The latest Auden Society newsletter appears after a break in publication of almost one-and-a-half years. Predictably, the editorial seizure occurred as we were beginning work on our thirteenth issue. On my own behalf, and on behalf of everyone else involved with the newsletter, I apologize to all Society members for the delay. The causes were manifold: work, people, life...
In the meantime, while the newsletter slept, much has happened. Four Weddings and a Funeral has come and gone, as it did launching Auden into the mass-market realm of the British bestseller lists. And three founding members of the Auden Society - Charles Monteith, Tania Stern, and Stephen Spender - have died, a vivid but sad reflection of the fact that Auden's circle will one day become as remote and historical as the Kit-cat Club or the Imagists. All three of the deceased were generous friends of the fledgling society and all are missed. This issue of the newsletter concentrates on Spender, in the next, there will be tributes to Monteith and Mrs Stern. Finally, with the appearance of issue no. 13, the editorship changes hands.
Since the first issue, I have been producing the newsletter along with the English editor, Kathleen Bell. (During that period, we also drew endlessly on the extraordinary helpfulness of Katherine Bucknell and Edward Mendelson.) Now both of us depart. As Kathleen relinquishes her post after a seven-year editorial stint, I would like to record the Society's appreciation of her efforts - commissioning reviews, writing articles, typing up contributions, xeroxing and mailing out copies. We wish her well in her future academic career.
The new editor is Michael Kilby. After a career in business, Michael is now writing a doctorate at Oxford on the influence of travel on British writers of the thirties. Taking over this informal, underfunded, and structurally bi-continental publication would have defeated the capacities of most people. Michael, though, has managed it with grace, efficiency, and a great deal of work.
But even he cannot do it all alone. The newsletter always needs contributors and, surely, writers and researchers always need a space in which to float their critical ideas or test the strength of their discoveries. In an amusing but still serious sense, the newsletter was functioning ideally when members engaged in a debate, stretching over several issues, on the exact meaning of the word "pansy" in the 1930s. As Michael takes over, please send in articles and help him make the newsletter interesting, readable, and durable. Adapting the words of the mad Mao, then, let a hundred influences bloom, let a hundred schools of thought contend.
Jane Hanly is the eldest daughter of Bernard Auden. Born in Canada in 1930, she moved to England in 1936. Since 1957 she has lived in Dublin. Richard Davenport-Hines originally transcribed Jane's taped recollections in 1994 and she has recently revised them. They are made from a perspective which is often overlooked.
Let me start by telling you about Wystan's parents, my grandparents. My grandmother, Constance Auden, was one of nine children and the daughter of a vicar. Her mother died when she was fourteen, and she had to help with the upbringing of the younger children. Family gossip had it that the youngest children were conceived while my great-grandmother was already an invalid on the couch. This may not be true: if it was, it perhaps coloured my grandmother's own attitude to sexuality.
She grew up wanting to be a missionary and studied nursing at St. Bartholomew's Hospital, where she met my grandfather, George Auden - then a young doctor. She was a fluent French speaker, highly intelligent but frustrated by lack of opportunity, as were many young women of her generation.
I taught briefly at Queen's school, Chester, and the French mistress there, who was a graduate from Birmingham University, remembered Mrs. Auden. Apparently invitations to her soirées, to which French students were invited, were very much sought after.
She was twenty-nine when she married my grandfather; he would have been twenty-seven. My father was born a year later, John three years after that and Wystan another three years later, when she was thirty-six. I think my grandmother had a tendency to be bossy and authoritarian, though probably with the best of intentions. She had a strong sense of duty and sense of propriety. She had no reverence for money, rather for breeding and intellect. Her three sons were all rather in awe of her. But they loved her too, and felt closer to her than to their father, probably because he was away for so long during the First World War.
She made a lasting impression on me for the very short time that I knew her. I remember with absolute clarity the lessons in behaviour she taught me. For example, because I hated rice pudding and often refused to eat it, I was made to sit in front of my plate long after the meal was finished. My only reprieve came when Uncle John or Uncle Wystan appeared and ate it for me. On another occasion I was taken into the garden and shown red, juicy apples. I was told they were lovely, but were not for me! On one of the last occasions that I saw her before she died, she gave me a long lecture on the evils of lipstick.
When I was at boarding school and we were sewing my name-tapes on, I remember her saying to me: "Are you not glad that you have a name like Auden and not Smith?"
In my mind's eye, I remember her as always bathed in sunlight. I also remember Lordswood Road, where the Audens lived in Birmingham, as a lovely place to be. It was full of books, fine linen and good furniture. There was a pleasant garden. My grandmother made home-made stone ginger beer and damson cheese, things that stand out in my mind.
My grandmother was tall and rather austere. She seemed to be always dressed in mauves and greys, but she also wore tweeds, made of fine material. She was an expert seamstress, making sewing and embroidery work that was absolutely beautiful. We (my sister, cousins and I) still have the Christening robes of fine lawn which she made almost a hundred years ago and there is not a stitch worn in them. She was rather High Church. I remember going to church with her, smelling the incense and hearing the bells. She was very fond of reading me stories of saints.
When my father proposed to my mother out in Canada, my grandmother came out to meet her. She told my father that my mother "wasn't out of the top drawer", and that the relationship must end. He respected his mother enough to obey her for a while, but later, through the mediation of friends, they got back together and married. Neither my grandparents nor either Wystan or John, my uncles, attended the wedding.
My grandmother had made attempts to fix both John and my father up with suitable wives in England. Daddy had been unofficially engaged before he went to Canada, to someone called Joy, who had played cricket for England. Wystan was a different kettle of fish. My grandmother's only comment about Wystan to my mother was that she had learnt to live with what he was; her one fear, she said, was that he might get caught by the police.
She regarded the Bicknells as superior to the Audens. My grandfather and all three sons had an earthy sense of humour, which annoyed her. She would not have seen any of their smutty remarks as funny. She regarded the Audens as rather a grubby lot.
My grandmother was very close to Wystan. Everyone knew this, even outside the family. My father "floated" through his childhood, though he had quite a severe upbringing. He loved his mother and was very upset when she died. Incidentally, Wystan told me he had received a letter from his mother after he had been told of her death. He claimed he never opened the letter.
