The first time John Haffenden saw William Empson he was reading his poetry not very aloud in Trinity College, Dublin. A “woman cried out with exasperation from the back of the hall, ‘Speak up, you silly old fool’”. For some who then cringed, the embarrassment was later relieved by discovering that the woman was the poet’s wife, Hetta, eventually Lady, Empson. (Others may have curled further in on themselves when they realized they had been admitted without warning into the family circle and its lively ways.) Her bravura intimacy at this moment, her carelessness of what other people thought, shared in his own cordially unbuttoned manner amid the “farcically rigid convention” of academic exchange. For Empson usually required no encouragement to speak up. He had been answering the call “to speak up against the dead weight of the fashions of two generations” since his Winchester College days when, as Haffenden puts it, he was “not loth to blazon his opinions” in the school debating society, impelled by “a natural scepticism . . . to speak up for unorthodoxy and subversion”.

more from the TLS here.