Such a colossal intelligence applied to one of the great subjects of our time. There are moments when the complex literary analysis throws a fog over the social critique, but there are many other moments when William's razor sharp analysis shines through; his anger at the ever present injustices and inequalities of rural land ownership and the ongoing National Trust/ Country house stultifying suffocation of our doffing-the-cap obeisance to the Gentry, Williams keeps lifting the lid, and shining a deep light into these dark corners that are forever present. When you put Williams alongside current social commentators such as David Goodhart, you simply mourn the loss of such an intellect and a tenderness towards the human condition as Williams demonstrates throughout the book. And to think that the good people of Abergavenny hardly know of his existence even though he lived his childhood up the road at Pandy and went King Henry VIII school in the town.
We are divided human beings, and this was largely brought about by the division of labour, and its frightful specialisation nowadays : division between town and country, between manual and intellectual work, between man's and woman's work. These divsions were of course favoured by capitalism and technics, but they started before both came into full swing. In 1973, Raymond Williams thought we had to do something about it. The least we can say is that we haven't, it has only got worse and the world is going into the wall faster and faster. Sorry to be so pessimistic, but what's the use of reading if it doesn't make you think ? Whoever doesn't want to think shouldn't read Raymond Williams. This book says a lot more, of course.
This is a really, really great book on representations of the country and the city in English literature. It's a shame it seems to limit itself to high culture (but Williams was a Cambridge professor) and an even bigger shame that its coverage ends where it does - in the current crisis of sustainability it would be interesting to see what Williams would have made of the renewed enthusiasm for things rural.
Sometimes the argument is hard to follow, but I think it boils down to this: English ideas about the countryside are bound up with associations of a just-passed golden age when social and economic relations were benevolent, mutual and organic. These are counterposed to associations with urban life whereby the city comes to stand for turbulence, relations which are atomistic and artificial, and harsh.
Both characterisations are mainly false, and (though RW doesn't use the term) mystifications of social and economic relationships by pretending that they are about geography. The misery of the countryside hasn't just been imposed by outsiders from the city, but grows out of the class relations within the countryside itself. Landless labourers didn't have it better in some mythical past - they've always been pretty badly off, though the nature of their misery has shifted along with changing patterns of property rights.
Anyway, hats off to Williams; everyone interested in the way that the English think about the countryside should read this. I'd guess that the average CPRE supporter will find it hard going, but they should persevere.
It was with a little trepidation that I began to read the Marxist critic Raymond Williams 35 year old book "The Country And The City". I need not have been worried.
Its obvious that Williams, who was born in a Welsh border village, has a keen knowledge of the reality of countryside grounded in experience. He has usefully augmented this and expanded into other times and places during a life time of city bound study. It is this accumulated knowledge of the literature and reality of country and city as well as the relationship between the two over time that make this an interesting read.
The majority of the book focuses on the country-side of the title, intelligent readings of the literature of the time against the reality of Britain's developing capitalist agricultural, the enclosure of the commons and depopulation. He never loses sight of the fact that the country is lived in and worked by people and in what context this occurs. This provides the framework for a thoughtful consideration of what would have been contemporary literature through the ages: what is written and what is not written, and how the various authors see the country. Initially much of the material is poetry and drama, I regrettably have never had much of a head for poetry but Williams makes such poets as Oliver Goldsmith, William Wordsworth and John Clare explicable. As time progresses more of the material considered is in prose: William Cobbet, Jane Austen, George Elliot, Thomas Hardy, Lewis Grassic Gibbon for example.
All this is related to developments in the City, which Williams sees as being connected to the countryside. The reality of life in the city is likewise related to the literature of the times, his consideration of Dickens made me want to re-read at least some of his works.
The book ends with an extended essay on the relationship between city and countryside, and steps back to take a global view which is still immensely relevant. There is also thoughts on the future as seen from when the book was written (1973), these unfortunately are still food for thought. Overall the book is a fascinating read, though difficult at times (I had to re-read paragraphs on a few occasions) I found it worth the effort. Well recommended, especially for members of the Countryside Alliance (do they still exist?).
The literary meets the political meets the personal in a dense, dizzying brew. It is good to have this reissued even if (as John Bull spells out in Delta #52*, should we need convincing) Williams can be quite as sentimental as those he takes to task. Genuine passion notwithstanding (and the page throbs with it), the head-shaking and pursed lips ('there is no innocence' - indeed, indeed, Ray!) suggest an ineffectual cleric; at bottom both he and Hoggart were out-of-touch fantasists. How one wishes it weren't so. Is it any wonder we (the thinking classes) are so depressed?!
* for which I'm open to offers. The article is 9 pages, plus there's a TF Powys inédit, Pawling on Davie on Hardy, Bolt on Ellmann on Joyce - oh, and the first appearance of Family Arrivals by Lotte Kramer, later the title of her 1981 volume (reissued 1992), here with a comma triggering a poignant hesitation in the last line