if the Left must have scholar-heroes, there are some equal and possibly better-qualified candidates in the adult education tradition that helped to form him.

Lawrence Goldman
St Peter’s College, Oxford

I comprehensively endorse all that Raphael Samuel says in his full and critical review of Inglis’s Raymond Williams. Although I did not undergo the sort of one-off quick ‘interview’ Raphael describes (Inglis told me that one of his key informants was Raphael Samuel!), I did send Inglis a detailed letter or two concerning features of Raymond’s life, work and persona that I feared might not be found in Inglis’s research.

There is little to add to the evidence and argument which Raphael supplies, except I would wish to counter totally (both in its tone and content) the imaginary ‘Raymond Williams’provided by Inglis and endorsed in too many reviews thus far. I knew Raymond Williams from 1975 onwards, having met him at a wonderful Adult Education event in Bristol, where he and E.P. Thompson spoke and discussed and shared with a remarkably non-aloof generosity. Indeed that word – generosity – is the word that most springs to mind in my memories of conversations with Raymond in Cambridge and in London. This generosity, as Raphael indicates, comes from some foundational moments and shared experiences summed up in the crucial 1958 statement: ‘Culture is ordinary … that is where we must start … that is the first fact’. It extended to Raymond’s willingness to speak, precisely not at the stratospheric mega-conferences, but to Centreprise in Hackney. In such gatherings, his warmth, humour, kindness and commitment were evident.

Finally, Raphael is correct in his closing comments. What has been evident to me for years is the remarkable absence of generosity and, in the full sense, acknowledgment in modern academic, intellectual and creative life. In 1979 Michèle Barrett, Annette Kuhn, Janet Woolf and I noted the bewildering erection and demolition of icons (Ideology and Cultural Production); since then a whizzing circulation of individuation and commodification partakes of a more general Permanent Revolution; floating signifiers allow the return (masked, of course) of the floating intellectuals. Until his untimely death, Raymond provided some quiet, caring, critical educational resources. Nowadays, we move from rave-praise, to speedy dumping, rubbishing, ‘in’ and ‘out’ persons and brand-names. Such making of culture extraordinary (stars we crane our necks to look at; filth we find on our boots) fits, of course, with far wider patterns in which not only has generosity been minimised, but that crucial acknowledgment we call history is denied. I am pleased to find Raphael acknowledging the degree to which Raymond was consistently engaged in providing senses of history as enlarging the ways in which we see and show just how complex is ordinary culture.

Ave atque vale to an ordinary man and a great teacher.

Philip Corrigan

Raphael Samuel’s review of Fred Inglis’s biography crosses the line of criticism into abuse. One wonders how may footnotes Mr Inglis needs before he is allowed to express an opinion? Given all that the reviewer suggests about the biographer’s intentions and motivations, one wonders whether Inglis is allowed an opinion at all? Would all intended opinions on Raymond Williams please apply in triplicate stating all previous fads, obsessions and political allegiances?

There are many ways to write histories and biographies. Inglis tried to place himself somewhere between Raymond Williams and his reputation. This was risky. It was riskier still given Inglis’s vivid style. Some of Samuel’s most personal criticisms would apply equally to the whole genre of biography, depending on ‘style’ and what one thinks of it. But whatever Inglis’s degree of success or failure, and it seems to me there was some success, and whatever Inglis’s errors of fact or miscalculations of judgment, he had his own objectives. Grounds for personal abuse exist only where there is evidence of bad faith. With no reasonable evidence of such, Samuel crossed the line. Indeed, he beats Inglis with the same sticks – hint, fantasy, allusion – which he claims Inglis used on Williams.

I do not know Fred Inglis. I did not know Raymond Williams, although I feel I know Williams’s works better for having read the biography in question, and I look forward to more with Dai Smith’s forthcoming volume. However, I have to conclude that Mr Samuel has not written a fair review. He has presented a case for the prosecution which sullies the defendant’s personal integrity as a means of establishing the guilt of his opinions.

