Revised transcript of a recorded conversation between Richard Hoggart and Raymond Williams – August Bank Holiday, 1959.
R.W.: I’m glad that at last we’ve managed to meet. Since The Uses of Literacy and Culture and Society came out, many people have assumed that we knew each other well, though in fact I think it’s been no more than exchanging perhaps half a dozen letters in the last twelve years, none of them, it seems, while the books were being written. Of course it’s natural that the two books should have been compared and connected, but such relationships as there are have come out of the general situation, and not from our knowing each other. Can we just clear up the dates of writing and publication? The Uses of Literacy came out in the Spring of 1957, Culture and Society in September 1958. Actually I began Culture and Society (then The Idea of Culture) in 1952, after an earlier try in 1950. I finished it in the autumn of 1956. I was actually writing the Conclusion during the weeks of Hungary and Suez. So, though we were often writing about the same things, we hadn't each other's books to refer to.
R.H.: The Uses of Literacy was originally finished in the summer of 1955–the delay in publishing was caused by clearing some passages which might have been libellous. I had begun in 1952 too, by writing one chapter which doesn’t appear. I was thinking then of something quite simple in scope and size–a series of critical essays on popular literature. Soon I began to feel that I wanted to relate this material to the day-to-day experience of people. After this, a strange thing happened . . . things I'd been writing since 1946 (bits of a novel and some unconnected descriptive pieces) began to fall into place in the new book.
R.W.: It’s interesting, the way the books were built. I can remember my own first impulse, back at the end of the 'forties. I felt very isolated, except for my family and my immediate work. The Labour Government had gone deeply wrong, and the other tradition that mattered, the cultural criticism of our kind of society, had moved, with Eliot, right away from anything I could feel. It seemed to me I had to try to go back over the tradition, to look at it again and get it into relation with my own experience, to see the way the intellectual tradition stood in the pattern of my own growing-up. As I saw the cultural tradition then, it was mainly Coleridge, Arnold, Leavis and the Marxists, and the development, really, was a discovery of relationships inside the tradition, and also a discovery of other relationships: Cobbett and Morris, for example, who brought in parts of my experience that had been separate before. Getting the tradition right was getting myself right, and that meant changing both myself and the usual version of the tradition. I think this is one of the problems we’re both conscious of: moving out of a working-class home into an academic curriculum, absorbing it first and then, later, trying to get the two experiences into relation.
R.H.: Yes; though I have a feeling that someone brought up among village working-people may be able to bridge this gap more easily than someone from the working-classes in a large industrial city. Or perhaps I’m ascribing to social differences what is really due to a difference in personality. At any rate I felt from your book that you were surer, sooner than I was, of your relationship to your working-class background. With me, I remember, it was a long and troublesome effort. It was difficult to escape a kind of patronage, even when one felt one was understanding the virtues of the working-class life one had been brought up in–one seemed to be insisting on these strengths in spite of all sorts of doubts in one's attitudes. One tried consciously, in the light of day, to make genuine connections, to see deeply and not just to feel sentimentally . . . but it was a running argument.
R.W.: We both came from working-class families, but otherwise, really, from very different ways of life. I don't know, I'd like you to look at Pandy and I at Hunslet. I think the bridge is easier in Wales, in some ways. There’s the respect for education among most ordinary people, and in the general life, as I knew it, less exclusion of certain kinds of art and intellectual interest: popular, certainly, and in many ways limited, but still serious, in the sense that these things were part of an ordinary life. I know this was so in my own home, though I suppose we never owned more than half-a-dozen books until we got our Daily Herald set of Dickens. And I know when I went out, there was no sense of going right against the grain. It was an unusual world I was entering, but still it was basically approved.
R.H.: I think working-class life may change when a town reaches more than a certain size. I talked about this once with Asa Briggs who comes from a smallish industrial township in the West Riding, a wool town. He is the same age and a scholarship boy; the family had a corner shop which, I believe, failed in the '30's. The points he made about working-class attitudes in his township seemed more applicable to your Welsh village than to my big city, Leeds.