William Empson

Sir William Empson (27 September 1906 – 15 April 1984) was an English literary critic and poet, widely influential for his practice of closely reading literary works, a practice fundamental to New Criticism. His best-known work is his first, Seven Types of Ambiguity, published in 1930.

Jonathan Bate has written[1] that the three greatest English literary critics of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries are Johnson, Hazlitt and Empson, "not least because they are the funniest".

William Empson
Formal portrait of William Empson, clean-shaven, wearing eyeglasses and dressed in a coat and tie
Born27 September 1906
Died15 April 1984 (aged 77)
OccupationLiterary critic and poet
Notable work
Seven Types of Ambiguity (1930)
StyleNew Criticism
Spouse(s)Hetta Empson

Background and education

Empson was the son of Arthur Reginald Empson of Yokefleet Hall, Yorkshire. His mother was Laura, daughter of Richard Mickelthwait, JP, of Ardsley House, Yorkshire. He was a first cousin of the twins David and Richard Atcherley. Empson first discovered his great skill and interest in mathematics at his preparatory school. He won an entrance scholarship to Winchester College, where he excelled as a student and received what he later described as "a ripping education" in spite of the rather rough and abusive milieu of the school: a longstanding tradition of physical force, especially among the students, figured prominently in life at such schools.

In 1925 Empson won a scholarship to Magdalene College, Cambridge, where he read Mathematics, gaining a first for his Part I but a disappointing upper-second for his Part II. He then went on to pursue a second degree in English, and at the end of the first year he was offered a Bye Fellowship. His supervisor in Mathematics, Arthur Stanley Ramsey, expressed regret at Empson's decision to pursue English rather than Mathematics, since it was a discipline for which Empson showed great talent.

I. A. Richards, the director of studies in English, recalled the genesis of Empson's first major work, Seven Types of Ambiguity, composed when Empson was not yet 22 and published when he was 24:[2]

At about his third visit he brought up the games of interpretation which Laura Riding and Robert Graves had been playing [in A Survey of Modernist Poetry, 1927] with the unpunctuated form of 'The expense of spirit in a waste of shame.' Taking the sonnet as a conjuror takes his hat, he produced an endless swarm of lively rabbits from it and ended by 'You could do that with any poetry, couldn't you?' This was a Godsend to a Director of Studies, so I said, 'You'd better go off and do it, hadn't you?'

But disaster struck when a servant found condoms among Empson's possessions and claimed to have caught him in flagrante delicto with a woman. As a result, not only did he have his scholarship revoked, but his name was struck from the college records, he lost his prospects of a fellowship and he was banished from the city.[3]


After his banishment from Cambridge Empson supported himself for a brief period as a freelance critic and journalist, living in Bloomsbury until 1930, when he signed a three-year contract to teach in Japan after his tutor Richards had failed to find him a post teaching in China. He returned to England in the mid-1930s only to depart again after receiving a three-year contract to teach at Peking University. Upon his arrival he discovered that, because of the Japanese invasion of China, he no longer had a post. He joined the exodus of the university's staff, with little more than a typewriter and a suitcase, and ended up in Kunming, with Lianda (Southwest Associated University), the school created there by students and professors who were refugees from the war in the North. He arrived back in England in January 1939.

He worked for a year on the daily Digest of foreign broadcasts and in 1941 met George Orwell, at that time the Indian Editor of the BBC Eastern Service, on a six-week course at what was called the Liars' School of the BBC. They remained friends, but Empson recalled one clash: "At that time the Government had put into action a scheme for keeping up the birth-rate during the war by making it in various ways convenient to have babies, for mothers going out to work; government nurseries were available after the first month, I think, and there were extra eggs and other goodies on the rations. My wife (Hette Crouse, sculptor) and I took advantage of this plan to have two children. I was saying to George one evening after dinner what a pleasure it was to cooperate with so enlightened a plan when, to my horror, I saw the familiar look of settled loathing come over his face. Rich swine boasting over our privileges, that was what we had become ...".[4]

Just after the war Empson returned to China. He taught at Peking University, befriending a young David Hawkes, who later became a noted sinologist and chair of Chinese at Oxford University. Then, in the late 1940s and early 1950s, he taught a summer course for the intensive study of literature at the Kenyon School of English at Kenyon College in Ohio. According to Newsweek, "The roster of instructors was enough to pop the eyes of any major in English." In addition to Empson the faculty included Robert Penn Warren, John Crowe Ransom, Robert Lowell, Delmore Schwartz, Jacques Barzun, Eric Bentley, Cleanth Brooks, Alfred Kazin, Arthur Mizener, Allen Tate and Yvor Winters.

In 1953 Empson was Professor of Rhetoric at Gresham College, London, for a year. He then became head of the English Department at the University of Sheffield until his retirement in 1972. He was knighted in 1979, the same year his old college, Magdalene, awarded him an honorary fellowship some 50 years after his expulsion.

Professor Sir William Empson died in 1984.

Critical focus

Empson's critical work is largely concerned with early and pre-modern works in the English literary canon. He was a significant scholar of Milton (see below), Shakespeare (Essays on Shakespeare) and Elizabethan drama (Essays on Renaissance Literature, Volume 2: The Drama). He published a monograph, Faustus and the Censor, on the subject of censorship and the authoritative version of Marlowe's Doctor Faustus. He was also an important scholar of the metaphysical poets John Donne (Essays on Renaissance Literature, Volume 1: Donne and the New Philosophy) and Andrew Marvell.