Robert Colls
University of Leicester

An interesting point of scholarly ethics arises in Raphael Samuel’s review. Samuel compares Inglis’s handling of Williams’s childhood with that of another writer, Dai Smith, ‘a man of parts’, according to Samuel, ‘as well as a scholar’. But actually no book by Smith exists with which to compare Inglis’s. All Samuel has seen are ‘draft chapters’of a ‘projected biography, a manuscript of which I am fortunate enough to have before me as I write’. These chapters are not in the public domain: they do not exist in a work which can be compared to a published book. Of course Samuel is entitled to say that someone has some useful material. But a comparison between a published book and a part of an unpublished draft is not quite the right thing to do – it is really only a slur because it cannot be corroborated. It is true that this procedure gives good value to readers of the LRB. We get plenty of Inglis (which I thought sounded better than Samuel says) and some Smith. But, strictly speaking, like should be compared with like, book with book, even leaving aside the fact that Inglis’s book and Smith’s work, so it seems, are different in conception.

Ian MacKillop

In 1992 I had the task of reviewing Fred Inglis’s history of the Cold War, The Cruel Peace. In his Preface, Inglis expressed admiration for Edward Thompson (a sentiment I entirely share), then compared his own writing with Thompson’s – a curious comparison, to say the least, given Inglis’s fervent and often-expressed belief in the righteousness of US foreign policy. The book itself was quite the worst work of history I have ever read: a catalogue of half-remembered facts written in a style veering between sentimentality and flippant cynicism, with some really startling malapropisms and misspellings.

Subsequently, I read that Inglis was writing a biography of Raymond Williams and was in search of information from those who had known him. I considered letting Inglis know about my contacts with Williams (very limited) and his impact on my life (huge). However, I could hardly have done so without also telling Inglis what I thought of his earlier book, and by extension his credentials for writing about Williams. In the event I did nothing; a choice which I don’t now regret. As Raphael Samuel notes, initial reviews of Inglis’s biography were broadly positive. At the time I wondered if my fears had been unjustified. Samuel’s review has, sadly, reassured me on that point. One of the most important writers Britain has produced this century still awaits an adequate biography.

Phil Edwards

The real issue at stake is whether what Williams wrote now remains important. Here Samuel has more in common with Inglis than he may find comfortable. He argues in conclusion that as the ‘light of socialism fades’ there may be more attacks on previously venerable figures of the Left. Well, attacks on the Left are nothing new, and it might be argued that Inglis is merely updating the ‘god that failed’ genre for the Nineties. But is it actually the case that the light of socialism is fading? Judging by most measures of opinion there would seem to be a good deal of support for a politics which places human need and desire above profit and the market. And if this is the case then Williams’s writings will continue to be read, whatever Fred Inglis thinks about them.

Keith Flett
London N17

Praise Raphael and pass the – literary – ammunition. We read, with considerable interest, Mr Samuel’s thoughtful essay on the biography of Raymond Williams. We too had been disheartened by the capacity of reviewers in the TLS and Guardian, among others, to swallow the Inglis line of revisionism. On a recent visit to our native land we were again reminded how a sweep of landscape, from Blaenaron, over the Blorenge, through Abergavenny to Pandy and Pontrilas, was a crucible that helped forge the notion of ‘cultural materialism’. We propose a memorial walk and gathering, on some appropriate summer weekend next year, to celebrate Williams’s life and locale. Responses to this address.

Robert Trueblood
5 Gardner Road

Vol. 18 No. 16 · 22 August 1996

When Fred Inglis approached me for information about my father, Raymond Williams, he told me that he was planning to write ‘a novel of the Left’, and perhaps that is how his book should be read (LRB, 4 July). I can confirm that Dai Smith is the authorised biographer, and my family has every confidence in him.

Merryn Williams
Wootton, Bedfordshire

As the publisher of Fred Inglis’s Raymond Williams, I feel I must correct several inaccuracies in Raphael Samuel’s review. 1. At no point in the book does Fred Inglis claim to be the ‘official biographer’ of Raymond Williams, nor did he ever claim to be so to the publishers. 2. Raphael Samuel suggests that some of those interviewed for the biography now feel that they have been misquoted. All of those interviewed were sent copies of what they had said; they were asked to edit or correct these transcripts, and in those cases where they were unhappy with the general impression created by a longer passage, then that passage was deleted. 3. Fred Inglis’s researches in a variety of archives connected with various periods of Williams’s life included extensive use of the records and reminiscences relating to the history of adult education in England compiled by Dr John McIlroy of the University of Manchester. Your reviewer states that Professor Inglis ‘contrives not to mention it in his acknowledgments’. His eye appears to have wandered here. If he looks on p. viii, he will find that the value of the archive and the personal help given by Dr McIlroy is paid full and generous tribute.

