Before William Empson died on April 15, 1984, he prepared a volume of essays he called Using Biography. It has since appeared in England and now in this country. Empson had not published a single book since Milton’s God (1961), which was something of a studs de scandale. (God in Paradise Lost, he told us, is “astonishingly like Uncle Joe Stalin” and the poem is “horrible and wonderful: I regard it like Aztec or Benin sculpture or the novels of Kafka”) One knew that Empson had published many articles since then, but they were scattered over English and American periodicals and it was difficult to form a clear picture of his work of the last twenty years. Thus a collection of essays of his own choice is most welcome.

Using Biography is ostensibly held together by Empson’s attention to the use of biography in criticism and by his aim...


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