Raymond Henry Williams (31 August 1921 – 26 January 1988) was a Welsh academic, novelist and critic. His writings on politics, culture, the mass media and literature reflected his Marxist outlook. He was an influential figure within the New Left and in wider culture. Some 750,000 copies of his books have sold in UK editions alone (Politics and Letters, 1979) and there are many translations of his various work.
Born in Llanfihangel Crucorney, Wales, the son of a railway worker in a village where all of the railwaymen voted Labour while the local small farmers mostly voted Liberal. It was not a Welsh-speaking area – he described it as ‘Anglicised in the 1840s’ (Politics and Letters, 1979). There was however a strong Welsh identity. “There is the joke that someone says his family came over with the Normans and we reply: ‘Are you liking it here?'”.
He attended King Henry VIII Grammar School in Abergavenny. His teenage years were overshadowed by the rise of Nazism and the threat of war. He was 14 when the Spanish Civil War broke out, and was very conscious of what was happening through his membership of the local Left Book Club. He also mentions the Italian invasion of Abyssinia (Ethiopia) and Edgar Snow’s Red Star Over China, originally published in Britain by the Left Book Club (Politics and Letters).
At this time he was supporter of the League of Nations, attending a League-organised youth conference in Geneva. On the way back, his group visited Paris and he visited the Soviet pavilion at the International Exhibition. There he bought a copy of The Communist Manifesto and read Marx for the first time.
World War Two
He went to Trinity College, Cambridge, but his education was interrupted by war service. He joined the British Communist Party while at Cambridge. Along with Eric Hobsbawm, he was given the task of writing a Communist Party pamphlet about the Russo-Finnish War. He says in (Politics and Letters) that they “were given the job as people who could write quickly, from historical materials supplied for us. You were often in there writing about topics you did not know very much about, as a professional with words.” . No copies of this work seem to have survived. At the time, the British government was keen to support Finland in its war against the Soviet Union, while still being at war with Nazi Germany.
In the winter of 1940, he decided that he should join the British Army. This was against the Party line at the time, though in fact he stayed at Cambridge to take his exams in June 1941, the same month that Germany invaded Russia. As he describes it, his membership lapsed, without him ever formally resigning.
At the time he joined the army, it was normal for undergraduates to be directed into the signal corps. He received some initial training, but was then switched to artillery and anti-tank weapons. He was seen as ‘officer material’ and served as an officer in the Anti-Tank Regiment of the Guards Armoured Division, 1941-1945, being sent into the early fighting in Normandy. In Politics and Letters he says “I don’t think the intricate chaos of that Normandy fighting has ever been recorded”. He commanded a unit of four tanks and mentions fighting against SS Panzer forces and losing touch with two of them – he never discovered what happened to them, because there was then a withdrawal.
He was part of the fighting from Normandy through to Germany, where he was involved with the liberation of one of the smaller concentration camps, which was then used to detain SS officers. He was also shocked to find that Hamburg had suffered saturation bombing, not just military targets and docks as they had been told.
He received his M.A. from Trinity in 1946 and then taught for many years in adult education. He made his reputation with Culture and Society, published in 1958 and an immediate success. This was followed in 1961 by The Long Revolution.
On the strength of his books, he was invited to return to Cambridge in 1961, eventually becoming Professor of Drama there (1974 – 1983). He was appointed Visiting Professor of Political Science at Stanford University in 1973. A committed socialist, he was greatly interested in the relationships between language, literature, and society and published many books, essays and articles on these and other issues.
He retired from Cambridge in 1983 and spent his last years in Saffron Walden. While there, he wrote Loyalties, a novel about a fictional group of upper-class radicals attracted to 1930s Communism. He was also working on People of the Black Mountains, a number of short stories about people who lived or might have lived around the Black Mountains, the part of Wales he came from. It begins in the Old Stone Age and was intended to come right up to modern times, always focusing on ordinary people. He had completed it as mediaeval times when he died in 1988. It was published in two volumes, along with a brief description of what the remaining work would have been.
- Border Country, London, Chatto and Windus, 1960. reissued Hogarth Press, 1987.
- Second Generation, London, Chatto and Windus, 1964. reissued Hogarth Press, 1987.
- The Volunteers, London, Eyre-Methuen, 1978. Paperback edition, London, Hogath Press, 1985
- The Fight for Manod, London, Chatto and Windus, 1979. reissued Hogarth Press, 1987.
- Loyalties, London, Chatto and Windus, 1985
- People of the Black Mountains, Volume 1: The Beginning, London, Chatto and Windus, 1989
- People of the Black Mountains, Volume 2: The Eggs of the Eagle, London, Chatto and Windus, 1990
Literary and cultural studies
- Reading and Criticism, Man and Society Series, London, Frederick Muller, 1950.
- Drama from Ibsen to Eliot, London, Chatto and Windus, 1952. Revised edition, London, Chatto and Windus, 1968.