Mari Shullaw
Routledge, London EC4

Yes, Fred Inglis’s biography of Raymond Williams is a bad book, marred by inaccuracies, obtuse and obtrusive opinionation, and inept attempts at ‘imaginative’ writing. But to focus on these flaws, as Raphael Samuel does in his review, or to seek to restore the hagiolatry, as some of your subsequent correspondents have done, is to obfuscate the larger issues which the biography undoubtedly – and uncomfortably – raises.

For example, insofar as Inglis, according to Samuel, resembles Bob Hoskins in the BT advertisements in his account of Williams’s marriage and family life, he is a Brechtian Bob who breaks through the illusion of naturalness to pose a key question of sexual, and socialist, politics: that of gender inequality. Inglis quotes a number of observations, not merely his own, of Joy Williams’s apparent subordination – almost, at times, to the point of self-immolation – to her husband. These observations are necessarily partial, and may be inaccurately and selectively transcribed; but simply to ignore the issues they raise, as Samuel does, is to show contempt for that important strand in modern feminism which argues that a consideration of the way men treat women – in their ‘personal’ as much as their ‘political’ lives – is vital to any genuine ‘long revolution’. Such contempt is hardly surprising in a reviewer who turns a dynamic female ex-publisher into the passive occupant of a bathchair when he states that Carmen Callil is ‘wheeled on’ by Inglis to say that Williams is no novelist.

Perhaps most tellingly for socialists of Samuel’s ilk, there is the matter of Williams’s support, hedged round with qualifications and reservations as it was, for revolutionary violence. Philip Corrigan (Letters, 1 August) should re-read the interviews with Williams collected in Politics and Letters (1979) to remind himself that this man of ‘warmth, humour, kindness’ was ready in certain circumstances – because of that very ‘commitment’ which Corrigan also praises – to endorse and encourage violence against the state of a kind which historically has led, and in the foreseeable future is likely to lead, to death and suffering on a large scale. Inglis’s remark about Red Guards and rotovators, which Samuel quotes, is a vigorous and justified riposte to Williams’s approval of the way in which, in the Chinese Cultural Revolution, people were bullied into undertaking physical work on the land. The riposte is one of a number of occasions in the biography when Inglis raises the crucial question of Williams’s relationship to the kind of revolutionary violence which it is difficult at the end of the 20th century – and specially after 1989 – to see as leading, even in the long term, to a benign outcome.

To say this is, of course, to indulge in what Samuel disapprovingly calls in his review ‘the wisdom of hindsight’. That’s certainly no temptation for Samuel; he seems to have learnt nothing from history. From the credulous Communist who, according to Keith Thomas (LRB, 20 April 1995), wept at the death of Uncle Joe to the gawping consumer of the gewgaws of the heritage industry in the first volume of his Theatres of Memory (1994), Samuel has remained a sentimental gull, sloshing around happily in the lukewarm bath of political irresponsibility. Raymond Williams was not such a child; but we do no justice to his memory or his politics to seek to repress discussion of the possible contradictions, failings and evasions of his life and work.

Nicolas Tredell
Seaford, East Sussex

Now that LRB readers have debated the importance of Raymond Williams may I suggest that it is his statue that fills the vacant plinth in Trafalgar Square?

Keith Flett
London N17

Vol. 18 No. 17 · 5 September 1996

Of the three points raised by the publisher of Raymond Williams in her letter (Letters, 22 August), two are wrong and one is doubtful. 1. Raymond Williams’s official biographer? I have a letter from Fred Inglis, dated 18 October 1993, saying, inter alia, that he was now Raymond Williams’s official biographer, due to deliver his manuscript to Routledge by the end of 1994, and interested in talking to me. I understand that other people received a letter couched in similar terms. 2. John McIlroy. Inglis does indeed, in his prefatory acknowledgments, give fulsome thanks to Dr McIlroy for the loan of materials on Raymond Williams’s years in adult education, and salutes his ‘comradeship’. What he does not have the grace to acknowledge is that McIlroy has published a very substantial book on the subject – much more fully researched than Inglis’s treatment in two chapters. Elsewhere there are just three footnote references to McIlroy’s book: none of them expresses either appreciation or gratitude for a book which sets a new high standard of writing and research on adult education. 3. Oral History. To send interviewees transcripts of what they have said does not exhaust the writer’s responsibilities. Selective quotation can give a quite different twist to any extract. According to one who had to resort to it, there were two instances in which it was only the threat of legal action that persuaded Inglis to withdraw from the use he was making of the interview.