Occasionally Empson brought his critical genius to bear on modern writers; Using Biography, for instance, contains papers on Henry Fielding's Tom Jones as well as the poems of W. B. Yeats and T. S. Eliot, and Joyce's Ulysses.

Literary criticism

Empson was styled a "critic of genius" by Frank Kermode, who qualified his praise by identifying willfully perverse readings of certain authors. Harold Bloom has stated that Empson is among a handful of critics who matter most to him because of their force and eccentricity. Empson's bluntness led to controversy both during his life and after his death, and a reputation in part also as a "licensed buffoon" (Empson's own phrase).

Style, method and influence

Empson is today best known for his literary criticism, and in particular his analysis of the use of language in poetical works: his own poems are arguably undervalued, although they were admired by and influenced English poets in the 1950s. The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein was an acquaintance at Cambridge, but Empson consistently denied any previous or direct influence on his work.[5] Empson's best-known work is the book Seven Types of Ambiguity, which, together with Some Versions of Pastoral and The Structure of Complex Words, mines the astonishing riches of linguistic ambiguity in English poetic literature. Empson's studies unearth layer upon layer of irony, suggestion and argumentation in various literary works, applying a technique of textual criticism so influential that often Empson's contributions to certain domains of literary scholarship remain significant, though they may no longer be recognized as his. The universal recognition of the difficulty and complexity (indeed, ambiguity) of Shakespeare's Sonnet 94 ("They that have power ..."), for instance, is traceable to Empson's analysis in Some Versions of Pastoral. Empson's study of "Sonnet 94" goes some way towards explaining the high esteem in which the sonnet is now held (often being reckoned as among the finest sonnets), as well as the technique of criticism and interpretation that has thus reckoned it.

Empson's technique of teasing a rich variety of interpretations from poetic literature does not, however, exhaustively characterize his critical practice. He was also very interested in the human or experiential reality to be discovered in great works of literature, as is manifest, for instance, in his discussion of the fortunes of the notion of proletarian literature in Some Versions of Pastoral. His commitment to unravelling or articulating the experiential truth or reality in literature permitted him unusual avenues to explore sociopolitical ideas in literature in a vein very different from contemporary Marxist critics or scholars of New Historicism. Thus, for instance, Empson remarks in the first few pages of Some Versions of Pastoral that:

Gray's Elegy is an odd case of poetry with latent political ideas:

Full many a gem of purest ray serene
The dark, unfathomed caves of ocean bear;
Full many a flower is born to blush unseen
And waste its sweetness on the desert air.

What this means, as the context makes clear, is that eighteenth century England had no scholarship system or carrière ouverte aux talents. This is stated as pathetic, but the reader is put into a mood in which one would not try to alter it. ... By comparing the social arrangement to Nature he makes it seem inevitable, which it was not, and gives it a dignity which was undeserved. ... The tone of melancholy claims that the poet understands the considerations opposed to aristocracy, though he judges against them; the truism of the reflections in the churchyard, the universality and impersonality this gives to the style, claim as if by comparison that we ought to accept the injustice of society as we do the inevitability of death.

Empson goes on to deliver his political verdict with a psychological suggestion:

Many people, without being communists, have been irritated by the complacence in the massive calm of the poem, and this seems partly because they feel there is a cheat in the implied politics; the "bourgeois" themselves do not like literature to have too much "bourgeois ideology".

Empson also made remarks reminiscent of Dr Samuel Johnson in their pained insistence:

And yet what is said is one of the permanent truths; it is only in degree that any improvement of society could prevent wastage of human powers; the waste even in a fortunate life, the isolation even of a life rich in intimacy, cannot but be felt deeply, and is the central feeling of tragedy. And anything of value must accept this because it must not prostitute itself; its strength is to be prepared to waste itself, if it does not get its opportunity. A statement of this is certainly non-political because it is true in any society, and yet nearly all the great poetic statements of it are in a way "bourgeois", like this one; they suggest to readers, though they do not say, that for the poor man things cannot be improved even in degree.

Despite the complexity of Empson's critical methods and attitude, his work, in particular Seven Types of Ambiguity, had a significant impact on the New Criticism, a school of criticism that directed particular attention to close reading of texts, among whose adherents may be numbered F. R. Leavis (whose critical approach was, however, already well developed before Empson appeared on the scene - he had been teaching at Cambridge since 1925), although Empson could scarcely be described as an adherent or exponent of such a school or, indeed, of any critical school at all. Indeed, Empson consistently ridiculed, both outrightly in words and implicitly in practice, the doctrine of the intentional fallacy formulated by William K. Wimsatt, an influential New Critic. Indeed, Empson's distaste for New Criticism could manifest itself in a distinctively dismissive and brusque wit, as when he described New Criticism (which he ironically labelled "the new rigour") as a "campaign to make poetry as dull as possible" (Essays on Renaissance Literature, Volume 1: Donne and the New Philosophy, p. 122). Similarly, both the title and the content of one of Empson's volumes of critical papers, Using Biography, show a patent and polemical disregard for the teachings of New Critics as much as for those of Roland Barthes and postmodern literary theories predicated upon, if not merely influenced by, the notion of the Death of the Author, despite the fact that some scholars regard Empson as a progenitor of certain of these currents of criticism, which vexed Empson. As Frank Kermode stated:

Now and again somebody like Christopher Norris may, in a pious moment, attempt to "recuperate" a particularly brilliant old-style reputation by claiming its owner as a New New Critic avant la lettre - Empson in this case, now to be thought of as having, in his "great theoretical summa," The Structure of Complex Words, anticipated deconstruction. The grumpy old man repudiated this notion with his habitual scorn, calling the work of Derrida (or, as he preferred to call him, "Nerrida") "very disgusting"(Kermode, Pleasure, Change, and the Canon)

Milton's God

Empson's Milton's God is often described as a sustained attack on Christianity and a defence of Milton's attempt to "justify the ways of God to man" in Paradise Lost. Empson argues that precisely the inconsistencies and complexities adduced by critics as evidence of the poem's badness in fact function in quite the opposite manner. What the poem brings out is the difficulty faced by anyone in encountering and submitting to the will of God and, indeed, the great clash between the authority of such a deity and the determinate desires and needs of human beings:

the poem is not good in spite of but especially because of its moral confusions, which ought to be clear in your mind when you are feeling its power. I think it horrible and wonderful; I regard it as like Aztec or Benin sculpture, or to come nearer home the novels of Kafka, and am rather suspicious of any critic who claims not to feel anything so obvious. (Milton's God (1965), p. 13)

Empson writes that it is precisely Milton's great sensitivity and faithfulness to the Scriptures, in spite of their apparent madness, that generates such a controversial picture of God. Empson reckons that it requires a mind of astonishing integrity to, in the words of Blake, be of the Devil's party without knowing it:

[Milton] is struggling to make his God appear less wicked, as he tells us he will at the start (l. 25), and does succeed in making him noticeably less wicked than the traditional Christian one; though, after all, owing to his loyalty to the sacred text and the penetration with which he make its story real to us, his modern critics still feel, in a puzzled way, that there is something badly wrong about it all. That this searching goes on in Paradise Lost, I submit, is the chief source of its fascination and poignancy... (Milton's God (1965), p. 11)

Empson portrays Paradise Lost as the product of a poet of astonishingly powerful and imaginative sensibilities and great intellect who had invested much of himself in the poem.

Despite its lack of influence, certain critics view Milton's God as by far the best sustained work of criticism on the poem by a 20th-century critic. Harold Bloom includes it as one of the few critical works worthy of canonical status in his The Western Canon (where it is also the only critical work concerned solely with a single piece of literature).


Empson's poems are clever, learned, dry, aethereal and technically virtuosic, not wholly dissimilar to his critical work. His high regard for the metaphysical poet John Donne is to be seen in many places within his work,[6] tempered with his appreciation of Buddhist thinking, an occasional tendency to satire and a larger awareness of intellectual trends. He wrote very few poems and stopped publishing poems almost entirely after 1940. His Complete Poems [edited by John Haffenden, his biographer] is 512 pages long, with over 300 pages of notes. In reviewing this work Frank Kermode commended Empson as a "most noteworthy poet" and chose it as International Book of the Year for The Times Literary Supplement.


From "Proletarian Literature" in Some Versions of Pastoral:

As for propaganda, some very good work has been that; most authors want their point of view to be convincing. Pope said that even the Aeneid was a "political puff"; its dreamy, impersonal, universal melancholy was a calculated support for Augustus.

Of course to decide on an author's purpose, conscious or unconscious, is very difficult. Good writing is not done unless there are serious forces at work; and it is not permanent unless it works for readers with opinions different from the author's. On the other hand, the reason an English audience can enjoy Russian propagandist films is that the propaganda is too remote to be annoying; a Tory audience subjected to Tory propaganda of the same intensity would be extremely bored.

From "They That Have Power" in Some Versions of Pastoral:

(regarding Sonnet 94): If this was Shakespeare's only surviving work, it would still be clear, supposing one knew about the other Elizabethans, that it involves somehow their feelings about the Machiavellian, the wicked plotter who is exciting and civilized and somehow right about life; which seems an important though rather secret element in the romance that Shakespeare extracted from his patron.

...poets, who tend to make in their lives a situation they have already written about.

...that curious trick of pastoral which for extreme courtly flattery - perhaps to give self-respect to both poet and patron, to show that the poet is not ignorantly easy to impress, nor the patron to flatter - writes about the poorest people; and those jazz songs which give an intense effect of luxury and silk underwear by pretending to be about slaves naked in the fields.

The business of interpretation is obviously very complicated. Literary uses of the problem of free-will and necessity, for example, may be noticed to give curiously bad arguments and I should think get their strength from keeping you in doubt between the two methods. Thus Hardy is fond of showing us an unusually stupid person subjected to very unusually bad luck, and then a moral is drawn, not merely by inference but by solemn assertion, that we are all in the same boat as this person whose story is striking precisely because it is unusual. The effect may be very grand, but to make an otherwise logical reader accept the process must depend on giving him obscure reasons for wishing it so. It is clear at any rate that this grand notion of the inadequacy of life, so various in its means of expression, so reliable a bass note in the arts, needs to be counted as a possible territory of the pastoral.

From "Milton and Bentley" in Some Versions of Pastoral:

Surely Bentley was right to be surprised at finding Faunus haunting the bower [Paradise Lost ll. 705 - 707], a ghost crying in the cold of Paradise, and the lusts of Pan sacred even in comparison to Eden. There is a Vergilian quality in the lines, haunting indeed, a pathos not mentioned because it is the whole of the story. I suppose that in Satan determining to destroy the innocent happiness of Eden, for the highest political motives, without hatred, not without tears, we may find some echo of the Elizabethan fulness of life that Milton as a poet abandoned, and as a Puritan helped to destroy.