- Raymond Williams and Michael Orrom, Preface to Film, London, Film Drama, 1954.
- Culture and Society, London, Chatto and Windus, 1958. New edition with a new introduction, New York, Columbia University Press, 1963. Translated into Italian, Japanese, Korean, Portuguese and German.
- The Long Revolution, London, Chatto and Windus, 1961. Reissued with additional footnotes, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1965.
- Communications, Britain in the Sixties Series, Harmondsworth, Penguin Special, Baltimore, Penguin, 1962: revised edition, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1966. Third edition, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1976. Translated into Danish and Spanish.
- Modern Tragedy, London, Chatto and Windus, 1966. New edition, without play Koba and with new Afterword, London, Verso, 1979.
- S. Hall, R. Williams and E. P. Thompson (eds.) New Left May Day Manifesto. London, May Day Manifesto Committee, 1967. R. Williams (ed.) May Day Manifesto, Harmondsworth, Penguin, 1968, 2nd edition.
- Drama in Performance (book by Raymond Williams), revised edition. New Thinkers Library, C. A. Watts, 1954
- Drama from Ibsen to Brecht, London, Chatto and Windus, 1968. Reprinted, London, Hogarth Press, 1987.
- The Pelican Book of English Prose, Volume 2:From 1780 to the Present Day, R. Williams, (ed.) Harmondsworth and Baltimore, Penguin, 1969
- The English Novel From Dickens to Lawrence, London Chatto and Windus, 1970. Reprinted, London, Hogarth Press, 1985
- Orwell, Fontana Modern Masters Series, Glasgow, Collins, 1971. 2nd edition. Glasgow, Collins, Flamingo Paperback Editions, Glasgow, Collins, 1984.
- The Country and the City, London, Chatto and Windus, 1973. Reprinted, London, Hogarth Press, 1985.
- J. Williams and R. Williams (eds) D H Lawrence on Education, Harmondsworth, Penguin Education, 1973.
- R. Williams (ed.) George Orwell: A Collection of Critical Essays, Twentieth Century Views, Englewood Cliffs, N.J., Prentice-Hall, 1974.
- Television: Technology and Cultural form, Technosphere Series, London, Collins, 1974. Translated into Italian, Korean and Swedish.
- Keywords, Fontana Communications Series, London, Collins, 1976. New edition, New York, Oxford University Press, 1984.
- M. Axton and R. Williams (eds) English Drama: Forms and Developments, Essays in Honour of Muriel Clara Bradbrook, with an introduction by R. Williams, Cambridge and New York, Cambridge University Press, 1977.
- Marxism and Literature, Marxist Introductions Series, London and New York, Oxford University Press, 1977. Translated into Italian and Korean.
- Politics and Letters: Interviews with New Left Review, London, New Left Books, 1979, Verso paperback edition, 1981.
- Problems in Materialism and Culture: Selected Essays, London, Verso, 1980. New York, Schocken, 1981.
- Culture, Fontana New Sociology Series, Glasgow, Collins, 1981. US edition, The Sociology of Culture, New York, Schocken, 1982.
- R. and E. Williams (eds) Contact: Human Communication and its History, London and New York, Thames and Hudson, 1981.
- Cobbett), Past Masters series, Oxford and New York, Oxford University Press, 1983.
- Towards 2000, London, Chatto and Windus, 1983. US edition, The Sociology of Culture, with a Preface to the American edition, New York, Pantheon, 1984.
- Writing in Society , London, Verso, 1983. US edition. New York, Verso, 1984
- M. Williams and R. Williams (eds) John Clare: Selected Poetry and Prose, Methuen English Texts, London and New York, Methuen, 1986.
- Raymond Williams on Television: Selected Writings, Preface by R. Williams, A. O’Connor, (ed.) London, Routledge, 1989.
- Resources of Hope, R. Gable (ed.) London and New York, Verso, 1989.
- What I Came to Say, London, Hutchinson-Radius, 1989.
- The Politics of Modernism, T. Pinkney (ed.) London and New York, Verso, 1989.
- Red Earth, Cambridge Front, no. 2 (1941)
- Sack Labourer, in English Short Story 1, W. Wyatt (ed.) London, Collins, 1941
- Sugar, in R. Williams, M. Orrom, M.J. Craig (eds) Outlook: a Selection of Cambridge Writings, Cambridge, 1941, pp.7-14.
- This Time, in New Writing and Daylight, no. 2, 1942-3, J. Lehmann (ed.) London, Collins, 1943, pp. 158-64.
- A Fine Room to be Ill In, in English Story 8, W. Wyatt (ed.) London, 1948.
- Koba (1966) in Modern Tragedy, London, Chatto and Windus
- A Letter from the Country, BBC Television, April 1966, Stand, 12(1971), pp17-34
- Public Enquiry, BBC Television, 15 March 1967, Stand, 9 (1967), pp15-53