Prophet of the Left

I first met my future colleague Raymond Williams in 1959, when I was a young lecturer in English literature at Cambridge and he still a tutor in adult education in Oxford. His best-known book. Culture and Society 1780-1950 (1958), had just appeared—a late-Marxist interpretation of English intellectual life since the French Revolution—and what I principally remember from that first encounter was his glowing pride in the commercial success of the book which (as he explained) had greatly surprised his publisher, but not himself. "He is taking me to better restaurants for lunch now," he remarked, exuding pleasure.

In the almost-30 years that I knew him, down to his death in January 1988 at the age of 66, that paradoxical note was to be struck again and again: a fierce pride in capitalistic success and its consumer rewards, coupled with a fierce hatred of capitalism itself and its political and cultural pretensions. By mid-career in Cambridge, which he had reached as a Fellow of Jesus College in 1961 (the year The Long Revolution appeared), he was to become the proud owner of two country houses—one in England and one in his native mid-Wales—and the talk was much of hi-fi, wall-to-wall carpets, swimming pools, and color TV, while his chief passion seemed to be for American musicals—especially if they starred Sammy Davis Jr. or Doris Day.

But the usual jibes about parlor-socialists...

Join now to access the full article and gain access to other exclusive features.

Get Started

Already a member? Sign in here