On Celine's Journey to the End of the Night from Some Versions of Pastoral:

Voyage au Bout de la Nuit...is not to be placed quickly either as pastoral or proletarian; it is partly the 'underdog' theme and partly social criticism. The two main characters have no voice or trust in their society and no sympathy with those who have; it is this, not cowardice or poverty or low class, which the war drives home to them, and from then on they have a straightforward inferiority complex; the theme becomes their struggle with it as private individuals. ... Life may be black and mad in the second half but Bardamu is not, and he gets to the real end of the night as critic and spectator. This change is masked by unity of style and by a humility which will not allow that one can claim to be sane while living as part of such a world, but it is in the second half that we get Bardamu speaking as Celine in criticism of it. What is attacked may perhaps be summed up as the death-wishes generated by the herds of a machine society, and he is not speaking as 'spokesman of the proletariat' or with any sympathy for a communist one. ...before claiming the book as proletarian literature you have to separate off the author (in the phrase that Radek used) as a man ripe for fascism.

From "The Variants for the Byzantium Poems" in Using Biography:

...she appears to end her penultimate chapter 'Was Yeats a Christian?' with the sentiment that he must have been pretty Christian if he could stay friends with Ezra Pound.

From "Ulysses: Joyce's Intentions" in Using Biography:

When I was young, literary critics often rejoiced that the hypocrisy of the Victorians had been discredited, or expressed confidence that the operation would soon be complete. So far from that, it has returned in a peculiarly stifling form to take possession of critics of Eng. Lit.; Mr Pecksniff has become the patron saint of many of my colleagues. As so often, the deformity is the result of severe pressure between forces in themselves good. The study of English authors of the past is now centred in the universities, and yet there must be no censorship - no work of admitted literary merit may be hidden from the learners. Somehow we must save poor Teacher's face, and protect him from the indignant or jeering students, local authorities or parents. It thus came to be tacitly agreed that a dead author usually hated what he described, hated it as much as we do, even, and wanted his book to shame everybody out of being so nasty ever again. This is often called fearless or unflinching criticism, and one of its ill effects is to make the young people regard all literature as a terrific nag or scold. Independently of this, a strong drive has been going on to recover the children for orthodox or traditional religious beliefs; ... and when you understand all that, you may just be able to understand how they manage to present James Joyce as a man devoted to the God who was satisfied by the crucifixion. The concordat was reached over his dead body.


  • Seven Types of Ambiguity (1930)
  • Face of the Buddha (1931, first published in 2016)
  • Some Versions of Pastoral (1935)
  • The Structure of Complex Words (1951)
  • Collected Poems (1956, 1962, 1984)
  • Milton's God (1961)
  • Using Biography (1985)
  • Essays on Shakespeare (1986)
  • Faustus and the Censor (1987)
  • Essays on Renaissance Literature: Volume 1, Donne and the New Philosophy (1993)
  • Essays on Renaissance Literature: Volume 2, The Drama (1994)
  • Argufying: Essays on Literature and Culture (1987)
  • The Strengths of Shakespeare's Shrew: Essays, Memoirs and Interviews (1996)
  • The Complete Poems of William Empson - ed. Haffenden
  • The Royal Beasts and Other Works - London: Chatto & Windus (1986)

Selected books about Empson

  • Frank Day, Sir William Empson: An Annotated Bibliography, London: Garland, 1984. ISBN 0-8240-9207-4
  • Philip and Averil Gardner, The God Approached: A Commentary on the Poems of William Empson, London: Chatto & Windus, 1978. ISBN 0-7011-2213-7
  • John Haffenden, William Empson, Vol. 1: Among the Mandarins, Oxford University Press, 2005. ISBN 0-19-927659-5
  • John Haffenden, William Empson, Vol. 2: Against the Christians, Oxford University Press, 2006. ISBN 0-19-953992-8
  • Christopher Norris and Nigel Mapp, ed., William Empson: The Critical Achievement, Cambridge University Press, 1993. ISBN 0-521-35386-6

Notes and references

  1. ^ "Letters, 24 January 1991".
  2. ^ Lodge, David (1972). 20th Century Literary Criticism: A Reader. London: Longman. pp. 145–46. ISBN 0582484227 – via Google Books.
  3. ^ Haffenden, John: William Empson, Vol. 1: Among the Mandarins, Oxford University Press, 2005, 38% Kindle
  4. ^ William Empson, "Orwell at the BBC" in The World of George Orwell, Weidenfeld & Nicolson 1971, p.98.
  5. ^ Cf. William Empson, The Complete Poems, ed. John Haffenden, London: Penguin, 2000. xiv-xv, 257-61 (for the reference to Wittgenstein in his poem, "This Last Pain", 1930).
  6. ^ "a style from a despair. - 'Metafiddlesticks!': Eliot's Donne and the Possibilities of the Neo-Metaphysical Speaker, 1917-1935". Charleswhalley.tumblr.com. Retrieved 23 April 2012.

