Haffenden, John 1945(?)-

views updated

Haffenden, John 1945(?)-

PERSONAL:

Born August 19, 1945 (one source says 1950). Education: Trinity College, Dublin, B.A. (with honors), M.A.; Oxford University, D.Phil.

ADDRESSES:

Office—School of English Literature, Language and Linguistics, University of Sheffield, Sir William Empson House, Shearwood Rd., Sheffield S10 2TD, England. E-mail—[email protected]

CAREER:

During early career, taught at Oxford College of Further Education, Oxford, England, and at the University of Exeter, Exeter, England; University of Sheffield, Sheffield, England, faculty member, beginning 1975, professor of English with personal chair, 1994—. Has also taught inmates at H.M. Prison, Oxford, England. Yaddo Foundation, New York, NY, fellow; St John's College, Oxford, visiting scholar; Trinity College, Cambridge, England, visiting fellow commoner; Magdalen College, Oxford, visiting fellow; British Academy, research reader; Leverhulme Research Fellow.

MEMBER:

Royal Society of Literature (fellow), English Association (fellow).

AWARDS, HONORS:

Research awards from the Authors' Foundation of the Society of Authors and the British Academy.

WRITINGS:

(Selector and author of introduction) John Berryman, Henry's Fate & Other Poems, 1967-1972, Faber & Faber (London, England), 1978.

John Berryman: A Critical Commentary, New York University Press (New York, NY), 1980.

Viewpoints: Poets in Conversation with John Haffenden, Faber & Faber (Boston, MA), 1981.

The Life of John Berryman, Routledge & Kegan Paul (Boston, MA), 1982.

William Empson, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), Volume 1: Among the Mandarins, 2005, Volume 2: Against the Christians, 2006.

EDITOR

W.H. Auden: The Critical Heritage, Routledge & Kegan Paul (Boston, MA), 1983.

Novelists in Interview, Methuen (New York, NY), 1985.

(And author of introduction) William Empson, The Royal Beasts and Other Works, Chatto & Windus (London, England), 1986.

(And author of introduction) William Empson, Argufying: Essays on Literature and Culture, University of Iowa Press (Iowa City, IA), 1987.

William Empson, Essays on Renaissance Literature, Cambridge University Press (New York, NY), Volume 1: Donne and the New Philosophy, 1994, Volume 2: The Drama, 1995.

William Empson, The Strengths of Shakespeare's Shrew: Essays, Memoirs, and Reviews, Sheffield Academic Press (Sheffield, England), 1996.

(And author of introduction) John Berryman, Berryman's Shakespeare, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1999.

The Complete Poems of William Empson, University Press of Florida (Gainesville, FL), 2001.

Selected Letters of William Empson, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 2006.

SIDELIGHTS:

John Haffenden is a professor of English whose primary interests are British and American poetry of the modern and contemporary periods, textual scholarship and editing, and the theory and practice of literary biography. The author or editor of numerous books, Haffenden has written biographies of American poet John Berryman and the English literary critic and poet William Empson. He has also edited several books containing these authors' works.

In The Life of John Berryman, Haffenden presents a biography of one of the founders of the "Confessional" school of poetry who is considered one of the major American poets in the last half of the twentieth century. Called a "splendidly just and well-tempered biography" by Denis Donoghue in the New York Times Book Review, The Life of John Berryman explores the troubled life of the author, who committed suicide and has a reputation for drinking and womanizing. Donoghue noted: "John Haffenden's book lights up the subject, but the light is necessarily lurid: such waste, such despondency, such madness."

In Berryman's Shakespeare, Haffenden presents a collection of Berryman's essays on the Bard, including the introduction and notes to Berryman's edition of King Lear and lectures given by Berryman. "This anthology … gathers the most complete of Berryman's writings on Shakespeare," reported Jack Helberg in Booklist. David Marcou wrote in British Heritage: "This collection of Berryman's works reveals much useful information on Shakespeare's life."

Haffenden, according to New York Times Book Review contributor Stephen Burt, "devoted the last twenty years to [William] Empson's legacy." Considered by some to be Great Britain's greatest literary critic, Empson established his reputation in 1930 with his book Seven Types of Ambiguity. He was known for his eccentric approach to criticism and for his brusque manner in answering those who criticized his interpretations. Empson was also a noted poet. In addition to editing Empson's essays and poetry and collecting Empson's abundant correspondence, Haffenden is also the author of the two-volume biography William Empson. The first volume, Among the Mandarins, focuses on Empson's early life and travels up to the time Empson left his teaching post in China in 1939. Writing in the Spectator, Rupert Christiansen commented: "Haffenden is the most genial of scholarly chroniclers, adopting a leisurely and discursive pace and tone that are appropriately Empsonian in warmth and wit, as well as suggestive explications de texte. This is a very long and detailed book, in the door-stopper category but never for a minute a dull one." New Criteron contributor Paul Dean wrote that the author "is notably good at fitting Empson's writings (creative as well as critical) into a biographical context."