I had numerous photos of Wystan and his brothers. They were a constant trio, dressed in white in the garden, in tweeds out walking, in fancy dress for birthday parties, sometimes posed in step fashion. They seem to have spent a lot of time together, especially during the holidays.
My grandmother thought that, on one's birthday, one should be paid a great deal of attention. This was a nice idea; it involved a very elaborate tea for the birthday boy (or in my case, birthday girl), who sat at the head of the table on a throne. We were bedecked in robes and crowned. I remember being very unhappy because I knew none of the invitees.
Another tradition involved singing carols around a crib at Christmas. Apparently my father and his brothers did this as children: certainly my family was called upon. My father had a fine tenor voice, but he did not play the piano like his brothers.
I also remember some arguments about the Audens' antecedents. The more glamorous theory was that they were Icelandic. Some were tall and fair but others short and dark, so Norman ancestry was also voiced as a possibility.
My grandmother's dearest wish was that I should be named Constance, after her, and Thomasina, because I was born on St. Thomas's Day. She thought that Jane was a name only suitable for prostitutes and servant girls. But for once my mother got her own way, though I was given my grandmother's family name - Bicknell - as my own middle name, to mollify her. I don't know what she would think of me now, but I expect she would be disappointed. She always had very high expectations. I know my father disappointed her; he didn't seem to achieve what she thought all her sons should have been capable of achieving.
My grandfather, George Auden, was also a member of a large family and the son of a clergyman. There were seven boys and one girl, he being the second youngest. His father died when he was four so, like his wife, he grew up in a one-parent family. He was a high-achiever with a good academic record. Not only did he become an excellent doctor and, later, Professor of Public Health, but he also translated Icelandic sagas and had a great range of other interests, including carpentry.
I think he fell in love with the image of my grandmother. They were most happy on holiday at their home in the Lake District, Wesco, in the village of Threlkeld, near Keswick. He would do carpentry, she would embroider and they would study and read together.
I think what my grandfather missed most in his marriage was a sense of fun and gaiety. Nor did he find this in his relationship with his three sons. He would have liked a daughter. I loved him very much and I think he loved me. Some of my most treasured possessions are a huge oak screen which he carved and an oak tray - the last work he did. He also left me my grandmother's engagement ring and a bureau - his engagement present to her.
Some things that he inculcated are with me to this day. For example, that it didn't matter about going out in the rain, one wasn't sugar and wouldn't melt; that it was good to eat up mouldy bread, because a little penicillin was good for one. He was rather stingy - counting the sheets of lavatory paper in the toilet, for example - a trait that was rather mocked by his sons.
He was immensely proud of Wystan but found him rather difficult to get on with and latterly uncaring. For example he told me his Christmas Day was often spoilt because Wystan failed to tell him when he would be calling from America, causing him to stay by the telephone all day. If he had a favourite son, it was probably John. He could not relate to my father, who did not fit into the academic mould of the rest of the family.
My grandfather was an attractive man, with a lovely smile and twinkling eyes. He was also passionate, especially as a younger man. But later, in old age, he became lonely. He expressed a desire to live with my parents but my mother wouldn't agree. He died eight days after I married, so I wasn't with him; it was one of my great regrets. I wasn't at the funeral either. After the funeral his three sons travelled together (and, I gather, were rather irritable on the journey) to the Lake District carrying his ashes. The ashes were supposed to be scattered in the same churchyard as his wife's had been but, I am told, they ended up scattering them in the wrong churchyard!
My grandmother died in her sleep at home with my grandfather. He told me that when he found her, her face had become young again and her hair chestnut.
As I said, both my grandfather and his three sons had an earthy sense of humour and liked to shock. It has been said that Wystan, aged sixteen, took a fancy to his father when sharing a bed on one occasion on holiday. This may well have happened; but Wystan's reporting of it would have been through the wish to shock as much as anything else. It seems to me not to have been a very fastidious arrangement anyway for an adult and a sixteen-year-old.
I don't remember my grandfather as a religious man. He was quite happy to fit in with whatever service was at hand. Another thing - he would never talk about the war. He was at Gallipoli among other places. I think he enjoyed the cameraderie, but assume he saw some terrible things.
My father, Bernard Auden, was sent to school at Shrewsbury when he was fourteen. It cannot have been an easy place, in terms of food or conditions, during the First World War. His diaries are full of matches and games and have little sense of impending call-up. This occurred in July 1918, luckily for him the year the war ended.
When he was demobbed, there was much discussion about what he should do. He wanted to be a vet. This was not perceived to have the right status; vets were tradesmen, it was thought then. In the end, he told me, he went to Birmingham University to study economics. I find this very surprising. Whatever the subject, he failed miserably after a year, having spent most of the time walking the dog!
He was then sent off to Canada to stay with some cousins there. My father thoroughly enjoyed this; he was a sportsman, in contrast to his brothers, excelling as a shot, horseman, athlete and swimmer, all pastimes popular with his cousins also. They had a timber mill; the settlement around it is now called Auden.
He came home for a while, then returned to Canada, meeting my mother on the boat. My mother, Elizabeth Jeeves, was a school teacher emigrating to Canada. They bought a farm in Alberta and settled for a bit, but eventually sold up and returned to England for good. I still bridle when I think of my grandmother's outrageous behaviour in getting rid of my mother's clothes at that time and substituting her own choice.
My father then managed the estate of a Bicknell cousin in Monmouthshire, but this arrangement didn't work out and he eventually became a farm-worker. My girlhood was blissfully happy but my mother became rather bitter, blaming the Audens for our misfortunes. My father was resigned to whatever life had in store for him and I now believe that his family probably found him extremely difficult to help.
I think the brothers tried to get on. John and Wystan visited us, though Wystan came to feel he had nothing in common with my father, which upset my mother. The only thing that he shared with my father was a passion for cats. The problem was made worse by the fact that all of us, my father, Giles (my brother) and even myself, tended to show ourselves in a bad light in contact with Wystan. My father spoke indiscreetly at the wedding of my cousin Rita; Giles misquoted Wystan at my wedding, Wystan seeing fit to correct him when it would have been best left alone; and I arrived two hours late at Naples, where Wystan was meeting me, when I came to visit him in Ischia in the 1950s. I compounded my error when he pointed out Lady Hamilton's villa and I asked him if she was still living there! So he probably decided we were all second-rate.