External links

Arthur Stanley Ramsey

Arthur Stanley Ramsey (9 September 1867 – 31 December 1954) was a British mathematician and author of mathematics and physics textbooks. He was Fellow of Magdalene College, Cambridge, and its President from 1915–52.The son of Rev. Adam Averell Ramsey of Dewsbury, a Congregational minister, and his wife Hephzibah, Ramsey was educated at Batley Grammar School and Magdalene College, Cambridge where he read Mathematics (B.A. (6th Wrangler) 1889; M.A. 1893).He was Assistant Master at Fettes College from 1890 to 1897, moving into academia as Fellow of Magdalene in 1897. He was Bursar of the college, 1904–13 and University Lecturer in Mathematics, 1926-32. As a tutor, he supervised the maths work of William Empson, who would go on to apply path-breaking tools of analytical logic to the criticism of literature.

In 1902 Ramsey married (Mary) Agnes (1875-1927), daughter of Rev. Plumpton Stravenson Wilson, vicar of Horbling, Lincs. and sister to the cricketer and footballer Geoffrey Plumpton Wilson. Mary herself was academically accomplished, having earned a Class II Honours Certificate in Modern History from St Hugh's College, Oxford. In April 1913, Mary stood for election to the Cambridge Board of Guardians in Bridge Ward, and was elected with 321 votes.Ramsey and his wife had two daughters, Bridget and Margaret, and two sons, philosopher and mathematician Frank Plumpton Ramsey (1903–1930) and Michael Ramsey (1904–1988) who was the Archbishop of Canterbury for thirteen years. Mary Agnes was killed in 1927 in a road traffic accident.He is buried in the Ascension Parish Burial Ground in Cambridge; his son Frank and wife Mary are buried in the same plot. His home, Howfield, Buckingham Road, is now part of Cambridge Blackfriars.

Bidhu Bhusan Das

Bidhu Bhusan Das (also spelled Bidhubhusan Das, 11 April 1922 – 2 June 1999) was a legendary and venerated professor, public intellectual and senior government official from the Indian state of Odisha. Das studied at Patna University, graduating with an M.A. in English. He received a second master's degree from Columbia where he studied with Lionel Trilling, Mark Van Doren, Edmund Wilson, Marjorie Hope Nicolson and other legends. During his term of study at Columbia, he spent a semester at Harvard University where he studied with I. A. Richards and William Empson. He earned his D.Litt from Christ Church, Oxford in 1948. At Oxford he studied with A. J. Ayer, Dame Helen Gardner, W. H. Auden, J. R. R. Tolkien, L. H. Myers, Lord David Cecil and C. S. Lewis. Das taught and inspired two generations of students, who rose to become speakers of India's Parliament, Chief Justices of India's Supreme Court, Chief Ministers, cabinet and state ministers, administrators, physicians, artists, scholars, scientists, teachers, poets and intellectuals. He was made a Fellow of the Economic Development Institute of the World Bank in 1971.

Brian Morris, Baron Morris of Castle Morris

Brian Robert Morris, Baron Morris of Castle Morris, (4 December 1930 – 30 April 2001), was a British poet, critic and professor of literature. He became the Labour Party's deputy chief whip and education spokesman in the House of Lords.Born and educated in Cardiff, Morris went on, after national service with the Welsh Regiment, to read English at Worcester College, Oxford. He stayed on at Oxford as a tutor in Old and Middle English while doing his doctorate on John Cleveland, the Cavalier poet. In 1955, he married Sandra James, and they had two children.His major promotion came in 1971 when he began his decade as professor of English literature at Sheffield University, in succession to William Empson. From 1964 to 1986, he was general editor of the New Mermaid dramatists, and from 1974 to 1982 of the New Arden Shakespeare. He also edited the poems of Cleveland and the plays of John Ford, while using his acquired administrative skills on the board of the National Portrait Gallery. These skills were fully tested when, in 1980, he was named principal of what was then St David's University College, the smallest and most endangered part of the University of Wales. Retaining a home in Derbyshire, he saw his Lampeter appointment as an opportunity to get back in touch with his roots.In addition to literary criticism such as his study of Harri Webb (1993) for the University of Wales Press in the "Writers of Wales" series,, his publications included several poetry collections, including Tide-Race (1976), Dear Tokens (1987) and The Waters of Comfort (1998). His collected poems were published in the year of his death by Rare Books & Berry Ltd.In 1990, Morris was made a life peer with the title Baron Morris of Castle Morris, of St Dogmaels in the County of Dyfed, expanding his name – to distinguish it from an earlier Baron Morris – by adding "of Castle Morris", a small and largely insignificant hamlet between Fishguard and St David's and actually spelt Castlemorris. He justified his appointment to the unelected body by pointing out "Manchester United football team isn't chosen by popular vote".

A brilliant and respected speech writer, his speeches in the house were sprinkled with quotations from Shakespeare, Goldsmith, Juvenal and Alexander Pope. When Morris reminded the Tories of the saying "Whom God wishes to destroy, he first sends mad," he used the original Latin.Morris never forgot his Welsh roots, and was a nationalist sympathiser. Whilst he never was a fluent speaker of the Welsh language, he fought for its legal status in the nation.Later in his political career, Morris was marginalised within the Labour Party for being too 'Old Labour' by supporters of the new party leader Tony Blair. Prior to Labour's 1997 election win, a fellow Labour politician, Bernard Donoughue, commented in his diary that Morris was among the academics who "have never operated on the national stage and are desperately keen to get there".Morris died aged 70 from leukaemia in 2001.


