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Letters

Vol. 18 No. 15 · 1 August 1996

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Raymond Williams

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
Colchester

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
Bristol

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
Sheffield

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
Manchester

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

Dark and Deep

In the course of a review identifying some of Jeffrey Meyers’s errors in interpreting Robert Frost’s poems, Helen Vendler (LRB, 4 July) commits one herself. She describes line 13 of ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’ as ‘gesturing towards two different perceptions: on the one hand, the woods are lovely; on the other, they are threateningly “dark and deep". The medial comma is used to separate the two aspects.’ This reading would rob the piece of its central poetic idea – the opposition in the speaker between a rapt contemplation of the woods’ beauty (‘the sweep/Of easy wind and downy flake’) and an acknowledgment of human obligations (‘But I have promises to keep’). The ‘conflictual stand-off’ of line 13 is Helen Vendler’s invention, an example of that ‘finding of irrelevant ambiguities’which Frost deprecated: ‘The stronger the writing, the sharper the definition’. As to E.C. Latham’s repunctuation, Donald Hall (‘Robert Frost Corrupted’, in the Atlantic Monthly) comments: ‘In Frost’s line, the general adjective “lovely" is explained by the more particular modifiers “dark" and “deep". In the editor’s line, the egalitarian threesome appears to be parallel, but of course it is not – it is as if we proclaimed that a farmer grew apples, Mclntoshes, and Northern Spies.’

John Constable
Addingham, West Yorkshire

Helen Vendler is slightly less than fair to Edward Connery Latham, editor of the 1969 Poetry of Robert Frost, in saying that he ‘silently adds an extra comma’ to the last line of ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’. This, and all his other mispunctuations, are detailed in his ‘Bibliographical and Textual Notes’at the end of the volume. No attempt at justification for the individual decisions is given, but I do not think one can say that he is ‘silent’.

Graham Roe
University of Sheffield

As a librarian whose budgeting partly depends on the due remaindering of Jeffrey Meyers’s biographies, I trust that Helen Vendler is not entirely gratified in the fulfilment of her hope that his Robert Frost will be ‘the sooner pulped the better’.

Frederick Barker
Newbold Heath, Leicestershire

Two-Sided

Paul Foot, in his review of Chris Moore’s The Kincora Scandal (LRB, 4 July), suggests that there are parallels between what happened at the Kincora Boys’ Home thirty years ago and more recent incidents of sexual abuse in children’s homes. For various reasons, some of which involve the role of M15, many of the parallels he suggests are open to question. But what is more important is that Foot’s account of recent events in the North-West is seriously, and perhaps even dangerously, misleading.

He writes that in Cheshire and in Liverpool, stories of abuse in children’s homes ‘have emerged piecemeal from a series of carefully separated trials in which the accused – all of them staff from the homes – have pleaded guilty to a series of charges of buggery, rape and indecent assault on the children in their care’. He goes on to note that one Cheshire solicitor ‘represents a hundred young people who say they have been abused in county council homes – and no one denies their claims’. The impression which is created is that the huge number of allegations made in Cheshire and Liverpool have not been contested in any way.

It certainly is the case that there are at least four well-established cases of sexual abuse in which the men involved have pleaded guilty, and in which there appears to be no doubt either about their betrayal of trust or about their conviction. But this is only a part of the story. At least seven more cases are in preparation and a number of investigations are still in progress. In six other cases which have already been heard the investigations are still in progress. In one of them, Shirley Brennan, who faced charges of physical abuse, was acquitted. When police eventually returned the photographic evidence which had been confiscated before her trial she was able to prove conclusively that the most serious allegation against her had been fabricated.

In another case in Cheshire a care-worker with an outstanding record was convicted. One experienced local court reporter, who has covered 20,000 cases, said that this was the only one in which he had ever become emotionally involved. When the guilty verdict was passed the defendant broke down in the dock and his family wept. Having heard all the evidence, the reporter felt that it should not have been possible for any jury to arrive at a guilty verdict beyond all reasonable doubt and that this care-worker, who is now in prison, was almost certainly innocent. Even the judge, who said during the trial how impressed he had been by letters from those who had formerly been in the man’s care, spoke of how these letters suggested ‘love in the true sense of the word’.