Thinking it over, Wystan was almost certainly not that interested in any of us - and we were partly to blame for this. I think my grandfather had to prevail on him to have me out to Ischia, and insist that Chester should not be there. This must have upset my uncle and was quite unnecessary. I remember that Wystan got very concerned at a party we were at in Ischia when a well-known lesbian was stroking my then blonde hair. I knew what was going on but Wystan got extremely upset, so he was protective in that sense. But I was less naive than he realised.
When I was in Ischia, Wystan worked each morning after a - to me - rather indigestible breakfast of green figs and black coffee. I would sometimes hear him reading aloud (presumably from his own work). I would wander around Forio or go to the beach with American families holidaying on the island. The two of us used to go swimming in the afternoon when most of the village was resting. I regretted not swotting up the flora of Italy as he was genuinely interested in the plants along the way. But I was bad for his own flora, almost killing a bougainvillea plant where I used to jettison the stiff negronis he served as a pre-dinner aperitif.
In the evening we used to go to a local café for more drinks, frequently meeting my American friends there. His manservant, whose name was Giocondo I think, was an excellent cook. On his day off, I tried to fill in for him, but my scrambled eggs were understandably under-appreciated.
A couple of further points about Wystan. If there is any genetic basis for a tendency to homosexuality, as some researchers seem to think there might be, one of my grandfather's brothers - Harold - was, my grandfather told me, thought to be homosexual. Certainly this was assumed within the family. There was also a cousin of Wystan's on the Bicknell side who was reputedly homosexual.
Finally - in my own family we have always believed that the lovely poem "Lay your sleeping head, my love" was inspired indirectly by my sister, Mary. We were staying in Lordswood Road in January 1937 before Wystan went to Spain, and had all gone out to a pantomime called "Goody Two-Shoes". Wystan was left to mind Mary. She was very fractious and he is supposed to have told my parents when we returned that he'd rocked her to sleep on his arm; and that had prompted the feelings of this lullaby as it was originally written.
Of all of Auden's friends, Stephen Spender was the one with whom he remained close for the longest period of his life. They met in 1927, and were in close touch with each other until Auden died in 1973. A full obituary would be redundant, but the Newsletter may be a suitable place to record some of the details of the association between two friends.
Spender and Auden first met at a luncheon party given by A.H. Campbell at Oxford. Spender described the meeting in World Within World:
During the greater part of the meal, Auden, after having cast a myopic, clinically appraising glance in my direction, did not address a word to me. When coffee was served, he jerked his head with a gesture which pulled his chin up, and said: "Who do you think are the best poets writing today?" I answered nervously that I liked the poetry of W- [Humbert Wolfe, as Spender explained privately]. Auden said: if there's anyone who needs kicking in the pants, it's that little ass." When he left, to my surprise he asked me to come and see him in his room at Christ Church.
This inauspicious beginning flowered into a deep friendship. Auden invited himself to stay a week at Spender's house in Hampstead in September 1928. Around this time Spender began printing on a hand press Auden's first book, the small orange-paper-covered pamphlet Poems that had to be completed and bound by a trade printer in Oxford after Spender's hand press broke down. Auden was at that time in Berlin, and the author and printer apparently gave copies to their friends over the course of the following year. Only one copy was sold - to A.L. Rouse, who was led to believe that the book was to be distributed by subscription.
Auden stayed with Spender again in the summer of 1929, but they saw relatively little of each other during the next few years because Spender was living mostly in Germany. In July 1931 Auden visited Spender and Christopher Isherwood on Insel Rügen. The three posed on the beach in bathing costume, arms across each other's shoulders, for the group portrait that Spender liked to call "the world's most famous photograph."
In 1933 Spender began to write a play for the Group Theatre, the loose organisation founded by Rupert Doone and Auden's school friend Robert Medley. He worked on Trial of a Judge for about four more years before it was produced in 1938 and increasingly involved himself in the Group's work. In August 1937 Auden and Isherwood precipitated a minor crisis in the Group by making clear their dissatisfaction with Doone, and in the reorganization that followed, Spender became its Literary Director.
Meanwhile, in the spring of 1937, Auden and Spender made plans to give an American lecture tour during the winter of 1937-38 and write a book on America, which presumably would have been modelled loosely on Letters from Iceland. The tour was postponed for a year when Auden and Isherwood were commissioned by their publisher to visit China early in 1938, and was then, (as Auden told Spender) abandoned by their American agent.
Auden saw nothing of Spender for almost seven years after Auden left for America in January 1939, but Auden's letters to him during this period include uniquely intimate reports of his changing religious and political beliefs. (Selections from these letters, edited by Nicholas Jenkins, were printed in Auden Studies 1.) They met again when Auden visited London in 1945, and their old friendship resumed with Spender's frequent visits to New York and Auden's visits to London. In 1951, during one of Auden's visits with Stephen and Natasha Spender in London, Guy Burgess phoned twice to ask to speak with Auden, but Auden never bothered to return the call. Burgess and Donald Maclean disappeared later in the same day of Burgess's second call, and when Spender told the press about the calls, Auden, by now in Ischia, found himself under siege by journalists and under close watch by the police.
During the 1950s and after, Auden's visits to the Spender's house in St. John's Wood became an annual event. He generally stayed for a week or two while visiting England from Italy or Austria. Natasha Spender once came into the room that Auden had taken over as a study to find him sitting at the desk, requesting fruits, vegetables, eggs and milk from an invisible grocery clerk. This proved to be the Spenders' young daughter, Lizzie, who had seated herself below the desk and had dragooned Auden into her game.
In 1969 Spender suffered hurt feelings when, after Auden had told him that he planned to write a greeting to be printed in The Guardian on Spender's sixtieth birthday, the greeting did not appear. In fact Auden had written it, but the newspaper printed it only in an early edition. Until Spender learned about it after Auden's death, he assumed that Auden never got around to writing it: Auden, when Spender rebuked him about it, had either forgotten that he had written it or was willing to take the blame for its non-appearance. Because the text is inaccessible outside the offices of The Guardian, it is worth reprinting here:
How nice to know that we are both "Fish": Pisces is a good sign, I think. As you now follow me into our sixties, I hope you feel as content as I do, and as happy to recall that we have known each other for forty-two years. As a school friend of your brother, Michael, I had, of course, already heard of you. I remember, for example, hearing your father (what a rum one he was!) say in 1924: "My son Stephen is too sensitive for a boarding-school." And, when I first met you, sensitive you seemed to be: it was only gradually that I discovered that you were, underneath, as tough as an old boot. One reason for this, of course, has been the extraordinary good health you have always enjoyed. I can't complain about my own, but it makes me jealous to think you have never had to worry about your waistline.