In the second volume, Against the Christians, Haffenden covers the last forty-five years of Empson's life. He explores Empson's marriage to Hetta Crouse, a South African Boer. He also writes in depth about Empson's rejection of Christianity and delves into the time when the author created most of his lasting criticism. The book ends with a view of Empson's later, somewhat turbulent, years, which included marital crisis, financial problems, and Empson's increasing reliance on drink to battle his depression. "When I reviewed the first volume of John Haffenden's biography last year, I predicted that volume II wasn't likely to be quite as interesting," wrote Anthony Thwaite in the Guardian. Thwaite continued: "Now that I have read this conclusion to the monumental enterprise I can see how wrong my forecast was. In Haffenden's hands, William Empson's last forty-five years are made as absorbing as his first thirty-three." National Review contributor John Wilson commented: "Haffenden … is sympathetic to his subject, sympathetic to a fault, but he is also an honorable scholar, and his scrupulous account of Empson's life provides ample evidence for readings contrary to his own."

Haffenden also edited many of Empson's writings in books such as The Complete Poems of William Empson. "This book—the most sumptuous and attractive, and also the most painstaking and scholarly, edition any modern poet ever dreamed of—surrounds a mere hundred pages of verse with 400 pages of introduction and factual commentary," according to a contributor to the Atlantic Monthly. The contributor went on to discuss Haffenden's commentary, noting that the author "writes crisply himself." A Publishers Weekly contributor declared the book "a promising attempt to place him [Empson] firmly in the literary canon."

In the Selected Letters of William Empson, Haffenden presents many of the numerous letters that Empson wrote over the course of his life. New Statesman critic Deborah Bowman stated: "The letters in this collection are full of their writer's particular situations: the brilliant student in 1920s Cambridge, afterwards a jobbing writer in London; professor of English in Tokyo, then Peking; broadcasting alongside George Orwell for the wartime BBC; further teaching in China and the US, a chair at the University of Sheffield from 1953 until 1971, and continued publishing until his death in 1984." Bowman added: "John Haffenden is right to emphasise, in his introduction, the remote circumstances of much of his subject's writing: in ‘university digs, bed-and-breakfast establishments, squats, monasteries, hostels, huts, and basements.’ In many of the letters contained in the volume, Empson writes about poetry and literary criticism, often offering criticism in rebuttal to or agreement with the letter's recipient. However, Empson also wrote about his personal life and philosophies. "These fascinating letters, edited by John Haffenden, who has done more than anyone to make Empson readable rather than merely mandarin, are a testament to the virtues of spirited and truculent disagreement," wrote Adam Phillips in the London Review of Books.

The author also edited two volumes of Empson's criticism concerning Renaissance literature: Essays on Renaissance Literature. In a review of the first volume, Donne and the New Philosophy, Renaissance Quarterly contributor Brian Patton wrote that "Haffenden … provides exactly the sort of detailed and thorough overview that one might expect from Empson's biographer." The second volume is titled The Drama and focuses on that subject.

BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:

PERIODICALS

Artforum International, summer, 2005, Charlotte Taylor, "Some Types of Ambiguity: Charlotte Taylor on William Empson."

Atlantic Monthly, September, 2001, review of The Complete Poems of William Empson, p. 139; March, 2007, review of William Empson, Volume 2: Against the Christians, p. 112.

Biography, spring, 2006, John Gross, review of William Empson, Volume 1: Among the Mandarins,

Booklist, January 1, 1999, Jack Helbig, review of Berryman's Shakespeare, p. 819.

Book World, June 19, 2005, Michael Dirda, review of William Empson, Volume 1, p. 15.

Boston Globe, March 7, 1999, William H. Pritchard, review of Berryman's Shakespeare.

British Heritage, April, 2000, David Marcou, review of Berryman's Shakespeare, p. 67.

Choice: Current Reviews for Academic Libraries, September, 1999, J.H. Sims, review of Berryman's Shakespeare, p. 138; February, 2006, G. Grieve-Carlson, review of William Empson, Volume 1, p. 1015; January, 2007, G. Grieve-Carlson, review of Selected Letters of William Empson, p. 831.

