About Daniel G. Williams
Daniel G. Williams is director of the Richard Burton Centre for the Study of Wales, and senior lecturer in English, at Swansea University. He is the editor of Raymond Williams, Who Speaks for Wales? (2003. rpt 2008) and author of Ethnicity and Cultural Authority: From Matthew Arnold to W. E. B. Du Bois (2006). His latest book is Black Skin, Blue Books: African Americans and Wales 1845 - 1945 (2012).
Articles by Daniel G. Williams
Daniel G. Williams reviews Raymond Williams: A Warrior’s Tale by Dai Smith.
Theodor Adorno’s statement that ‘the past life of the émigré is, as we know, annulled’ once seemed particularly apt when considering Raymond Williams (1921-1988). Williams, the most influential socialist writer and thinker in post-war Britain, an innovator in adult education, a pre-eminent member of the English Faculty at Cambridge, and doyen of the New Left, will be of primary relevance to readers of Our Kingdom for two reasons. First, his careful attachment to issues of democracy and to socialism as a means of emancipation that had to be cultural as well economic and political. Second, for his engagement with the national question from the 1970s onwards and his reiterated argument that ‘we cannot live very much longer under the confusion of the existing “international economy” and the existing “nation state”…These are political forms that now limit, subordinate and destroy people. We have to begin again with people and build new political forms’. In this review of an important biography, I want to look at the second aspect, for Dai Smith’s study reveals the deep consequences of Williams’s national formation as a Welshman, born in the border village of Pandy.
Fred Inglis, in his biography of 1995, was typical of many in finding it difficult to take what he saw as Williams’s “late-come Welshness” seriously, dismissing it as “a fit of the kind of fervour which overcame Williams several times in later life”. Stefan Collini admired the way Inglis “made no pretence at writing like a visiting anthropologist” for biographer and subject were members of the same “tribe” of intellectuals on the English Left. The view from Wales itself was rather different. Ned Thomas, amongst others, asked rhetorically whether it mattered that Inglis’s biography “often seems to get things wrong when it talks about Wales”. The errors, argued Thomas, were not due to a ‘moral shortcoming’ but an “objective one”.
"Colonials often know more about the metropolis than metropolitans themselves. Metropolitans perceive the colonials (if at all) in single and stereotyped terms…If and when Dai Smith’s biography appears, we shall expect a more comprehensive treatment, because the Welsh world and the world of the English Left will equally be open to him."
Twelve years later, Dai Smith has indeed produced a seminal biography. And the success of the work is partly due to the fact that the Rhondda born, Balliol educated, Professor at Swansea University, is able to analyse, sympathise, and engage, simultaneously, with the very different networks of loyalty to which Williams belonged. In A Warrior’s Tale, Williams’s formative experiences on the Welsh border become the crucial viewfinder for bringing the later life into focus.