A birthday is much too personal an occasion for literary criticism and, besides, I would rather read your writings than talk about them. I may, however, speak of your conversation: nobody else I know can, when you are in the mood, be so funny and malicious. I may speak, too, of your work as an editor, since "Encounter" was so important an outlet for me. Alas, all was not what it seemed, but no one who knows you will believe for one moment that you were privy to any shenanigans. You are not the stuff of which agents are made.
Among the many things for which I admire you (and Natasha), not the least has been your talent as a parent. To have raised two children who exhibit both common sense and good manners is, in these difficult times, no mean accomplishment.
One last point. From one day to the next, almost, you changed from looking like a Shelley to looking like an Elder Statesman: however did you manage it?
So, a very happy birthday and many even happier returns.
Auden always treated Spender with something of the condescension of an elder brother, and if Auden was sometimes exasperated by Spender's indiscretions to the press, he was always sure of Spender's admiration and love, and returned that love. In later years, Auden more than once told Spender, "You, Stephen, shall have the last word." And his tone suggested that he was not entirely displeased that this would be so.
Stephen Spender was the wisest of Auden's interpreters and the most devoted of his friends. Auden admired him for the same virtues that many readers of this Newsletter treasured in him: the enlightening flashes of his prose and the lyrical warmth of his poems, his rare ability to sympathize with friends of any age, his exuberant wit that could be malicious without any trace of resentment or venom, his quiet generosity to strays, and his conversation that brought everyone in a room into the circle of his interest.
Sir Stephen Spender, born 28 February 1909, died 16 July 1995.
Spender had read typescripts of the Auden Juvenilia and my essay "The Achievement of Edward Upward", and he wrote to me suggesting revisions to the Introduction to the Juvenilia and asking me to come and see him. KB
We talked about Edward Upward, and Spender remarked that Upward is a very good writer who should have a higher reputation. What he thought remarkable about The Spiral Ascent was that it was meant to be all about Upward's time in the Communist Party, yet it wasn't really about communism at all - a perplexing and interesting contradiction. He recalled that when the book came out, Angus Wilson had written a very hostile review in The Observer which was perhaps politically motivated and which destroyed the book's chances. He said that Auden once remarked of Upward, "How can anyone be so conceited?" Spender thought Auden must have meant conceited about his political views because he felt Upward is not personally conceited at all. He thought that Auden had visited Upward in the Isle of Wight sometime later in their lives and that Upward's story "At the Ferry Inn" was about this visit (I thought the story was about a wished-for or imagined visit). Spender wondered who Upward's friends were on a day-to-day basis and whether he was still involved in CND.
Spender asked me questions about why Upward left the Communist Party and what he had thought about Stalin. I told him that Upward says he didn't believe anything reported in the West about Stalin until after Stalin's death when the doctors' experiences appeared in the news; until then Upward believed it was all propaganda. Spender says he recounts in World Within World how he told Upward about Stalin before this.
He asked if I had read Day-Lewis's collected poems which he had recently reviewed in the Independent. He said he thought there were two Day-Lewises, and that he was a very uneven poet: he had a public, rhetorical persona that was stiff and never really came off whereas the private, subjective poetry, which Day-Lewis wrote more of in later life, was really very good. We talked about people writing against the grain and therefore failing to find their own voice. I said that I thought Auden was unusual in that he wrote often, perhaps always, against the grain and usually succeeded. Spender said that he thought Auden never failed to succeed - except perhaps in his pseudo-communist phase.
We talked a little about Don Bachardy and Isherwood and about both their sets of diaries. Spender likes Bachardy's descriptions of the stars he grew up adulating on celluloid and later got to meet and draw. He thinks this may be a new genre in literature. He said Bachardy can be very bitchy and cruel in these descriptions, but that they are very good. He was impressed by the book Last Drawings of Christopher Isherwood, but said it didn't have the success it deserved because people were repelled by the subject matter - wrongly. Some time later we talked about this again, after Lady Spender had come into the room; she agreed that the drawings were amazing. Spender said that he thinks Bachardy is very brave and admirable and that he likes him, but that he is always on the defensive, especially around Isherwood's old friends. (I supposed that he was talking about himself.)
Spender told me that Isherwood destroyed his diaries from the 1930s because he didn't wish to hurt his friends. He said that Isherwood had once let him read some of them and that they had been cruel in places, especially about Auden. He said that Isherwood was very difficult to live with at close quarters, and that he himself had left Berlin because Isherwood told him it wasn't big enough for both of them.
Spender felt that Isherwood had no real understanding of evil, or wasn't willing to come to grips with it - and hadn't in any of his novels. He said Isherwood hung around with some truly evil people - like Gerald Hamilton who was a crook - and that Isherwood refused to believe they really were anything more than amusing eccentrics. This was because Isherwood himself was a "crook" in the sense of being homosexual; if he could show that these people weren't really bad, then it would apply to himself as well. This is why, in Spender's view, Isherwood's religion was a sham. Because it gave you plenty of further lives in which to overcome your bad karma and achieve nirvana. Spender thought of Hinduism as a "soft" religion which let Isherwood be religious when he felt like it, and let him go on sinning the rest of the time. (I had said I couldn't understand the attraction for Upward of something so abstract as communism, whereas I could understand the attraction of a religion that presented itself to you in the form of a human being, such as Ramakrishna, or more immediately, Swami Prabhavananda.) Spender thought Upward's communism was very Protestant, and that the Protestant-Catholic distinction was still terribly important among the English though generally unremarked upon (in fact Upward's paternal grandfather was a Congregationalist and his father an atheist). He said that Auden and Isherwood really fell out over their religious convictions - that there were tears over it when they argued. He thought that Auden's religion was much more serious and severe in that it had a clear-cut idea of sin and that Isherwood's didn't really have an idea of sin (I thought these remarks revealed more about what Spender thought religion was than about what Auden or especially Isherwood thought it was). Spender thought that Auden nevertheless went on "sinning" with regard to his homosexuality just as much as Isherwood (who after all would not have regarded it as a sin).