Critical Survey, January, 2003, Adam Rounce, review of The Complete Poems of William Empson, p. 134.

English Language Notes, December, 1994, Eugene R. Cunner, review of Essays on Renaissance Literature, Volume 1: Donne and the New Philosophy, p. 74.

Guardian (London, England), December 23, 2006, Anthony Thwaite, review of William Empson, Volume 2.

Isis, December, 1994, Pamela Gossin, review of Essays on Renaissance Literature, Volume 1: Donne and the New Philosophy, p. 692.

Library Journal, December 15, 1982, Richard J. Kelly, review of The Life of John Berryman, p. 2340; October 1, 1985, Michael Edmonds, review of Novelists in Interview, p. 101; March 1, 1988, Robert E. Brown, review of Argufying: Essays on Literature and Culture, p. 66.

London Review of Books, May 19, 2005, Frank Kermode, "The Savage Life," review of William Empson, Volume 1, p. 3; August 3, 2006, Adam Phillips, review of Selected Letters of William Empson; November 16, 2006, Frank Kermode, "Disgusting," review of William Empson, Volume 2, p. 12.

Modern Language Review, January, 1995, John Lucas, review of Essays on Renaissance Literature, Volume 1, p. 142.

Nation, October 23, 1982, Robert B. Shaw, review of The Life of John Berryman, p. 406; February 19, 2007, Stefan Collini, "The Close Reader," review of William Empson, Volume 1, p. 23.

National Review, September 3, 1982, review of The Life of John Berryman, p. 1092; February 18, 1983, Selden Rodman, review of The Life of John Berryman, p. 202; May 14, 2007, John Wilson, "The Great Professor," review of William Empson, Volume 2, p. 47.

New Criterion, May, 2005, Paul Dean, "Ambiguous Type," review of William Empson, Volume 1, p. 73; February, 2007, Paul Dean, "William's Tale," p. 63.

New Republic, November 15, 1982, William H. Pritchard, review of The Life of John Berryman, p. 35.

New Statesman, July 31, 1981, Derek Mahon, review of Viewpoints, p. 18; September 20, 1985, Harriett Gilbert, review of Novelists in Interview, p. 27; May 15, 2006, Deborah Bowman, "The Solitary Conversation: He Was Thrown Out of Cambridge, Taught English in Tokyo and Broadcast alongside George Orwell. But the Critic William Empson Also Found Time to Write Thousands of Letters. As Deborah Bowman Discovers, Even His Throwaway Lines Reveal His Brilliance," review of Selected Letters of William Empson, p. 50.

New York Review of Books, October 21, 1993, Charles Rosen, review of Argufying, p. 72; October 21, 1993, Charles Rosen, review of Essays on Renaissance Literature, Volume 1, p. 72; July 5, 2001, James Fenton, review of The Complete Poems of William Empson, p. 48; March 23, 2006, John Gross, "The Genius of Ambiguity," review of William Empson, Volume 1, p. 28.

New York Times, October 9, 1982, Anatole Broyard, review of The Life of John Berryman, p. 16; October 24, 1982, Denis Donoghue, review of The Life of John Berryman, p. 9; December 5, 1982, review of The Life of John Berryman, p. 15.

New York Times Book Review, September 10, 2006, Stephen Burt, "Adventures in Ambiguity," review of William Empson, Volume 1.

Publishers Weekly, August 13, 1982, review of The Life of John Berryman, p. 63; May 21, 2001, review of The Complete Poems of William Empson, p. 100; May 16, 2005, review of William Empson, Volume 1, p. 53.

Quill & Quire, February, 1986, review of Novelists in Interview, p. 46.

Renaissance Quarterly, winter, 1996, Brian Patton, review of Essays on Renaissance Literature, Volume 1.

Sewanee Review, spring, 1996, D.E. Richardson, review of Essays on Renaissance Literature, Volume 1.

Spectator, April 30, 2005, Rupert Christiansen, "A Master of Ambiguities," review of William Empson, Volume 1, p. 37; October 28, 2006, Rupert Christiansen, "A Good Man among Ambiguities."

Times Educational Supplement, January 1, 1988, John Weightman, review of Argufying, p. 24.

ONLINE

University of Sheffield School of English Literature, Language and Linguistics Web site,http://www.shef.ac.uk/english/ (October 23, 2007), faculty profile of John Haffenden.

University Press of Florida,http://www.upf.com/ (October 23, 2007), brief profile of John Haffenden.