Williams and the Romantic Turn

This essay begins by considering the place of the Romantic period in Williams’s various accounts of pivotal historical moments. It goes on, however, to address two interrelated questions about Williams’s changing relation to the category of Romanticism, from his account of the "Romantic Artist" and the "Creative Imagination" around 1960 through his more systematic work on the sociology of literature in the 1970s and after. One question is about how the Romantic period matters to the history of genres that Williams, as a critic who worked across genres, came to elaborate in some detail. He came to believe that the period was important for any account of genres, but not, like other critics, for its prioritization of lyric poetry. The second question is about Williams’s relation to the enterprise of practical criticism at Cambridge, especially his challenge to the project of I. A. Richards, which was of course determined in large part by its focus on reading the lyric. Williams challenged Richards with an emphasis on drama, out of which he developed his notion of the "structure of feeling." And it was in his somewhat underappreciated book of 1965, Modern Tragedy, that a kind of turning point is reached in Williams’s thinking about Romanticism, which recedes markedly in the later work.

Determination in the Passive Voice (Wordsworth and Williams)

The problem of determination takes particular shape during the nineteenth century, as it becomes increasingly difficult to disentangle the concept of determination from Marxism on the one hand (as Marxism focuses attention on the ways preexisting conditions fix a course of events) and Romanticism on the other (as determined comes also to mean "unwavering" or "persistent"). In this essay I track these two competing definitions of determined through the writing of Raymond Williams and William Wordsworth. As critical concepts open to caricature, Romanticism and Marxism are sometimes placed in tension: where Romanticism prioritizes the power of the individual will, Marxism prioritizes the external forces that condition it. But the texts we choose to read closely often challenge the characterizations we bring to bear on them. Williams, for instance, struggles against Marxism’s focus on economic determinism and Wordsworth concludes Book I of The Prelude—a poem that celebrates certain forms of self-determination—by foregrounding the importance of "determined bounds," bounds that have been determined by others. In this way, both writers are sensitive to the various and sometimes competing senses of "determination" in their work. In placing Wordsworth alongside Williams my interests turn grammatical, for Williams and Wordsworth are often drawn to the passive voice in their writing about determination. If both writers share an interest in determination and its various and competing connotations, what can we learn about the concept from attending to the grammatical, even stylistic, choices writers make when writing about determination?

Introduction: Raymond Williams and Romanticism

This volume considers the place of Romantic works and the Romantic period itself in the work of one of the most important twentieth-century theorists of culture, Raymond Williams. Few works have generated as much critical thinking about Romantic writing’s literary purposes and social meanings as Culture and Society: 1780–1950 (1958), The Long Revolution (1961), or The Country and the City (1973), but, as these essays suggest, many of Williams’s other works have a more oblique yet equally powerful relationship to Romanticism’s moment. After an introduction that pays particular attention to central concepts passed down from Williams like "structure of feeling" and "cultural formation," these essays revisit Williams over thirty years after his death to reconsider his bearing on particular Romantic authors or broader sociohistorical processes in order to ask how his work helps us ask questions about the contemporary university and the place of the humanities within it.

Raymond Williams, Industrialism, and Romanticism, 1780–1850

The concept of "industrialism" was the antithesis of the idea of "culture" that ran through the work of Raymond Williams. I want to suggest that the dichotomy, which remains remarkably durable even in his later work, represents a reductive account of the complexities of the project of the Industrial Revolution at odds with the way that cultural materialism in the hands of Williams was more generally alert to the contradictions at work in relations between economic developments and cultural forms. Williams on "industrialism" perpetuated the invisibility of the literary and intellectual culture of manufacturing towns like Manchester in traditional Romantic scholarship. This essay uses the method of later Williams against the more "Romantic" Williams to give a sense of the way writing from within the Industrial Revolution might be regarded as a key genre of the literature of the period, one increasingly riven by contradictions between its aspirations towards human flourishing and the emergence of a society of the machine.