Spender recalled that Gerald Hamilton (Mr. Norris) had loved being in Isherwood's books and had lived off it afterwards, but that Jean Ross (Sally Bowles) had found it very hard. He said that Isherwood was always able to persuade people to let him put them in his books. He also said that the sum of money Isherwood got out of his mother for Heinz's Mexican passport was a great deal of money in those days, that Isherwood surely knew all along what was going to happen and that really he wanted to get rid of Heinz. In Christopher and His Kind, Isherwood tries to make it seem inevitable or at least not his fault, but Isherwood knew all along that Hamilton was a crook and that he himself was just using Heinz as a "cause" to which he could devote his energies.
Spender said that Jimmy and Tania Stern had thought Isherwood a baleful influence in Auden's life, and they felt that Auden would have become "normal" if Isherwood hadn't kept on at him to be one of the "baddies". They didn't like Isherwood at all. But Spender felt that Auden could never have been "normal" in this sense, though when he was drunk Auden often proposed to women. Spender recalled meeting Auden's one-time fiancée, Sheilah Richardson, and said that Auden made a serious attempt at being heterosexual in getting engaged to her. He said that Isherwood is the one who put a stop to it, implying that Isherwood would not allow Auden to go over to the side of the heterosexuals. Spender said that Isherwood was very dominating to be with. He said Auden regarded homosexuality as a neurosis, but not one he was particularly worried about curing, except in that period when he tried to get married.
Auden once told him, in old age, that he (Auden) always felt he was the youngest person in the room. Spender found this hard to believe because he had always felt that Auden treated him as a younger brother. He thought that maybe Auden's letters to his brother John during the 1920s were meant to impress John with his seriousness or earnestness and to cover up his "bad" homosexual behaviour. I told him I didn't agree, because the letters to John reveal plenty of homosexual behaviour, too. This part of our conversation took place because Spender had expressed doubts to me about the possibility of Auden having practised celibacy for a year at Oxford in the 1920s. Spender asserted that during their undergraduate years Auden once told him he was going to bed with Bill McElwee in an hour, and also that, years later, Bill McElwee told Spender he felt like a jilted wife. Spender presumed this meant that the two had gone to bed together (but Auden's letters to John Auden show they never did).
Spender mentioned that Gabriel Carritt told him that he had tried to respond to Auden's advances when they shared a bed together once in Scotland, and that Carritt had been physically sick and couldn't do it. Carritt's father was Spender's tutor at University College and Carritt's mother was very beautiful and flirtatious with Spender and the other boys. They worshipped her and thought of her as Mrs. Ramsay in Virginia Woolf's novel To the Lighthouse.
I asked Spender whether he really knew that Auden had consummated his various love affairs in the earlier years, and Spender said that he did not know, and that he could not know, but that he had always believed they were real affairs. He said that when Auden was at The Downs School and having an affair with a boy there, the Headmaster, Geoffrey Hoyland, was also going to bed with the boys. Hoyland had an affair with Michael Jones, a very brave boy who was later killed in the war. Jones was very upset about the affair. Spender said that Auden was lucky to get away from The Downs without a scandal, and that if you think about it, it was very shocking that the Head would let the boys go off to Iceland with Auden and MacNeice - but then the Head was behaving the same way himself. Spender implied that Auden had gone to America partly to protect his reputation from scandal. And he added that when the boys were being told again and again that they must serve their country in the war and go off to fight, it is not surprising they felt disappointed that their hero, Auden (for they worshipped him, Spender said), had left the country. The boys were confused by this.
Spender said that he didn't think my Introduction to the Juvenilia or Edward Mendelson's Early Auden took into account or gave a sense of how energetic and spontaneous Auden was as a young man. Always ringing up and proposing to do things. He said that Auden tried to get Bill Coldstream to paint portraits of captains of industry in the nude so that you could see what their lives had done to their bodies. But in old age, when Spender and Auden had gone into the London Underground together, Auden had been shocked at the way the posters had emphasized people's sexuality.
Lady Spender said that Auden did become like his mother (she had come back into the room). She said that after Auden's mother had died, when he had come to stay with them, he went back up to Birmingham to fetch his mother's crucifix - this was a terribly important and almost ritualistic thing for him. He had come back with it; it was quite large, ivory, a real crucifix, not just a cross. Lady Spender also said that Auden seemed to need a mother figure. He had adopted Hannah Arendt as one of these, and she had to do his shopping for him because, "Mother always buys one's socks". Lady Spender had gone shopping with Auden once, maybe for socks, but she wasn't really old enough to play the part - he was much older than she.
Spender agreed that he would talk to me again on tape in a few weeks or months. He was incredibly kind and seemed very well, and laughed a lot during our conversation, especially when telling stories about people's love affairs.
The advertisement in The Spectator of June 10, 1995 reads:
W.H. AUDEN'S HOUSE in Lower Austria, where the famous poet lived and wrote much of his most famous verse. 30 mins motorway/train Vienna. Farmhouse 240m2 acc. 2500m2 wood/ garden. Newly renovated Auden Museum and living quarters. Secluded, quiet and romantic despite proximity to motorway. Negotiating price ATS 4.5 million. Write Franz Strobl, Hinderholz 6" [sic], "A-3062 Kirchstetten, Austria. Tel: (0043) 2743 8855.
4.5 million Austrian schillings is about £292,000.
The proposed sale of the poet's former house on the international market has attracted press speculation that the future of the house, and of the Auden museum which is part of it, must now be in doubt. Fortunately this has turned out to be a false alarm, or so it seems at the time of writing.
As the late Dr. Peter Müller reported to this Newsletter in September 1988, the house and the land surrounding it have, since 1987, been a protected cultural monument. Dr. Müller was press secretary at the Federal Monuments Office (Bundesdenkmalamt) in Vienna and one of the two founders of the International W.H. Auden Society, one of the chief aims of which was to preserve the close link between the Kirchstetten house and the poet. The former "Hinterholz 6" had already been renamed "Audenstrasse 6" to honour him on his sixtieth birthday in 1967.
