- Richard Hoggart: Virtue and Reward by Fred Inglis
Polity, 259 pp, £25.00, October 2013, ISBN 978 0 7456 5171 2
Richard Hoggart made much in his writings of the scholarship child’s uprootedness and anxiety, but his own dislocation had its limits. Although he went from a primary school in a poor part of Leeds to grammar school and on to university, Hoggart never really made what the novelist Storm Jameson, a generation ahead of him at the University of Leeds, called the ‘journey from the North’. After serving with the Royal Artillery in North Africa and Italy, he returned to Britain in 1946 and got a job in adult education, shuttling up and down the North Yorkshire coast to teach English literature. Several years later he moved to Hull as a lecturer at the university. After Hull it was Leicester, and then Birmingham.
Hoggart’s unmetropolitan trajectory was part of what made him famous. The Uses of Literacy, published in 1957, established him as an authority on the working class and its future. Through a combination of memoir and literary criticism (of popular fiction, songs and newspapers), he identified characteristics of ‘traditional’ working-class culture: supportive, neighbourly, sentimental, reflexively translating social or political questions into personal terms. He also purported to show that 1950s affluence and the ‘newer mass art’ – both of which were bound up with Americanisation – threatened this culture. Gangster fiction and sex-and-violence novels fostered moral emptiness; glossy magazines and pop songs invited consumers into ‘a candyfloss world’.
The book’s ideas took shape as Hoggart tried to win his evening-class students over to new ways of reading literature and to seeing advertising as something that could also be ‘read’. He was one of a large number of men and women who committed themselves to furthering the postwar expansion of secondary schooling and adult education and to the larger ambition of making art and literature part of ordinary life in a more democratic Britain. Many in this cohort who taught English drew their critical approach and teaching method – and their sense of belonging to a cause – from Scrutiny, the Cambridge journal driven by F.R. Leavis. Hoggart had no personal connection with Leavis and his circle, and did not share all their literary valuations: his first book was about Auden, whom Scrutiny had anathematised. In his teaching, though, he followed Leavis’s example. He focused on ‘the words on the page’, not background material, and made his students analyse pairs of unattributed poems and prose passages, pressing them to discriminate (a key word) between the living and the hollow.
The Uses of Literacy, like Raymond Williams’s Culture and Society, which appeared a year later, was a product of the tension between its author’s Leavisian methods and his un-Leavisian politics. The highly personal survey of working-class culture in the first half of The Uses of Literacy was a critique of the work of Queenie Leavis, whose Fiction and the Reading Public was less about readers than about the ways mass culture exploited them. Criticism of popular culture, Hoggart said, had to attend to the ‘wider life’ of ‘the people’ and ‘the attitudes they bring to their entertainments’. Where the Leavises saw manufactured sentiment, Hoggart discerned authentic values and emotional styles.
Hoggart made a case for the existence of a working-class ‘culture’, an argument that ran counter to the more literary and exclusive definition of culture propounded by the Leavises. Williams’s Culture and Society was a very different kind of book – a history of ideas about culture from the Industrial Revolution onwards – but Williams too insisted on the cultural resources of working-class life. In his manifesto Mass Civilisation and Minority Culture (1930), F.R. Leavis declared that human consciousness depended on the minority who could appreciate ‘Dante, Shakespeare, Donne, Baudelaire, Hardy’ and recognise their present-day successors. Williams suggested deleting Dante, Donne, Baudelaire and Hardy, and adding, among other things, committee procedure and the nature of wage labour.
After The Uses of Literacy, Hoggart’s main contributions to British culture were as a public intellectual, committee member and administrator. He gave an institutional home to cultural studies by establishing a centre for it at the University of Birmingham after he took up a chair there in 1962. As warden of Goldsmiths College in London he oversaw the creation of an influential media studies programme and an overhaul of teacher training. Between Birmingham and Goldsmiths he worked for Unesco in Paris. He never wrote anything else as ambitious as The Uses of Literacy, but the quieter books of his later career are wry and observant, and have a grace that might surprise anyone put off by memories (or rumours) of the moralism of The Uses of Literacy. His autobiographical trilogy – A Local Habitation (1988), A Sort of Clowning (1990) and An Imagined Life (1992) – dwells on the texture of everyday existence, the class nuances of habits of speech and thought, and the idiosyncrasies of places and people. Extended character studies, such as the one of Bonamy Dobrée, Hoggart’s mentor at Leeds, sit alongside deft cameos, like that of the Local Education Authority director who took an interest in the undergraduate Hoggart. (‘“I tell you what,” he said. “Come back in a week and let me know how you’ve got on. Off you go, lad.” The director of education as bluff Yorkshire mill-owner; another one from Central Casting.’) Unsurprisingly, Hoggart’s powers of observation and empathy weaken as the gap between observer and observed widens, most noticeably in his musings on students and the permissive society.
