On the blog for September we have a recording of a Raymond Williams lecture on ‘Forms of English Fiction in 1848’ from 1977. It was first published by the University of Essex in 1978 and released a few years later by Verso in Writing in Society. The lecture you can listen to below was delivered at a conference titled ‘Sociology of Literature’ in Essex.
As Williams confirms in his short introduction on ‘Writing’ in Writing in Society, the lecture was given from ‘few or no notes’ and published verbatim after some minor editorial changes. It also has ‘a specific relation to the theoretical work’, according to Williams, published in Marxism and Literature (1977) and Culture (1981). Note the emphasis on ‘emergent’, for example, and how forms of social relationships are embodied in literary forms. Like a number of lectures in the Raymond Williams Tapes project, Williams can be heard working through, developing, and expanding ideas as he speaks. Crucially, something isn’t lost in the act of public speaking, rather it is a site of creative, intellectual production.
Unfortunately, the last 12 lines of the published version of ‘Forms of English Fiction in 1848’ are missing from the tape. They read thus: ‘For these, as new content and as new forms of the content, are genuinely emergent elements: production, significant production, attempting to lift and at the same time, in a fully extended production, bearing the full weight of the pressures and limits, in ways which the simple forms, the simple contents, of mere ideological reproduction never achieve. Of course we now know more than these writers of 1848 about the pressures and limits – the deep and decisive social relations and conflicts – of what for us is now a period, a date. But to the extent that we know these substantially – not indifferently, not as mere “knowing” – we have to recognize that a significant part of this understanding is that we know them; know what in struggle, and partially, then began to come through’ (Williams, Writing in Society, p. 165).
Many thanks to the Barry Amiel and Norman Melburn Trust for making this project possible and to Merryn Williams for her continued support.