Study Guide

Raymond Williams Biography

Basic Information

Name

Raymond Henry Williams

Nickname

Ray Ray, The Welsh Pinko, The Margin Man, Lefty

Sex

Male

Home town

I was born in Pandy, Wales—that little country west of England in Great Britain. Dad was a railway signalman, and he was always a pretty political fellow. We were strictly working-class, but we were super committed to furthering ourselves intellectually. We gave the bird to the whole ignorant peasant stereotype.

Work & Education

Occupation

I was a novelist, a tutor for Adult Education, a social and literary critic, and a public intellectual. Let's put it this way: my dance card was way full. My "job job" was working at the Oxford University Extra-Mural Delegacy as a Staff Tutor—a much more prestigious job than it sounds. I eventually became a Don at Cambridge, so I think you get the picture. When I wasn't on the public stage, I was hammering out publications—650, to be exact—at a mind-boggling rate, as well as carving out entirely new disciplines and fields of thought.

Education

How many people start their academic careers at King Henry VIII Grammar School in Abergavenny and end up at Trinity College, Cambridge? Well, that's what I did, but don't go thinking I ever had any sense that I belonged at that musty-shelved, ivy-walled old institution of English learning. Years later, I said: "It was never my Cambridge. That was clear from the start" (source). I never lost the feeling of being an outsider. But don't cry for me—I'm okay with it all. Even as a wee lad in my Welsh community, others supported my desire to go far with my education. If we had a motto, it would be something like: "Education—it's not just for the wealthy and over-privileged." My people were totally into both education and politics. You see, as Welsh folk, we were always battling against the aggressions of grand old "English Civilization." The English didn't like our radical Welsh ways, and we were even punished for speaking Welsh at school. At Cambridge, I got my Commie on by joining the Community Party of Great Britain. The Nazis messed up my plan: I had to go fight for Mother England in the Guards Armored Division. I even served in the famous siege at Normandy Beach and helped liberate a concentration camp. After World War II, I finished my studies at Cambridge, so when they called me again, this time to fight the Korean War, I told them they could stick their artillery where the sun don't shine. I later became a Professor of Modern Drama at Cambridge—and a die-hard peacenik.

Beliefs

Political views

I hope you have a few minutes. The short version is that I was a major leader of the New Left, a collection of socially active folks who protested war, worked for equality among all classes and genders, and supported reform on abortion and drugs. We were like evolved Marxists: we weren't just about the means of production and class struggle; we agitated for political change beyond economics and into the realm of culture at large. Even though I went to the most elite university in England, I was still against the elite. Know your enemy, right? I eventually helped to establish the Socialist Society, which was, well, a socialist society. I spent a lifetime raising my fist against bourgeois English culture. Let's just say that my cause became popular—but not with the highly cultivated English academic elite. I was like a Welsh fly in their English soup.

Religious views

Don't look for me kneeling in a pew. I didn't practice any religion—but you better believe I critiqued it. All of these institutions—politics, organized religion, education—serve the elite, and in serving the elite, they serve capitalism. You may wonder how I made that leap, so I'll connect the dots for you. Religion encourages its faithful followers to be good citizens; obedient, hard workers; devoted family members; and honest contributors to society. These are all qualities that those in power want in the working class, because these qualities keep the working class down. I'm not having it.

Activities & Interests

Likes

Anything Welsh (Welsh rarebit, Dylan Thomas, Roald Dahl, clog dancing)
The People
Vocabulary
Everyday life
Civic tradition
Ecology
The women's movement
Privacy

Dislikes

The Elite
The English
Fascism
Stalinism
War
Nationalism
The term "mass culture," because it implies that culture by itself is elite
Same deal with "popular culture"
Joining things
Upper-class flibbertigibbets

Interests

Thinking about how tricky the term "culture" is
Watching TV
Changing my mind
Going against the grain
Making political judgments
Pondering the idea of community
Writing novels and plays—not criticism
Defending the masses

Groups

The Welsh Nationalists
Cultural Materialists
Communist Party of Great Britain
Socialists against the Greedy British Empire
Plaid Cymru
Key Wordists
New Lefty
Conscientious Objectors against the Korean War

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