In a case heard earlier this year, Liverpool care-worker Phil Savage was sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment after pleading not guilty to a series of charges of sexual abuse which he believes were fabricated in order to gain compensation. His family and friends continue to believe in his innocence and his barrister is launching an appeal against his conviction. In yet another case in Liverpool, which came to an end shortly before Paul Foot’s review appeared, James Traynor was given an 11-year prison sentence. He was led from the court crying out that he was innocent. A local solicitor said that in twenty years’experience of work in criminal courts he had not witnessed such a scene.

Neither protestations of innocence nor the opinions of journalists can prove that miscarriages of justice have taken place. But if we are to avoid creating the kind of climate in which miscarriages of justice will actually become invisible, it is important to remember, as Paul Foot uncharacteristically forgets, that there are two sides to any process of justice. Above all, we should both respect and report the simple fact that a number of those accused in North Wales and the North-West have pleaded not guilty and that in some cases they have continued to protest their innocence vigorously while in prison.

Nobody can or should be obliged to believe what these men say without further evidence. But to silence their voices altogether, as Paul Foot effectively does in his article, can only serve to deepen the moral panic over children’s homes into which we seem to have fallen. At the very least these voices might persuade us to examine what has really happened in North Wales and the North-West a great deal more carefully and critically than we have yet done.

Richard Webster
Southwold, Suffolk

Undesirable

John Betjeman used to take his teddy bear, Archie, to bed with him every night. The attitude of various literary critics to T.S. Eliot and other great artists seems similar – they want to cuddle up close and they become petulant at any sign of criticism, as Betjeman did once when Geoffrey Grigson dared to make mild mock of Archie. James Wood is petulant about Anthony Julius’s study of T.S. Eliot (Letters, 4 July), though Julius did not use his critique of Eliot’s anti semitism as a launching-pad for a denigration of his poetry. Instead, he places his admiration for the poetry on record – as I did, too, in my review of Julius’s study. Art is not a comforter, and though many of us look to it for solace and redemption, it need not, as Julius shows, necessarily perform that function As Bernard Bergonzi says in his letter, Julius’s study is ‘cogent, well-informed and unsettling’. Bergonzi disagrees with him about the quality of Eliot’s anti-semitic poems, arguing that ‘Gerontion’ is ‘too fragmentary and incoherent to succeed’, and suggesting that the quatrain poems are ‘over-ingenious and trivial’. I disagree and believe that ‘Gerontion’ is a deeply disturbing vision of postwar Europe which draws on Keynes’s loathing of the Versailles peace settlement to articulate the conditions which produced Nazism and the Second World War.

It is possible to argue that Eliot’s Keynesianism – The Economic Consequences of the Peace is a major source of The Waste Land – struggles nobly against the rancour that suffuses areas of his poetry. But Wood and the quite grotesquely embarrassing Danny Karlin with his silver fishes and his boastful self-regard seem incapable of making a proper defence of Eliot. They are still in bed with Archie.

Tom Paulin
Oxford

Tom Paulin isn’t missing the point. Neither is Julius. The discipline of English Literature was first developed in colonial times to reinforce claims of the superiority of the Western cultural hegemony. It is now being foisted on our schools via the post-Dearing national curriculum for English. Eliot is one of the complicated and central voices of that hegemony. His racism is therefore something that matters to us all. The mix of Lady Di’s lefty, Tarantino-loving, divorce-settlement lawyer and a republican, lefty, Ulster Scot poet mixing it with this right-wing, anti-semitic, Anglo-Catholic, monarchical icon is clearly too heady a brew for many of your correspondents. But this is a key battle and goes to the heart of the war over what arguments about the curriculum and the canon are really about.