Reading Marxism and Literature Now: Book History and the Politics of Work and World

This essay seeks to contextualize Williams’s Marxism and Literature in the history of Marxist and structuralist debates about language and mediation. It emphasizes the book’s usefulness in thinking both about our profession and our relationship to other kinds of workers. Williams consistently emphasizes process over structure and roots much of his understanding of Marxism in the history of Romantic-era England. Understanding media as an active process has important consequences for the fields of book history and media studies, as well as for the larger field of English studies. I argue that in seeing language as labor, knowledge workers operate in solidarity not only with each other but with the workers responsible for producing the material media on which we disseminate our texts. In turn, such thinking provides a trajectory for decolonizing English studies.

Raymond Williams on Jane Austen, Again

In The Country and the City (1973), Raymond Williams launched an investigation into the historical character of Jane Austen’s fiction which has profoundly influenced our understanding of the novelist’s work and the period in which she wrote. This essay first examines Williams’s curiously static representation of Austen, offered by a critic otherwise attuned to a literary and social history conceived as unsettled and agitated. The limitations of his approach reflect both gender bias and a bias toward realism, especially evident in Williams’s reliance on the figure of perspective. To loosen understanding of the history in Austen, this essay proposes a turn to Williams’s later reflections on media, notably Television: Technology and Cultural Form (1974), where rhythm, sound, and temporality replace the geometries of visual perspective. Doing so asks us to reconsider the work of reading as Williams depicts it and to move Austen off the page and elsewhere, to less familiar horizons and other media.

"In His Time and in Ours": Reading Cobbett (and Jane Austen) with Raymond Williams

This essay explores developments in Raymond Williams’s account of William Cobbett in part as a way to understand his shifting sense of the literature of the Romantic period with respect to the impact of industrialization and social change. I make the case for a more nuanced understanding of the well-known contrast in The Country and the City between Austen and Cobbett, as writers on two sides of the park wall, and argue that the Past Masters volume on Cobbett deserves to be more fully appreciated as a significant late work, both in terms of its historical method and its sense of the significance of the Romantic period, which is strikingly aligned with Williams’s own contingent historical experience. 

New Maps: Raymond Williams’s Radical Humanism

This paper argues that if the tension between Raymond Williams’s inscription within many of the very cultural influences that his work was aimed at "clearing" and the critical scrutiny that he brought to bear on the historical sources of these limitations offered a compelling counterpoint to the strengths and the problems inherent in Romantic authors’ own stress on the primacy of lived experience in face of the hostile pressures of their day, his understanding of these authors as both a pioneering force in the development of new ideas about the role of culture and as cautionary examples of the dangerous tug of abstraction may well be more material than ever.

Introduction: What We Ask About When We Talk About Nineteenth-Century Jewish Literature

Nineteenth-century Anglo-Jewish literature engages a wide range of thematic and aesthetic preoccupations. This volume brings together several essays that highlight such breadth, even as the essays converge upon several questions that recur consistently throughout this literature: what does it mean to advertise one’s subjectivity, especially where the expression of such subjectivity is inflected by aesthetic and formalist concerns that are historically connected to English nationalism? Such questions are especially relevant when considered alongside the historical context: Jews in England did not achieve political emancipation until 1858, and they were widely regarded as racially other for much of the century. Jewish writers do not answer such questions with one voice; however, their political and cultural contexts put pressure on their aesthetic choices, and we explore these choices in the essays that follow.

Situating the King Sisters within Literary Tradition

Although critics have studied extensively the Gothic writings of Charlotte Dacre (Rey, King, Rosa Matilda), they have rarely discussed her work as Jewish writing, and they have largely ignored the poetry and fiction of her younger sister Sophia King (Fortnum). In fact, both sisters, daughters of perhaps the most well-known Jew in England at the time, John King (Rey), never severed connections with their father and wrote both directly and obliquely as Jewish women; moreover, they were read as Jewish women. The historical trauma of the Jewish expulsion from Iberia and the persecution by the Inquisition is reflected in the writings of these Sephardic women. Fearlessly innovating within the Gothic, sentimental, and philosophical traditions of writing, they also subversively played against sexual stereotypes, linking their work to women like Aphra Behn and Eliza Haywood, and anticipating the sexually explicit work of Philip Roth and I. B. Singer. Moreover, their use of the supernatural draws upon Jewish traditions of dybbuks and demons in the past and in the future. Reading the work of Charlotte Dacre and Sophia King re-inscribes the importance of Jewish contexts within Romantic aesthetics.