Contemporary Misogyny

Contemporary Misogyny

Laura Riding, William Empson and the critics
a survey of mis-history

By Mark Jacobs

Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the English Association 2015

This essay examines three books: A Survey of Modernist Poetry, by Laura Riding and Robert Graves, Seven Types of Ambiguity by William Empson, and William Empson: Among the Mandarins by John Haffenden. It shows how and why Laura Riding was the original author of the interpretation of Shakespeare's Sonnet 129 in A Survey of Modernist Poetry, which provided the idea for Empson's understanding of ‘ambiguity’ which in turn was highly significant to the subsequent development of ‘New Criticism’. It examines the history of A Survey of Modernist Poetry since its first publication in 1927, its treatment by critics and reviewers, and its mistakenly being described as a book by Robert Graves up to the present day as epitomized in John Haffenden's biography of Empson. It also indicates that modernist or post-modernist literary criticism from 1927 onwards would have been significantly different had numerous critics, Empson among them, but other poets and authors, too, given more attention to the work of Laura Riding than to Robert Graves.


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