Certain rooms in it have long been maintained as memorials to him: his study above all, the "cave of making", accessible only by an outside stair. This has remained inviolate, with his typewriter and books, including the monumental multi-volume OED, all in place. Everything is faithfully and proudly displayed, for a modest admission charge, to the many visitors who come to view the beloved "habitat", as he called it, of Kirchstetten's most famous citizen. The owners (Frau Josefa Strobl, Auden's last housekeeper, and then her son, Franz) have been paid a small rent by the authorities in acknowledgement of these arrangements. In 1977, the village held a celebration, with band and choir and marching, to mark what would have been the poet's seventieth birthday on February 21st. Finally, in December 1987, the position was formalised when the whole property, at the request of the International W.H. Auden Society, was given protected status (Denkmalschutz) and became, as Dr. Müller noted, "one of the very few memorials to contemporary artists in Austria".
For further reassurance I rang up some of the interested authorities and societies, which, in addition to the Bundesdenkmalamt, include the Austrian Society for Literature in Vienna, the Lower Austrian regional government, the Lower Austrian Society for Art and Culture and the municipality (Gemeindeamt) of Kirchstetten. I was informed that the house did enjoy Denkmalschutz and would continue to do so whoever the next purchaser might be. This protects it both against demolition and against unauthorised alteration. A condition of sale stipulates that any future owner would be obliged to preserve the exterior and the two memorial rooms in their present state. This was confirmed by both the mayor of Kirchstetten, Herr Bürgermeister Dill, and by Frau Brigitte Strobl. Very large sums have been invested, not least by the municipality and by the Strobls themselves, in the preservation of the Auden house as such and of the museum, and both Herr Dill and Frau Strobl were confident that the present arrangement will continue.
I first visited Kirchstetten in 1960, having got to know Wystan in Oxford during the summer of that year, when he was Professor of Poetry. I had just been appointed German tutor at Christ Church and Auden rather took me under his wing, as a fellow eccentric in the Senior Common Room and partly because of his keen interest in German language and literature. When he and Chester had decided to leave Ischia they wanted to settle in a German-speaking area, near a major opera house. In Kirchstetten, a small village close to Vienna, he found what he wanted - an 18th century farm cottage at the edge of a wood. He bought it and made it habitable with the help of the Feltrinelli prize money, Italy's parting gift ("What for? Oh, just because I'm good"). The Kirchstetten material is well known: how Wystan expressed his delight in this spring and summer "habitat" in a cycle of poems celebrating each room in turn, including the loo; how he cherished it and returned regularly to it for the remaining thirteen years of his life.
I stayed there several times, occasionally with this or that friend brought with me from Oxford; the hospitality was wise and tolerant as well as lavish and precise. I remember Chester's wonderful cooking, the huge vodka martinis (with something called a "club sandwich") at the bar of the Bristol before the opera, the cats with operatic names: Leonora ("in Forza, NOT in Trovatore"), Radames, the kitten Tamino whose death was recorded in Wystan's diary. I don't think there were any dogs, unless perhaps Frau Emma kept one or two in her part of the house, among the poultry. I met Wystan's boy-friend Hugi and his wife, and heard all about Hugi's troubles with the police (he had taken to raiding parked cars up at Semmering; one night the police were waiting and Wystan's Volkswagen ended up bullet-holed, his reputation under attack by the Viennese gutter press, and Hugi in gaol). After this Hugi was banned from Kirchstetten but friendly relations continued; he and Christa were invited over to New York for Wystan's sixtieth birthday in 1967. I met them again, both in tears, at Wystan's funeral: the occasion when, in accordance with his instructions, we all listened to a record of Siegfried's Funeral March from Götterdämmerung. Years later, in a BBC documentary film of Auden's life, the village band, by a very dramatic piece of dubbing, was seen and heard to be playing this very music as it processed along the street with his outsize coffin.
Frau Emma Eiermann, the "cat witch", had died in 1967 and had been succeeded as caretaker by Frau Josefa Strobl, the mother of the present owner. It was Frau Strobl I met again on my last, brief, visit to Kirchstetten in August 1977, when Wystan and Chester were both dead. We talked about Herr Kallman and the house. Having inherited it from Wystan, he had sold it to Frau Strobl (reserving the right to live there during the summer) on an annuity basis: for $125 a month for life, according to Dorothy Farnan. But the agreement was made in January 1975, only a couple of weeks before Chester's own death, with no provision for continued payments. This amounted to making over the house as a free gift. "Herr Doktor", Frau Josefa remarked to me that morning, "I deserved to do a lucky deal once in my life, and this was it."
In the eighteen years since then I have not been back. Frau Josefa died in 1984. A slow and careful renovation of the house has continued with official approval. The windows have been modernized. Much of the interior is for the private use of the owners and can be modified as they wish, including the living room where Wystan and Chester drank martinis and listened to records. The museum area is confined to the first floor; it has been enlarged by an additional room for the housing of documents, and can be reached only by the famous external stair. Visitors can thus enter it without disturbing the owner, and in the latter's absence, on prior notice, they can obtain a key from the Gemeindeamt. Measures have been taken to secure the books, archives and other objects against theft or damage. These highly civilized arrangements have been supplemented by much planting in the garden and grounds; the poultry and pigs have gone; many trees have grown up round the poet's Märchenschloss, making it at first sight almost unrecognizable to his nostalgic friends, though its essential character has not changed. The discreetly filtered stream of visitors has continued, though at present temporarily halted for structural work. Completion, said Herr Dill, is expected in October this year, and will be marked by a celebration with the band marching, and with the memorial rooms again open for a modest charge.
Wystan and Chester, if present in the spirit, will certainly approve.
David Luke is currently translating a selection of poems by Eduard Mörike. The International W.H. Auden Society (Internationale W.H. Auden-Gesellschaft) is based in Austria and is a separate organisation from the W.H. Auden Society.
Henry James in "The Liar" writes of a painter, "When he was working well he found himself in that happy state - the happiest of all for an artist - in which things in general contribute to the happy idea and fall in with it, help it on and justify it, so that he feels for an hour as if nothing in the world can happen to him, even if it comes in the guise of suffering, that will not be an enhancement of his subject." One of the happiest aspects of writing Auden was discovering how truly this was a description of Auden's experience, and how in the pale, thin, emulative way of biographers I could experience this too. One was left with a sense of everything fitting and everything's fitness. It will be difficult to recapture the feeling again.