Memoirs of such length and depth can be a mixed blessing for a biographer: they are a resource but also cast a shadow. This is certainly the case with Fred Inglis’s book, which leans very heavily on the autobiographical volumes. Anecdotes that Hoggart supplies in his measured style, the punchlines and angular phrases carefully spaced out, are retold by Inglis with chatty extravagance. Inglis adds some astute judgments and possibly imagined details: Hoggart says the depot of a haulage firm where he worked as a night clerk was warmed by ‘a big old stove’; in Inglis’s book it becomes a ‘vast, gothic cast-iron stove’. But there isn’t much new information here. Inglis makes only sporadic references to the large and well-catalogued collection of Hoggart’s papers at the University of Sheffield, and none to other resources such as Hoggart’s correspondence with Dobrée or the archives of his publishers, Penguin and Chatto and Windus. The Hoggart shown here is almost always the public or published face.
So we don’t get much about Hoggart’s personal life (as an adult, anyway) or the relationship between work and family. Inglis is frank about this. ‘Recreating the necessarily private magnificence of the Hoggarts’ family life is impossible to me,’ he writes. ‘I don’t know enough and I haven’t the talent. But its actuality cannot be doubted.’ There is a contrast here with Inglis’s biography of Raymond Williams, published in 1995, which offered judgments about Williams’s marriage and his need to withdraw into a chilly inner world. (Critics accused Inglis of pretending to know more than he did.) Because he has spent only limited time in the archives, Inglis can’t say much about Hoggart’s professional life either. We don’t see the books and projects taking shape, or overhear exchanges between teacher and student.
Much of what Inglis has to say about the context of Hoggart’s life and work is clearly based on his own recollections of the times or on books read some time ago. This is one of the ways in which Inglis’s book unexpectedly resembles Our Age, Noel Annan’s group portrait of the post-1945 great and good: new characters are introduced with a splashy description; rankings matter (so and so was the best sociologist of the time); there are frequent hints that the author knows the people being described; and swathes of social, cultural and intellectual history are surveyed from memory. The effect is to reproduce received wisdom – or to make eccentric judgments sound like received wisdom.
In his account of Hoggart’s star turn in the Lady Chatterley’s Lover trial in 1960 – Penguin had been charged under the Obscene Publications Act for putting out an unexpurgated edition of Lawrence’s novel – Inglis dwells predictably on the Establishment snobbery personified by the prosecuting counsel, Mervyn Griffith-Jones. No one, as Inglis says, can resist quoting his rhetorical question to the jurors: was Lawrence’s novel the sort of thing they would wish their wives or servants to read? But the routine satirising of Griffith-Jones makes it harder to see what an achievement Hoggart’s performance was. Inglis thinks the prosecutor was ‘rattled’ by Hoggart’s characterisation of Lawrence’s attitude to sexuality as ‘puritanical’, and that he made a mis-step when he told Hoggart off for ‘lecturing’ the court: ‘You are not at Leicester University at the moment.’ Sybille Bedford, sitting in the gallery, felt that Griffith-Jones stressed the word ‘Leicester’. Hoggart too recalled a slight pause before Griffith-Jones named the university, ‘as if he had to recover the name of so insignificant a place from the depths of his memory’. Griffith-Jones’s attempts to needle Hoggart and his bafflement at the description of Lawrence as a puritan were probably premeditated, an attempt to establish solidarity with the jury through plain-speaking anti-intellectualism. In any case, the idea of Lawrence as a puritan wasn’t a wild one. Frieda Lawrence had called Lady Chatterley’s Lover ‘the last word in Puritanism’, claiming that ‘only an Englishman or a New Englander could have written it.’ Griffith-Jones presumably knew this, since the quip appeared in the preface to an American edition he had been supplied with.
Hoggart’s testimony in the trial further enhanced his standing at Penguin (The Uses of Literacy, like other popular non-fiction books of the time, such as Culture and Society and Michael Young and Peter Willmott’s Family and Kinship in East London, was read by most people in the Pelican edition). He became a member of Allen Lane’s brains trust. Hoggart turned to the publisher for funding when he was setting up the Birmingham Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies (CCCS) a few years later. Lane had to be persuaded by his senior adviser W.E. Williams, whose influence at Penguin was of a piece with the part he played elsewhere in the democratisation of British culture (he was successively secretary of the British Institute of Adult Education, director of the Army Bureau of Current Affairs and secretary general of the Arts Council). The way Hoggart remembered it, Williams said to Lane: ‘Oh, give him what he asks, Allen. You’ve made a fortune by riding cultural change without understanding it.’