In Masks of Conquest: Literary Study and British Rule in India, Gauri Viswanathan reminds us that the argument about English Literature, about its canon and about its curriculum, is necessarily as much an argument about things unseen and unsaid, about its submerged and excluded voices and about the powers out side the realm of literature, as it is about the displayed objects. Your correspondents vilifying Julius and Paulin are aware of this, just as they must also be aware of the subtle, committed and lithe oppositional momentum created by Paulin in recent years from within a ‘Puritan-republican tradition’. James Wood, Bernard Bergonzi and Nigel Jackson should take note that it’s from this perspective that Paulin is able to write with tender favour of Eliot’s healing vision of monarchical and republican traditions folded together, the war over, while simultaneously warning that our admiration of Eliot ‘ought not to make us collude with Eliot’s displacement of the major tradition of English political verse … we must be alert to the Burkean or High Anglican conspiracy which has so distorted literary history.’

R.H. Marshall
Head of English

Thank you so very much for publishing Nigel Jackson’s letter. How rare it is to have attention drawn to, as he puts it, ‘the great damage done to the fabric of Western nations by Jewish interests during the last few hundred years’. My only quibble is why does he restrict himself to a couple of centuries? Surely he must agree with the opinion of Sigismondo de Contida Foligno, offered before 1512, that Jewish interests introduced syphilis to Europe? And were not these same interests responsible for the Black Death two centuries before that? And how can Mr Jackson forget the memory of poor William of Norwich, murdered by Jewish interests for his blood in 1144?

Brian Winston
Cardiff

Nigel Jackson’s letter has the virtue of clarity, but may say more about his own views than Eliot’s. Jackson (on Russell Kirk): ‘Kirk points out that it was the secular Jew attached to the Golden Calf whose influence Eliot attacked in After Strange Gods – and not the Jew attached to Moses.’ But Kirk does no such thing He points out instead that Eliot sees ‘the secular Jew’ as not even attached to the golden calf, and quotes Eliot: ‘It is better to worship a golden calf than to worship nothing.’ The problem with us free-thinking Jews is that we don’t even worship the golden calf, for the casting of which our ancestors at least contributed their gold (Exodus 32:2-4). But perhaps Jackson is thinking of the golden calf as a symbol for avarice, for the desire for more gold? Eliot used it as a symbol for Communism, a slightly subtler gesture of anti-semitism, it may be.

William Flesch
Brandeis University

Not to detract from Erik Svarny’s point regarding Eliot, Paulin and Karlin, but what Johnny Rotten actually said, as the Sex Pistols ground their way to the end of ‘No Fun’ at their final ghastly show at San Francisco’s Winterland, was ‘Ever had the feeling you’ve been cheated?’ – which, twenty years later, on the Filthy Lucre Tour, seems to have become their credo.

Nick Groom
School of English and American Studies

Whose Culture?

In her article about Jean-Michel Basquiat (LRB, 4 July), Wendy Steiner writes a sentence beginning: ‘In a culture created by other people, Basquiat … ’ This stopped me dead. Does she mean that some of us live in a culture created by ourselves? It looks like a piece of casual racism. A lot of people (of whatever colour, whatever racial origin) live in a culture that feels like it was created by ‘others’, by enemies even. Or perhaps she means that there is some vital connection (Jungian or of the blood?) between me (say) and the myriad creators of ‘my’culture – the ancient Jews and Greeks, for instance, or Sir Francis Drake, Martin Luther King and the Brontës – which Basquiat (say) lacks. It might seem, in fact, that Basquiat lived more in a culture of his own making than most of us ever manage to do. Is there a kind of ‘ethnic fundamentalism’ operating here?

Dan Hughes
Siena

He’s got a point

Bravo to Geoffrey Dutton (Letters, 18 July) for pointing out the widespread abuse of ‘famous’and ‘famously’. Surely what these words mean is: ‘Here’s a good line or anecdote which I’m going to call “famous" in case you already know it and think I’m a yokel for still finding it interesting.’

Michael Jenkins
London NW3

Carcanet Press

The offices of Carcanet Press Ltd and of PN Review were destroyed in the Manchester bomb of 15 June and only a portion of the records have been recovered. The editors would be grateful if authors, contributors, subscribers and members of the mailing list could write in providing addresses, phone and fax numbers so that the operation can be fully restored as soon as possible.

Michael Schmidt
Carcanet Press

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