William Empson

William Empson was born in Yorkshire, England, in 1906 and was educated at Winchester and Cambridge. His first published work was a volume of verse in the early 1930s, but he is best known for his books of literary criticism. Milton’s God, Seven Types of Ambiguity, Some Versions of Pastoral, and The Structure of Complex Words, now considered cornerstones of contemporary literary thought, were all first published in America by New Directions. Empson taught English Literature in Japan and China before the war, accompanying Peking University in its refugee retreat back to the Burma Road between 1937–1939. During the War he was editor of Chinese language broadcasts for the BBC. In 1947, he returned to his post in Peking with his wife and two sons, remaining until 1952. From 1953, he was Professor of English Literature at Sheffield University.

Some Versions Of Pastoral

Nonfiction by William Empson

Like the author’s Seven Types of Ambiguity, to which it is a successor, Some Versions of Pastoral is considered a landmark of modern literary criticism. In it Mr. Empson sees the pastoral convention as including not only poems of shepherd life but any work “about the people but not by or for” them. Finding examples in the writing of every country and century, from Mencius to William Faulkner or Céline, he concentrates on an analysis of certain works and forms in English literature, several of them, like Alice in Wonderland, Troilus and Cressida, and proletarian novels not traditionally considered pastoral.…
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Seven Types Of Ambiguity

Nonfiction by William Empson

First published in 1930, Seven Types of Ambiguity has long been recognized as a landmark in the history of English literary criticism. Revised twice since it first appeared, it has remained one of the most widely read and quoted works of literary analysis. Ambiguity, according to Mr. Empson, includes “any verbal nuance, however slight, which gives room for alternative reactions to the same piece of language.” From this definition, broad enough by his own admission sometimes to seem “stretched absurdly far,” he launches into a brilliant discussion, under seven classifications of differing complexity and depth, of such works, among others, as Shakespeare’s plays and the poetry of Chaucer, Donne, Marvell, Pope, Wordsworth, G.…
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