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William Empson, Volume I: Among the Mandarins: Among the Mandarins v. 1 Hardcover – 28 Apr 2005
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Haffenden's narrative is driven along with such gusto, such alert intelligence, such obvious pleasure in the task, that no one could reasonably grumble at the story's inordinate length. It is a virtuoso feat of scholarship: a telling demonstration of what biography, as it finest, can actually achieve. (Ian Donaldson Australian Book Review)
...a stunning demonstration of the power of intellectual biography (Ronald Shusterman, Universite de Provence)
'...measured and affectionate in tone, exhaustive in detail, lucid in the exposition of his difficult verse and often anguished life.' (Sam Leith, The Spectator)
Magisterial scholarship (Ruben Christiansen, The Spectator)
A magnificent biography. (Terry Eagleton, New Statesman)
A triumph. It is funny, dense, touching and farcical. This is an exhilarating tale. (Margaret Drabble, Books of the Year, TLS)
Haffenden is without doubt the world's foremost authority on the details of Empson's life. (Jason Harding, TLS)
'a magnificent biography... [a] grippingly readable volume'. (Terry Eagleton, New Statesman Books of the Year)
One of the finest biographies of an English literary figure. (James Wood, Guardian Review)
Magnificent and surprisingly gripping book, intelligently written, with a background of thorough research, well-illustrated and well-indexed. (Anthony Thwaite, Sunday Telegraph)
About the Author
Currently Head of Department at the University of Sheffield, John Haffenden was educated at Trinity College, Dublin and Oxford University, and began his teaching career at H. M. Prison, Oxford. He has received awards from the Authors' Foundation of the Society of Authors and the British Academy, and has been a British Academy Research Reader and a Leverhulme Research Fellow. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and an elected founding Fellow of the English Association.
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It is absorbing for many reasons. Haffenenden's narrative tells the story of the Empson family, and in so doing gives us the decline of the late Nineteenth Century's land owning classes, English Public Schools (Empson was a Wykehamist), the prudery of Cambridge University (he was expelled when contraceptives were discovered in his suit case), academic work in China, his mathematical, poetical and critical development, as well as friendships with many of the leading figures of the age, particularly I A Richards and F R Leavis.
Empson was an eccentric, a drinker, a lover - and despite the grinding collisions of the Great Powers, he remains unobtrusive, committed to his art and his friendships. Empson is not just another commentator telling us how it was or how it should have been, more the quiet reflector dedicated to his art - his apparent lack of ego is refreshing.
Roll on Volume 2!