While I was on my second Auden research visit to the Berg Collection in the New York Public Library, a flying trickster alighted on my shoulder and never stopped his assertive chirping. The trickster took the form of a chatty letter from a friend in London who had recently consulted a physican. Because my friend's life is not a model of Leavisite family-centred frugality, this physican after two minutes had accused him of being frustrated and unhappy. When my friend demurred, saying he had one of the most satisfying lives he could imagine, and was "perfectly happy", the physican replied, "that's what people usually say at first, but it is of course the first symptom of denial." This episode, with its arrogance, glib lazy debased psychology and its fake authority for fake ethical certitudes, enraged me. But it was a blessing for my biography of Auden. If it was disgraceful to humiliate my friend by re-interpreting his words, and inverting their meaning after two minutes acquaintance, how much more presumptuous, vulgar and stupid to do so with Auden, who was evidently so much more intelligent, brave, and honest than me. I decide that I must accept the truth of what Auden said about his feelings, and that though I might interpret his words, I must never re-interpret them. The only way to stop the book from being foolish and false was to avoid the high-handed second-rate knowingness of the London physican. When Auden was in proof, I read a sentence of Jason Epstein's which summarised my effort: "What is essential for any literary biographer (is) the ability to imagine with compassionate curiosity a mind more complex than his own" (New York Review of Books, 8 June 1995, p. 4). It seemed not false modesty, but a crucial act of sanity to recognise and respect Auden as having a vastly more complex mind than my own.
The flying trickster has helped in so many ways. Janet Adam Smith once lamented to me that she had been deterred by a recent official biography of a contemporary English poet from ever reading again his poems which had so long delighted her. I very much wanted my biography to encourage readers to discover or re-examine Auden's work. Reductionist pathologising seemed the worst way to go about it.
The London physican, as I later discovered, was especially exercised by bad parenting and the hopelessness of dysfunctional families. My flying trickster was very noisy on this point. So often the parents of great artists are treated like the poor murdered parents of Lyle and Erik Menendez in California - posthumously denigrated and blamed. There have been many uncomplimentary remarks about Constance and George Auden, but they seem to me splendid parents for a great poet of the twentieth century. If his family in childhood was what would now be called dysfunctional, it was a blessing. But as I try to show in my book, I think the reality was altogether more testing and enriching. Recent biographies of Laura Riding, Edmund Wilson and others devote many, many pages to castigating their subjects for not being "a nice person". It is another literary version of the Menendez parents phenomenon. As Auden says, we are none of us very nice.
I have certain conceits as a biographer. Most biographies - literary or otherwise - seem pre-occupied with their subjects' sex lives. Yet biographers seem to write as if they have never performed a sexual act themselves, and have never knowingly met anyone else who has done so either. The results can be appallingly credulous, prurient, or boring; so often like little children bursting into a bedroom to catch their parents in flagrante. I hope that the sexual passages in my books are more realistic and better-proportioned. One of the most gratifying compliments any reviewer could pay my Auden would be to limit the discussion of his sex life to two sentences, one of which judged that my treatment was grown-up.
"If biographies of writers are justifiable," Auden wrote in 1942, "it is because, in their case, the ways in which they accept and revolt against their immediate situation are peculiarly easy to watch, and the acceptance of and revolt against the immediate is the central human problem of free will". My own sense of personal choice has been enormously enhanced by writing Auden's biography. I feel like the character in "We have brought you, they said, a map of the country" who yields to his flying trickster:
Finds consummation in the wood
And sees for the first time the country.
Sees water in the wood and trees by the bay;
Hears a clock striking near the vats;
This is your country and the home of love.
Richard Davenport-Hines's book Auden is published this month by Heinemann at £20. A special members offer is included in this issue.
W.H. Auden Juvenilia: Poems 1922-1928, ed. Katherine Bucknell (Faber, 263pp., £25).
I hold that the mission of poetry is to record impressions, not convictions. Wordsworth in his later writings fell into the error of recording the latter. . . . Absit omen.
. - Thomas Hardy
Auden never disguised his debt to Hardy, a debt amply evidenced in Katherine Bucknell's collection of his juvenilia. But neither he nor the later Hardy attended to this admonition. As Auden's views changed, he often denied the poetry reflecting his redundant convictions, giving the poet's admirers a Salon des Refusés of works sometimes more highly regarded than those Auden acknowledged.
His early poetry records impressions as much as convictions, yet Auden vacillated in his approval of his own juvenile poetry. He did so sufficiently for his mother, Constance Auden, to bequeath her copies of her son's early manuscripts to Professor E.R. Dodds with the codicil "These early poems of Wystan are not to be destroyed - nor given to him - They can be entrusted to a librarian".
Juvenilia consists of 228 poems, most of which, surprisingly, have never been published before. All were written by Auden before he went to Berlin, aged twenty-one. Bucknell has accompanied each with copious footnotes on chronology, variant drafts, poetic influences and subsequent re-use of preferred lines and stanzas in later poems. The picture painted of the young poet's development and maturing pen is vivid and accurate.
First there is the imitative, almost plagiaristic schoolboy, influenced by de la Mare, Housman and the Romantics, as evidenced by To a Toadstool and To a Fieldmouse. Autumn is W.H. Davies pastiche, Stone Walls betrays the influence of Frost, Early Morning reflects the Thomas of Adlestrop. Many poems illuminate Hardy's influence: the architect's subtle irregularities and elaborately constructed metres; The Mail-Train, Crewe and The Carter's Funeral, for example. Humpty Dumpty represents the benign influence of Eliot and the start of what Alan Bennett has described as Auden's "memorable" opening lines: "Dawn rose for hunting, trampling on the hills" just as effective as "Out on the lawn I lie in bed/Vega conspicuous overhead" or "Lay your sleeping head, my love/Human on my faithless arm".
But the influence of Eliot was to cast a long shadow over Auden's search for his own voice. It may have had a permanent impact in what Seamus Heaney has called "Auden's oddly unparaphrasable riffs", and be, in part, the source of the renowned density of his poetry.