Empson is a surname. Notable people with the surname include:

Derek Empson GBE KCB (1918–1997), Commander-in-Chief Naval Home Command

Ernest Empson (1880–1970), New Zealand pianist and piano teacher

Hetta Empson (1915–1996), South African sculptor

Richard Empson (died 1510), minister of Henry VII, King of England

Tameka Empson (born 1977), British actress (stage and screen) and comedian

Walter Empson (1856–1934), New Zealand educator

William Empson (1906–1984), English literary critic and poet

William Empson (lawyer) (1791–1852), barrister, professor and journalist

Francis Berry

Francis Berry (23 March 1915 – 10 October 2006) was a British academic, poet, critic and translator.

He was born in Ipoh, Malaya, and educated at the University of London and the University of Exeter. After serving as a soldier, and then as a schoolteacher in Malta, he held various appointments in English literature. He was professor of English Literature at the University of Sheffield from 1947 to 1970, where he was a friend of William Empson. From 1970 until his retirement in 1980, he was professor at Royal Holloway, University of London. He also wrote radio plays, and a novel I Tell of Greenland (1977).

His first collection of poetry, Gospel of Fire, was published in 1933; his Collected Poems, drawing on 11 books, appeared in 1994. His work has been praised by G. Wilson Knight and Philip Hobsbaum.His critical writing includes books on John Masefield and Herbert Read.

Geoffrey Grigson

Geoffrey Edward Harvey Grigson (2 March 1905 – 25 November 1985) was a British poet, writer, editor, critic, anthologist and naturalist. In the 1930s he was editor of the influential magazine New Verse, and went on to produce 13 collections of his own poetry as well as compiling numerous anthologies, among other published works on subjects including art, travel and the countryside. He also wrote an autobiography, The Crest on the Silver, published in 1950. At various times he was involved in teaching, journalism and broadcasting. Fiercely combative, he made many literary enemies for his dogmatic views.

Hetta Empson

Hester Henrietta (Hetta) Crouse Empson (1915–1996) was a South African sculptor. She was described as a "sculptor, political activist, adventurer and socialite" in her obituary in the Times. She and her husband William Empson were involved in the London bohemian group that included George Orwell, Louis MacNeice, Jill Neville, Fay Weldon, Lewis Wolpert and Kathleen Raine.

Highfield (Birmingham)

Highfield was a large house situated at 128 Selly Park Road in the Selly Park area of Birmingham, England. Built in the 1860s, it was bought in 1929 by Philip Sargant Florence and his wife Lella Secor Florence after Sargant Florence was appointed as a Professor at the nearby University of Birmingham.Under the Florence's ownership Highfield became a focal point for the cultural life of Birmingham in the 1930s, a period when the city was the focus of great intellectual ferment. Secor Florence let self-contained flats within the house out to other members of the university and held regular unplanned and informal parties for "huge numbers" of students, academics and other guests, that could involve anything from dancing, to picnics on the lawn, to skating on the frozen lake in the house's four acres of grounds. Highfield also formed a focus for political activity; in 1932 the dining room was converted into a studio where artists painted anti-war posters which were paraded through the city the following weekend, and in 1933 the house was the site of the rehearsals for the play DISARM!, performed at Birmingham Town Hall, whose cast was recruited from trade unions and factory dramatic societies.Highfield became a particular focus for local writers, and formed the centre of a vibrant literary circle that included the poets W. H. Auden and Henry Reed, the Birmingham Group novelists Walter Allen and John Hampson, the art historian Nikolaus Pevsner and the radio dramatist R. D. Smith. The poet Louis MacNeice lived in the flat above the coach house at the rear of the main house throughout his entire time in Birmingham, and the literary critic William Empson lived at Highfield while seeking a post at the University of Birmingham after his expulsion from Cambridge.The influence of Highfield also extended well beyond Birmingham. Walter Allen described how "Most English left-wing intellectuals and American intellectuals visiting Britain must have passed through Highfield between 1930 and 1950". Visitors from outside the city known to have stayed at Highfield included the philosopher G. E. Moore, the anthropologist Margaret Mead, the biologist Julian Huxley, the architect Walter Gropius, the politician Ernest Bevin, the American ambassador John Gilbert Winant, the poet Stephen Spender, the artist Robert Medley, the theatre director Rupert Doone, and the writers A. L. Rowse, Maurice Dobb, John Strachey and Naomi Mitchison.During the 1930s Bauhaus founder Walter Gropius was commissioned by Sargant Florence to design a modernist block of flats for Jack Pritchard's Isokon on a plot at the rear of Highfield on Kensington Road, but the plan was thwarted by local opposition.Highfield, and the literary culture that surrounded it, were the subject of a TV documentary by David Lodge in 1982. The house was demolished in 1984, and the site is now occupied by Southbourne Close.

Hugh Sykes Davies

Hugh Sykes Davies (1909 – 1984) was an English poet, novelist and communist who was one of a small group of 1930s British surrealists.

Davies was born in Yorkshire to a Methodist minister and his wife. He went to Kingswood School, Bath and studied at Cambridge, where he co-edited a student magazine called Experiment with William Empson. He spent some time in Paris during the 1930s. He was to stand as a communist candidate in the 1940 general election, but the vote was cancelled because of World War II. He was one of the organisers of the London International Surrealist Exhibition in 1936.

He had a talent for friendship, and as well as Empson, he numbered T. S. Eliot, I. A. Richards, Anthony Blunt, Wittgenstein and Salvador Dalí amongst his circle. At one stage he had Malcolm Lowry declared his ward in an attempt to stop Lowry's drinking.

Davies' poems were mostly published in avant garde magazines and were not collected during his lifetime. His novels include Full Fathom Five (1956) and The Papers of Andrew Melmoth (1960). He also wrote Petron (1935).

