The matter of Raymond's style remained a mystery to me for many years. Why, for heaven's sake, could he not be clear? Or rather, why did he choose to write in a manner which could only be understood by other highly educated people, or by those already versed in the modish junk terminology of left- wing politics? Here was a man who believed that ideas should belong to the whole population, whose own best work had sprung out of his time as an adult education tutor, yet who persisted in ploughing through the English language as through a field of dry bones . . . How could this highly sophisticated man not see that unless he laid his thoughts out clearly and simply in everyday language, he had no chance of reaching the very people whose interests he sought to advance?
David Hare: `Cycles of Hope :
A Memoir of Raymond Williams' (1989)
David Hare's memoir of Raymond Williams was delivered as a lecture at a literary festival in Hay-on-Wye in 1989, published in The Guardian, then reprinted in a collection called Writing Left-Handed. This is the perfect genesis for a critical essay - the drama of a performance in front of an audience, then the journalistic intervention, then the reminder two years later in book form. All critical writing aspires to an ideal spoken form that must always have bounce and topicality, like live theatre. And David Hare is a distinguished dramatist, so he knows what he's about. The critical spirit is alive and well in his buoyantly intelligent prose - it's in exasperated conflict with the claggy dreariness of Williams's writing.
Hare was the first left-wing writer to express his frustration with Williams's criticism and the huge respect it has been accorded. Noting that Williams was "the intellectual leader of the academic left", Hare points to two major weaknesses: the indifference to prose style, and the belief that a literary work cannot be good unless "it has a morally good aim". Reading his books, Hare says, is like finding "the world's most exciting ideas somehow trapped under the ice".
In this memoir of Williams, Hare parts company with a whole culture of piety, romantic notions about the working class, and worship of Clause Four. With these old-style values goes a basically utilitarian attitude to art. This comes through - in a blurred and clumsy manner - at the end of Williams's brief study of George Orwell. Conceding …