PODCAST: ‘Cambridge English and After’ – a lecture by Raymond Williams

On the blog for October we have the final podcast from the ‘Raymond Williams Tapes’ project. Funded by the Barry Amiel and Norman Melburn Trust, over the past six months it has digitised and released recordings of Williams lecturing on Marxism, the industrial novel, education, ecosocialism, and nineteenth-century fiction. The last talk is on ‘Cambridge English and After’ from 1979.

Cambridge English is a topic Williams returned to repeatedly at the start of the 1980s, as he neared retirement as Professor of Drama at the University of Cambridge. ‘Crisis in English Studies’ was given in a Cambridge gripped by the MacCabe Affair in 1981 and followed by the April 1983 retirement lectures: ‘Cambridge English Past and Present’ and ‘Beyond Cambridge English’. All three are collected together in Writing in Society (Verso 1983), with the two retirement lectures published in shortened form as ‘Cambridge English and Beyond’ in the London Review of Books.

Williams with Frank Kermode, Cambridge, 1981

After leaving Cambridge as a student in 1946, Williams worked as an adult education tutor for 15 years for the University of Oxford Delegacy of Extra-Mural Studies in conjunction with the Workers’ Educational Association in East Sussex. He then returned in 1961 and was made professor in 1974. So he was well-placed to evaluate and critique the historical formation of Cambridge English. Williams suggests this 1979 lecture can be thought of as an unofficial memorial to I. A. Richards who had died a month earlier. He also mentions his lecture to mark the death of F. R. Leavis the year before. These were two men he radically disagreed with but deeply respected. ‘Cambridge English and After’ – notably different than the published versions of what is very similar material – is a historical survey of the formation of a particular way of studying literature, the limitations of such a formation, notably of its construction of Englishness, and a penetrating analysis of what he calls ‘the unproblematic use of this most problematic concept, literature’.

Many thanks to the Barry Amiel and Norman Melburn Trust for making this project possible and to Merryn Williams for her continued support.