He appears in the Canadian National Film Board's feature-length documentary "Volcano: An Inquiry into the Life and Death of Malcolm Lowry" talking about Lowry and their friendship.

He was a University Lecturer and Fellow of St. John's College, Cambridge.

I. A. Richards

Ivor Armstrong Richards (26 February 1893 – 7 September 1979), known as I. A. Richards, was an English educator, literary critic, and rhetorician whose work contributed to the foundations of the New Criticism, a formalist movement in literary theory, which emphasized the close reading of a literary text, especially poetry, in an effort to discover how a work of literature functions as a self-contained, self-referential æsthetic object.

Richards' intellectual contributions to the establishment of the literary methodology of the New Criticism are presented in the books The Meaning of Meaning: A Study of the Influence of Language upon Thought and of the Science of Symbolism (1923), by C. K. Ogden and I. A. Richards, Principles of Literary Criticism (1926), Practical Criticism (1929), and The Philosophy of Rhetoric (1936).

John Haffenden

Professor John Haffenden FBA FRSL (born 19 August 1945) is Emeritus Professor of English Literature at the University of Sheffield.

List of works in critical theory

This is a list of important and seminal works in the field of critical theory.

Otto Maria Carpeaux

História da Literatura Ocidental, 8 vol. (Portuguese, 1959–66)

M. H. Abrams

The Mirror and the Lamp: Romantic Theory and the Critical Tradition

Theodor Adorno

Aesthetic Theory

Negative Dialectics

Theodor Adorno & Max Horkheimer

Dialectic of Enlightenment

Louis Althusser

For Marx

Lenin and Philosophy

Erich Auerbach

Mimesis: The Representation of Reality in Western Literature

Mikhail Bakhtin

Discourse in the Novel

Rabelais and his World

Roland Barthes

Image, Music, Text


Jean Baudrillard

The Perfect Crime

Simulation and Simulacra

Walter Benjamin


The Origin of German Tragic Drama

Homi K. Bhabha

The Location of Culture

Pierre Bourdieu

La distinction

Kenneth Burke

A Rhetoric of Motives

A Grammar of Motives

John Brannigan

New Historicism and Cultural Materialism

Cleanth Brooks

The Well Wrought Urn: Studies in the Structure of Poetry

Sean Burke

The Death and Return of the Author

Judith Butler

Bodies That Matter

Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity

Cathy Caruth

Unclaimed Experience: Trauma, Narrative and History

Samuel Taylor Coleridge

Biographia Literaria

Jonathan Culler

Structuralist Poetics

The Pursuit of Signs

Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction

Gilles Deleuze

Difference and Repetition

Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari

Capitalism and Schizophrenia: Anti-Oedipus (pt.1) and A Thousand Plateaus (pt.2)

Jacques Derrida

Of Grammatology

Writing and Difference

Peter Dews

The Limits of Disenchantment

The Logic of Disintigration

Terry Eagleton

Marxism and Literary Criticism

The Idea of Culture

Antony Easthope

The Unconscious

William Empson

Seven Types of Ambiguity

Some Versions of Pastoral

The Structure of Complex Words

Norman Fairclough

Language and Power

Critical Discourse Analysis

Frantz Fanon

Black Skins, White Masks

Stanley Fish

Is There a Text in this Class?

Northrop Frye

Anatomy of Criticism

Gerald Graff

Literature Against Itself

Jürgen Habermas

Legitimation Crisis

The Theory of Communicative Action, volumes 1 & 2

The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity

Wolfgang Iser

The Act of Reading: a Theory of Aesthetic Response

Leonard Jackson

The Poverty of Structuralism

Fredric Jameson

The Political Unconscious

Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism

The Prison-House of Language

Frank Kermode

Romantic Image

Julia Kristeva

Desire in Language

Powers of Horror

Jacques Lacan


The Seminars

F.R. Leavis

The Great Tradition

Ania Loomba


Herbert Marcuse

Reason and Revolution. Hegel and the Rise of Social Theory

Eros and Civilization

Soviet Marxism. A Critical Analysis

One-Dimensional Man

Toril Moi

Sexual/Textual Politics

I.A. Richards

Practical Criticism: A Study of Literary Judgement

Principles of Literary Criticism

K.K. Ruthven

Critical Assumptions

Edward Said

Culture and Imperialism

Orientalism (1978)

Jean-Paul Sartre

What Is Literature? (1947)

Ferdinand de Saussure

Cours de linguistique générale (posthumously 1916)

Alfred Schmidt

The Concept of Nature in Marx (1962)

Zur Idee der Kritischen Theorie (German, 1974)

Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick

Between Men

Epistemology of the Closet

Susan Sontag

Against Interpretation

Styles of Radical Will

Under the Sign of Saturn

Where The Stress Falls

Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak

"Can the Subaltern Speak?"

In Other Worlds

Raymond Tallis

Not Saussure

Scott Wilson

Cultural Materialism

W.K. Wimsatt

The Verbal Icon

Virginia Woolf

A Room of One's Own

Slavoj Žižek

The Sublime Object of Ideology

The Ticklish Subject: The Absent Centre of Political Ontology

London Review of Books

The London Review of Books (LRB) is a British journal of literary essays. It is published fortnightly.

