|This article relies on references to primary sources. (July 2006)|
Education and positions held
He was educated at Trinity College, Dublin (B.A., M.A.), where he edited Icarus, and Oxford University (DPhil). He has spent periods as a Fellow of the Yaddo Foundation, New York; as a Visiting Scholar at St. John's College, Oxford; a Visiting Fellow Commoner of Trinity College, Cambridge; and a Visiting Fellow of Magdalen College, Oxford.
He is an elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and the English Association. A member of staff at the University of Sheffield since 1975, he was promoted to a Personal Chair in 1994. He is Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of English Studies, University of London.
He was elected Fellow of the British Academy in 2007.
One of his first books was a biographical study of the American poet John Berryman (1982), written with financial support from the Arts Council of Great Britain. His edition of Berryman's poetry, Henry's Fate and Other Poems 1967-1972 (1977), was chosen by the Association of American Publishers for exhibit at the Moscow International Book Fair in September 1979.
For several years he has been pursuing a major research interest in the life and work of the renowned poet and critic Sir William Empson — who was Professor of English Literature at the University of Sheffield from 1953 until his retirement in 1972. This work has included the editing of a number of posthumous collections of his writings. This series of publications includes:
- Argufying: Essays on Literature and Culture (1987)- which was chosen by Sir Isaiah Berlin as one of the Books of the Year 1987 in the Sunday Times;
- Donne and the New Philosophy (1993) and The Drama (1994) - a two-volume edition of essays on Renaissance literature
- The Strengths of Shakespeare's Shrew: Essays, Memoirs and Interviews (1996).
- Berryman's Shakespeare (1999)
- The Complete Poems of William Empson (2000), which was selected by Professor Sir Frank Kermode as an International Book of the Year in the Times Literary Supplement and as a Book of the Year in the London Evening Standard.
- William Empson: Among the Mandarins (2005) - the first of a two-volume biography of the poet and critic.
- Selected Letters of William Empson (2006)
- William Empson: Against the Christians - the second volume of Empson's biography.
According to critic and journalist Kevin Jackson:
"William Empson (1906-1984) was one of the two or three greatest literary critics of the twentieth century, a fine and uncommonly influential poet, and a remarkably original philosopher, linguist and polymath, whose spryly-carried range of learning encompassed mathematics, anthropology, physics and Buddhist art. He was also a magnificent English eccentric, whose rackety progress from Cambridge to Japan and China was crammed with amorous scandals, bohemian revelries, sober heroism and low farce. All these aspects of the great man received generous, judicious and eloquent attention in John Haffenden's superb biography William Empson: Volume I: Among the Mandarins."