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Culture and Society 1780-1950 [Paperback]

Raymond Williams
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)

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Book Description

April 15, 1983 0231057016 978-0231057011 2

Acknowledged as perhaps the masterpiece of materialist criticism in the English language, this omnibus ranges over British literary history from George Eliot to George Orwell to inquire about the complex ways economic reality shapes the imagination.

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Culture and Society 1780-1950 + Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society + Marxism and Literature (Marxist Introductions)
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Editorial Reviews


The earliest ideas on culture, Mr. Williams claims, developed in opposition to the laissez-faire society of the political economists. As the ideas on culture took shape, on the one hand, they became identified with a 'whole way of life.' On the other hand... culture became a court of appeals where real values could be determined. Culture, thus separated from the whole society, was associated with the idea of perfection through the study of the arts... Mr. Williams contrasts the ideas of ' culture as art' and 'culture as a whole way of life,' and commends the latter... the book should definitely be read by all those interested in English intellectual history.

(M. S. Wilkins Political Science Quarterly)

CULTURE AND SOCIETY is worth a library of literary and political tracts in that it digs into the ideological layers that envelop modern politics. Written from an independent Left standpoint, this critical history of the concept of culture in England from 1780 to 1950 is exactly to the point of contemporary discussions of value.

(Harold Rosenberg)

About the Author

One of the century's most distinguished public intellectuals, Raymond Williams (1921-1988) helped to create and form the conceptual space of contemporary literary & cultural studies.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 363 pages
  • Publisher: Columbia University Press; 2 edition (April 15, 1983)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0231057016
  • ISBN-13: 978-0231057011
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.5 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #469,902 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

4.7 out of 5 stars
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32 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A World in Transition June 23, 2004
Raymond Williams discusses how the idea of "culture" and "society" evolved in England when two forces (democracy, industrialism) were undermining traditional notions of both. Williams is a Marxist and it is clear that his analysis of Burke, Coleridge, Mill, Carlyle, Newman, Arnold etc... is directed by Marx's theory of class relationships. The book, therefore, is both an analysis and an argument.

The analysis/argument is that democracy and industrialism broke down old relationships and initiated new ones. While this shift was occuring a new kind of writer was born: the cultural critic. The major theme of this book is the evolution of the word "culture" . Before the period in question (1780-1950) the word "culture" was used to describe art and literature but beginning with Burke and Coleridge the word begins to be used to refer to a "whole way of life". Coleridge makes the key distinction between "civilization" and "culture". Coleridge uses the word "civilization" to describe the "general progress of society" and he uses the word "culture" to express a standard of perfection independent of the progress of society that could be used "not merely to influence society but to judge it." Coleridge envisioned a class of men or "clerisy" whose sole task would be to tend to the cultivation of society. The great fear in the minds of nineteenth-century educated Englishman was that democracy would lead to a dumming down of public life and that what society really needed was some class of educated individuals(Coleridge) or some heroic individual (Carlyle) to insure the continued cultivation of society.
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28 of 33 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent July 24, 2000
By A Customer
Williams examines the development of the English novel (and the language itself) as a means to socio-political criticism. The section on the Romantic Period is excellent, as are the sections on Eliot and Orwell. This isn't your typical "critical theory" work: Williams doesn't use the ridiculous theoretical schemes often found in the field. Also, while his analysis is ultimately radical left, Williams remains undogmatic and clear-headed throughout (also a rarity), attributable in part I think to his working class background (this is really one of the themes of the work itself - upper middle-class liberalism and "radicalism" versus working-class radicalism).
Don't be put off by the claim that this is a "materialist analysis." Yes, he describes the creation of the author as the result of an economic/social process, but this isn't the main thrust of the work.
If nothing else, read this book for Williams's sensitivity to the origins and meanings of the "keywords" of the English language.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Culture and Ugliness of Industrialism January 2, 2014
From a methodological point of view Raymond Williams „Culture and Society“is still a quite old-style work of literary history and history of ideas in the way of the 1950s. Williams does not question the canon and the chapter about Marxism is not really new. Actually the book belongs to the 1950s when the British Left wanted to defend British Culture against the threat of Americanism. Williams does not mention British Imperialism and its influence on culture. “Culture and Society” does not include a single word about minorities such as the Irish and does not deal with gender issues.
As a German and French speaking reader I always wondered why some of the best writers in the English language like T.S.Eliot and D.H.Lawrence can defend so elitist and undemocratic political opinions. In the French and German canon, the best writers are progressives on the Left. “Tory Conservatives” are rare in the French and German literary canon. British Raymond Williams portrays a tradition of criticism of industrialism, which leads from Coleridge and Carlyle to D.H.Lawrence’s “Sons and Lovers”. This tradition saw society as an organic whole and criticized the mechanistic view. “Culture and Society” helps me to understand those books as a reaction to the industrial revolution.
Williams’ hero is William Morris, who criticized industrialism and capitalism for the ugliness it produced for most people.
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