Raymond Williams’ new book, The Long Revolution (Chatto & Windus, 30s.), develops the important themes of Culture & Society—the study of the theory of culture, and an analysis of the stage reached in the development of a “common culture”. This is the first of a two-part review of Williams’ work.
within two months of the publication of The Long Revolution the reception of the book is so well assured that I am released from the usual inhibitions upon a socialist reviewer—the need to repair the hostility of the general press. I have no need to insist upon the importance of Raymond Williams’ achievement. Even a brief passage of his writing has something about it which demands attention—a sense of stubborn, unfashionable integrity, a combination of distinction and force. His work, over the past ten years, carries an authority which commands the respect of his opponents; and the positions which he has occupied must be negotiated by critics and by historians, by educational theorists, by sociologists and by political theorists.
This is to say that his work is very important indeed, and that—so far as we can speak of a New Left—he is our best man. But, paradoxically, his influence as a socialist critic has been accompanied by—and has, to a certain degree, been the consequence of—his own partial disengagement from the socialist intellectual tradition. It is this problem which I wish to discuss. The greater I may start by mentioning that I have a real difficulty with Raymond Williams’tone. At times, in Culture and Society, I felt that I was being offered a procession of disembodied voices—
The tone in which one must speak in the presence of The Tradition has recently been indicated by Mr. Williams (during the course of a review in the Guardian) in a comment upon the nature of “genuine communication”:
You can feel the pause and effort: the necessary openness and honesty of a man listening to another, in good faith, and then replying.
The point, as Mr. Williams would say, is taken: genuine communication can be like this, and this also tells us much about the strength of his own style. But The Tradition has not been like this at all: Burke abused, Cobbett inveighed, Arnold was capable of malicious insinuation, Carlyle, Ruskin and D. H. Lawrence, in their middle years, listened to no one. This may be regretable: but I cannot see that the communication of anger, indignation, or even malice, is any less genuine. What is evident here is a concealed preference—in the name of “genuine communication”—for the language of the academy. And it is easy for the notion of “good faith” to refer, not only to the essential conventions of intellectual discourse, but also to carry overtones—through Newman and Arnold to the formal addresses of most ViceChancellors today—which are actively offensive.
I am suggesting three things. First, through a great part of the history covered by Mr. Williams “tradition”, the tone of the academy has seemed less than disinterested to those millions who have inhabited the “shabby purlieus” of the centres of learning. When Jude and Sue finally came to rest at Christminster, Hardy offers us a view of at least one part of “the tradition” through their eyes;