In his inaugural lecture at Birmingham, Hoggart outlined a programme for CCCS that would combine the critical appraisal of films, popular fiction and the press with empirical research on the way mass culture was produced and consumed. The lecture was printed in the teachers’ journal Use of English, whose editor was Denys Thompson, a grammar school headmaster and former Scrutiny co-editor. Thompson was the person who did most to extend F.R. Leavis’s brand of literary criticism into the terrain of mass culture and to embed Scrutiny’s approach in secondary education. He didn’t see eye to eye with Hoggart, especially on the question of whether any good could come of television, but he took a latitudinarian approach and recognised that Hoggart and the late Stuart Hall, whom Hoggart had made his deputy at CCCS, were engaged in responsible and ‘discriminating’ investigations of mass-cultural forms. This broadly Leavisite project didn’t last for long. Within a few years, CCCS researchers, including Hall (who did most to define the centre’s culture, Hoggart having more to do with the English department and the university at large), became convinced that literary criticism couldn’t give them the theoretical understanding of culture and society that they needed. They looked instead to Weber, Durkheim and Karl Mannheim; structuralism and ‘Western Marxism’ came later. By the early 1970s, the centre’s research had become increasingly sociological and ethnographic, focusing on youth subcultures as sites of resistance to the dominant culture. CCCS retained a quorum of researchers in media studies and even literature, but they too were concerned with the operations of power and ideology; judgments about literary merit were beside the point.
Inglis’s account of the eclipse of Hoggart’s version of cultural studies is bitter and brief. It would have been good to hear more. Inglis himself read English at Cambridge in the late 1950s, supervised not by Leavis but by one of ‘the whole-hog admirers of later years’, in Denys Thompson’s phrase. He became a teacher, and in the late 1960s and 1970s was a prominent young champion of a Leavisian conception of English against the prevailing linguistic approaches to the subject in schools, according to which literature was one form of language use among many, to be studied alongside – or subordinated to – everyday kinds of writing and talking. He lectured in education at several universities before taking up a post in cultural studies at Warwick in 1989. His career, at least between the 1950s and the 1980s, illustrates, like Hoggart’s own, the ways in which a methodologically and politically restless ‘English’ reverberated between traditional centres of intellectual authority (Cambridge above all) and institutions such as adult education bodies, secondary modern schools, training colleges, newer universities and polytechnics.
As cultural studies became both more radical and more theoretical, its practitioners dissociated themselves from Hoggart. He was often compared unfavourably with Williams, a proper socialist and a proper theorist (recent champions of Hoggart such as Sue Owen have, in turn, played up his credentials as a theorist). And his celebration of a ‘women-centred’ world of working-class nurture became an object of feminist critique. Carolyn Steedman turned Hoggart’s genre-of-one against itself in Landscape for a Good Woman (1986), which works outwards from a scholarship girl’s memoir of a single mother who was ambivalent about her children and longed for ‘fine clothes, glamour, money; to be what she wasn’t’. In The Uses of Literacy, glamour was part of the candyfloss world that menaced working-class culture: it wasn’t part of that culture. Steedman’s objection wasn’t just to Hoggart’s moral assumptions, but also to his belief in the simplicity and passivity of ‘emotional life in working-class communities’. It was impossible to think seriously about the psychology of class and gender, about how working-class girls became working-class women, without breaking with Hoggart.
Inglis doesn’t go after Steedman, but other feminists appear here as bossyboots. At Goldsmiths, Inglis writes, Hoggart
recoiled, as well he might, from the sanctimonious and puffed-up play of pieties put on display by a group of fierce feminists offended by a drawing, part of the artist’s exhibition in the senior common room, of a big and beautiful female pudenda (belonging to the artist’s wife). The Warden condemned in the college newsletter the objectors’ ‘crass failure to respond to the beauty of line in the drawing, let alone its tender subject’.
No ‘man of his time’ talk here. Inglis isn’t a biographer who makes excuses or concessions in the hope of holding on to readers who may be sympathetic to some aspects of his subject but sceptical about others. He wants his readers to agree that Hoggart is ‘someone who has met the moral duty of the citizen to look out hard for the best parts of our history and has sought to make them tell in later generations’. For him Hoggart is the exemplar of a living tradition as well as a figure of historical significance. But while it makes sense to place Hoggart in a long debate about ‘the condition of England’, as Inglis does, his view of his society and his way of talking about it were part of a particular historical moment: the moment of army education, of the Butler Act, of Penguin, of Leavisism. Inglis’s gloominess about the state of the media and public life in contemporary Britain suggests that he doubts whether it is possible any longer to speak from the position of cultured authority that Hoggart occupied from the 1950s to the 1980s. It is also debatable how useful the tradition of cultural criticism in which Hoggart worked is for thinking about educational opportunity and the value of the arts and intellectual life now, in a very different media ecology and a more diverse Britain. For Inglis the story of the common room artwork illustrates Hoggart’s liberalism, but it also points to some of the limits of that mid-20th-century mode of thinking about culture and society.