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This article is taken from PN Review 262, Volume 48 Number 2, November - December 2021.

Memories of Raymond Williams
with thanks to Professor Bryan Cheyette
David Herman
As a student at Cambridge in the late 1970s I attended a number of lecture courses by Raymond Williams on modern tragedy, from Ibsen to Brecht, and on Marxism and Literature. Williams spoke without notes, clearly and concisely.

Two things struck me about these lectures. First, his presence. In the words of his biographer Fred Inglis, Williams was ‘unassailably assured’, calm, authoritative. His former student Terry Eagleton spoke of ‘his deep inward ease of being, the sense of a man somehow centred and rooted and secure in himself.’ This was exactly my sense of Williams in the late 1970s.

Then there was his range and erudition. He talked about the history of drama from the Greeks and Racine to Chekhov and Strindberg, about Marxist debates about base, superstructure and hegemony.

Williams was then at the height of his career. During the 1970s he published his Fontana Modern Master on Orwell, a book on television, Keywords, Politics and Letters, a fascinating book of interviews about his life and work with three key figures from New Left Review and one of his best books, The Country and the City, which started with the question of how to read the English country-house poems and becomes a powerful social and historical analysis of how writers have idealized the countryside, suppressing the realities of rural labour and property relations.

He was astonishingly prolific. He wrote seven novels and wrote, edited and co-edited almost thirty books of literary and cultural criticism. He was also a regular contributor ...


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