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This review is taken from PN Review 176, Volume 33 Number 6, July - August 2007.

FLAGRANTLY STRANGE JOHN HAFFENDEN, William Empson: Vol. II - Against the Christians (Oxford University Press) £30

Irreplacable, vastly informative, boundlessly sympathetic, and, alas, too long, Volume II of this massive biography makes a fit complement to Volume I: the volumes become the required starting points for any future writing about the iconoclastic poet and critic, and they are a store of entertainment for readers who already admire the man. Haffenden's biography - more than 1400 pages, when both volumes are taken together, with notes - reflects his more than two decades working on Empson, editing Empson's texts (most recently a big Selected Letters) and inter - viewing his acquaintances. Haffenden leaves nothing out: like Volume I, Volume II can be read for pleasure by, and only by, people already obsessed with Empson or fascinated by his works - a category to which I hope some readers of this journal belong.

Volume I divided neatly into unequal quarters: youth, Cambridge, Japan, and China. Volume II splits Empson's later life into unequal fourths, too. First, the war years which he spent at the BBC, broadcasting - or trying to broadcast - culturally appropriate news and Allied propaganda to, and about, China and the Far East; colleagues there - all of whom remained his friends - included George Orwell, Louis MacNeice, and the Indian independence activist and writer Mulk Raj Anand. (It's hard to imagine remaining friendly, for years, with Orwell, with Anand, and with the right-wing poet Roy Campbell: but Empson did it.)

Second, the postwar years (1947-52) of his return to China, ...


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