Mu Dan

Zha Liangzheng (simplified Chinese: 查良铮; traditional Chinese: 查良錚; pinyin: Zhā Liángzhēng; 5 April 1918 - 26 February 1977), better known by his pen name Mu Dan (Chinese: 穆旦; pinyin: Mù Dàn), was a Chinese poet. Born in Tianjin, he attended Tsinghua University at the age of 17, and graduated from National Southwestern Associated University in 1940. He served as an assistant lecturer of English at his alma mater for about two years. During World War II, he joined the Chinese Expedition Force in Burma and fought alongside the Allied forces against the Japanese. After the war ended, he attended the University of Chicago, where he obtained a master's degree in English literature. He was a distant paternal relative of the wuxia novelist Louis Cha.Most of Zha's poems were written during the late 1930s and 1940s. His poetry, which is characterised by impassioned speculation, abstract sensuality, and occasionally, restrained irony, is the foremost example of Chinese new vernacular verse absorbing modern Western techniques. Zha was a professed admirer of W. H. Auden, W. B. Yeats and T. S. Eliot. He studied their poetry at Southwest Associated University under William Empson, himself a leading modernist poet. On the other hand, the patriotism and the compassion for the suffering and needy in his poetry fall easily in line with a great tradition in Chinese poetry.

Zha had to give up poetry writing several years after the establishment of the People's Republic of China in 1949, and he turned to literary translation, for which he is also renowned. His works in this respect include the Chinese translations of Lord Byron's Don Juan and Aleksandr Pushkin's Eugene Onegin. It was not until 1976 that Zha resumed writing poetry. He produced 27 poems that year; highly regarded among them were several moving elegy-style pieces, prophetic of his sudden death of a heart attack in early 1977.

Philip Owens

Philip Owens was an English poet and novelist of the 1920s and 1930s. He appears in the 1930 anthology European Caravan, edited by Samuel Putnam, which also introduced much of the world to Jacob Bronowski, William Empson, and Samuel Beckett. He was a frequent contributor to Jack Lindsay's literary journal, The London Aphrodite. He is also the author of a novel, Hobohemians, and the editor of Bed and Sometimes Breaksfast: An Anthology of Landladies.

Seven Types of Ambiguity

Seven Types of Ambiguity is a work of literary criticism by William Empson which was first published in 1930. It was one of the most influential critical works of the 20th century and was a key foundation work in the formation of the New Criticism school. The book is organized around seven types of ambiguity that Empson finds in the poetry he criticises. The second edition (revised) was published by Chatto & Windus, London, 1947, and there was another revised edition in 1953. The first printing in America was by New Directions in 1947.

Seven Types of Ambiguity ushered in New Criticism in the United States. The book is a guide to a style of literary criticism practiced by Empson. An ambiguity is represented as a puzzle to Empson. We have ambiguity when "alternative views might be taken without sheer misreading." Empson reads poetry as an exploration of conflicts within the author.

T'ien Hsia Monthly

T'ien Hsia Monthly (Chinese: 天下月刊; "T'ien Hsia" meaning "everything under heaven") was a monthly English-language magazine published in Shanghai from August 1935 to 1937 and in Hong Kong from 1937 to 1941. The editors of the magazine were ethnic Chinese, including editor-in-chief Wen Yuan-ning. Contributors included C. R. Boxer, Chuan Tsen-kuo, William Empson, Emily Hahn, Lin Yutang, Shao Xunmei (Zau Sinmay), and John C.H. Wu. The magazine's purpose was to include works from Chinese writers introducing China to the west and works from Western writers discussing their ideas about China. The Sun Yat-sen Institute for the Advancement of Culture and Education supported the publication. Kelly & Walsh was the magazine's printer.Jonathan Hutt in China Heritage Quarterly described several of the contributors as being "China’s intellectual and literary stars." Ian Gill of the South China Morning Post stated that the magazine's editors, writers, and contributors were known for living liberal lifestyles. The China Heritage Quarterly stated that the magazine "reflected a positive relationship between the patriotic aspirations of some members of a Western-educated intelligentsia and a generous spirit of cosmopolitanism."

The Kenyon Review

The Kenyon Review is a literary magazine based in Gambier, Ohio, US, home of Kenyon College. The Review was founded in 1939 by John Crowe Ransom, critic and professor of English at Kenyon College, who served as its editor until 1959. The Review has published early works by generations of important writers, including Robert Penn Warren, Ford Madox Ford, Robert Lowell, Delmore Schwartz, Flannery O'Connor, Boris Pasternak, Bertolt Brecht, Peter Taylor, Dylan Thomas, Anthony Hecht, Maya Angelou, Rita Dove, Derek Walcott, Thomas Pynchon, Don Delillo, Woody Allen, Louise Erdrich, William Empson, Linda Gregg, Mark Van Doren, Kenneth Burke, and Ha Jin.The magazine's short stories have won more O. Henry Awards than any other nonprofit journal—most recently, two in 2004. Many poems that first appeared in the quarterly have been reprinted in The Best American Poetry series, and the magazine is one of the most frequent sources for the series, where poems originally in The Kenyon Review have appeared in the editions for 1992, 1993, 1994, 1996, 1997, 1998, 2001, 2002, 2003, and 2006.

William Empson (lawyer)

William Empson (1791 – December 10, 1852) was an English barrister, professor and journalist.

William Empson was educated at Winchester, and Trinity College, Cambridge. He was Professor at the East India Company's College from 1824 to 1852. He contributed regularly to the Edinburgh Review (1823–49) and was for some years its editor (1847–52).

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