With regard to Nicolas Tredell’s letter in the same issue, I cannot see what is Brechtian about a biography which, so far from dispelling the illusion of immediacy, contrives to suggest that the author was an eye-witness to every incident, a participant-observer in every drama. The sexual politics of the book also seem to me murkier than Tredell suggests. I cannot see what is feminist about claiming – on the evidence of unknown women informants – that Williams had no ‘sexual presence’, or that a man who smoked a pipe was unimaginable as a lover. The belittling references to Raymond’s uxoriousness, and the sneering caption attached to the photograph of Raymond and Joy, suggest that Inglis, in common with many others on the left, finds the idea of a loving marriage difficult to contemplate. But whether he approves of its terms or not, he might have considered the possibility that this was one of the elements at stake in Raymond and Joy’s particularly close relationship. What struck me most in Inglis’s fumbling attempts to deal with the private man was that he could conceive of no independent being for Joy at all, and that far from emerging as the champion of feminist understandings of female subordination within the private sphere (which would require him, at the least, to have read the feminist work on Williams by Jardine and Swindells, Shiach, Kaplan et al, which he clearly hasn’t), he seems quite unconsciously compelled by his own masculine, even Oedipal relations to his appointed authority figures, not least Raymond Williams himself.

Among more thoughtful responses to my piece, Lawrence Goldman (Letters, 1 August) makes the very interesting suggestion that Culture and Society, so far from breaking new ground, actually presented the old adult education syllabus in new form, setting it out accessibly before a fresh audience in the expanding universities of the late Fifties and Sixties. This may be true, as Goldman suggests, of the pantheon of anti-industrial critics (Carlyle, Ruskin, Morris), but the centrality which Williams gives to Pugin’s Contrasts as a way of conceptualising the opposition between past and present in early 19th-century thought seems to come from somewhere else. More surprising is the fact that Williams chooses to start his narrative, and frame the problematic of his book, in terms taken from that age-old whipping boy of British radicalism, Edmund Burke. No less remarkable in a writer from the left is the absence of any reference to Burke’s great adversary, Tom Paine.

Raphael Samuel
London E1

Nicolas Tredell denounces Williams’s support for the Russian, Chinese and Cuban Revolutions, on the grounds that ‘violence against the state’ leads only to ‘death and suffering on a large scale’ – a point which, for some reason, became even more unarguable ‘after 1989’. This is a curious charge; I had thought that it was generally believed, and not only on the left, that revolutionary uprisings could be justified against some regimes, under some conditions. What those conditions might be, of course, is another question, and one to which my answer might well differ from Williams’s. Tredell’s criticism, however, could only have been preempted by Williams adopting either absolute pacifism or the defence of any and every status quo. In any case, Williams was far from being any sort of evangelist of revolution: keenly aware of the correlation between political liberation and immediate human suffering, in Modern Tragedy he went so far as to characterise revolution as tragedy. His judgment of the Chinese Cultural Revolution was complex and critical. But it wasn’t entirely negative – and that suffices for Inglis to render him a figure of fun, an armchair Maoist with no idea of the real implications of what he was saying (‘Rotovating a few beds of nettles … wasn’t what the Red Guards had in mind’). This shaft of derision – for Tredell a ‘vigorous and justified riposte’ – raises a few questions. Assume that Inglis had given Williams’s views on the Cultural Revolution the consideration they deserve and constructed a case against them. Could the line quoted above form part of such an argument? To ask the question is to answer it. Whatever arguments Inglis might be able to make – in his mind, perhaps – his method on paper is alien to debate: he proceeds by way of condescension, sneer and lampoon. (An approach which Tredell endorses, to judge from his own petulant swipe at Raphael Samuel.)

Phil Edwards

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