"Out of sight assuredly, not out of mind" and Bank Holiday are two of the many poems where The Waste Land is too obviously revisited. This is where Juvenilia is invaluable in illuminating the false trails Auden laid for himself in his poetic development. Several pages of footnotes to "Out of sight..." trace the chronology of Auden's corrections and amendments. They evidence his apologia to Christopher Isherwood for its pompousness, explaining the poem as a "deliberate experiment in the letter as a verse form". They tell us that this was "the last of the pedantic miscellanies Auden wrote in his pseudo-high modernist phase"; and they remind us that his subsequent verse letters were generally colloquial and informal. Getting Faber to include such a wealth of footnotes and reference material is a significant achievement in itself.
By 1928 Auden's maturing voice begins to shine through a cloud of influences, especially in The Secret Agent and The Watershed; and in one of my favourites:
"Grow thin by walking and go inland"
He told himself, as the unmended road
Climbed higher and he left the birds behind....
Soon town lights welcomed him, and many people
To lie about the cost of a night's lodging:
Later he fell asleep, proud of his day.
Typically, Auden cannibalised this poem for the thin volume Stephen Spender published in 1928. But he is clearly out of his modernist phase: and a million miles from his schoolboy infatuation with de la Mare, as evidenced by such poems as Belief:
We do not know
If there be fairies now
O let's pretend it's so
And then perhaps if we are good
Some day we'll see them in the wood.
One of the many pleasures of this book is the way that it enables the development of Auden the poet to be so clearly traced. There is his celebrated use of the "advisory panel" - Isherwood, Fisher et alii, in correspondence Bucknell has discovered and footnoted. There is the cold-blooded rejection of poems that Isherwood, in particular, found unsatisfactory; and the re-use of lines and stanzas appreciated by his coterie. As examples of the latter, "My reins protected by a flaccid hand" and the awful "Isobel who with her leaping breasts/Pursued me through a summer" are quarried from Thomas Prologizes for Thomas Epilogizes. The frozen buzzard metaphor occurs in Frost (1925), where the raptor is "caught upon the mill-hatch bars" and in Before (1926) where it is "Flipped down the weir and carried out to sea". Stephen Spender recalls in World Within World that the metaphor of a frozen bird "flipped down the weir" was criticised by Isherwood (when they first met in Auden's rooms in Christ Church), and that Auden "flushed and struck out the lines with a thick lead pencil." Thus in Poems (1928), he changed the metaphor to a plurality of buzzards being "swept down the sky/Behind the hill." But in the poem later called 1929, written in Berlin that year, he reinstated the lines exactly as they had been in Before, three years previously; sometimes he was less compliant than Isherwood or Spender realised.
Auden's hand is more difficult to read than appears at first glance; so variant readings are bound to occur. The first two verses of Song, written in 1926, are published as:
Relation seemed ordained for us
I turned my face to run
To my Atomic Nucleus,
My Positive, my Sun.
To be your satellite possession
For you were to control
My Equinoxial procession
Each nodding of a Pole.
The punctuation ending line four seems too strong and the absence of it in line five is awkward. But this is the manuscript punctuation. However my reading of line seven is "My Equinoctial precession", a proper astronomical relationship to complement "Each nodding of a Pole."
There are other alternative readings. Tea-time in November surely has Auden using - and abusing - the archaic "brook" (as in "brook up," to draw together and threaten rain) in "Ruins brooked over by an angry sky", rather than the published "Ruins hooked over..." In At Parting and in Progress it seems unnecessary to change "wrack" to "rack". In My Lady of the Wood, "I call/Her by her name" should perhaps be "I call/Hourly her name". On the credit side, I could count only three occasions where the editor declares a word unreadable, a considerable achievement when the majority of poems are in handwritten manuscript.
As seen above, punctuation in any Auden poem is always a vexed question and Bucknell explains in her Textual Note that she has "nearly always reproduced the punctuation as he left it". When Auden sent his poems to his friends for their comments, they often added punctuation and made spelling corrections, sometimes creating variant stemma themselves. The question then arises whether Auden tacitly accepted their amendments or not. A possible editorial decision would be to punctuate for sense, where a poem is left unpunctuated. Where two or more versions of a poem exist, an alternative approach might be to utilise the punctuation that is grammatically correct, footnoting its origin. In The Sawmill, for example, there are fourteen differences of punctuation between the manuscript versions sent to Isherwood and to Constance Auden by Wystan; selection of one version to the exclusion of the second, in instances where meaning and
sense would otherwise have been clarified, but on perfectly reasonable chronological grounds, must have been a difficult scholastic decision.
California, Auden's earliest known poem, is reproduced with almost no punctuation, as transcribed by Auden to his mother in 1925. Yet Stanley Fisher submitted a better version to Notes and Queries in 1974 which he claimed had Auden's written approval. A vexing problem, the needs of reader and scholar at variance, perhaps.
But these are small issues compared with the pleasure of seeing so much more of Auden's poetic output in print. Juvenilia is a major poetic event and will have a lasting impact on our image of Auden as a poet (and on our pleasure in his poetry). But that would be to record a conviction and not an impression. Which puts me in good company.
I recently had an opportunity to read Gurney Thomas's article in the April 1989 W.H.Auden Society Newsletter. As a contemporary of his at The Downs, I thought I would offer my own recollections.
My experience of Wystan in the form room was similar to that of Gurney. To excite our imagination, Wystan sometimes got the class to act a subject. On one occasion the subject was "Steam Engines"; soon a dozen twelve-year-olds were standing on chairs making a series of extraordinary noises. There were guard's whistles, shrieks of "Come along now!", imitations of trains entering tunnels and heaven knows what else. In the midst of it all, Wystan sat looking gloriously satisfied as though true chaos had been achieved. No one heard the Headmaster and two prospective parents enter the room. Wystan, unabashed, shouted over the din, "Ah yes, Headmaster. Steam trains". The Headmaster and guests retreated.
He was a man of great kindness. While I agree with Gurney's account of the imaginary sledge journey (the class had to vote on which of their number, in turn, must be thrown from the sledge to feed the wolves), a similar occurrence took place in which I was involved which showed him in a more kindly light. Each member of the class was set the task of writing a poem and then reading it aloud. When my turn came, it met with total scorn and adolescent ribaldry. Wystan would have none of it. I was told to recite it again. He then made some comments and ended by saying, "I liked that very much indeed and I shall include it in my next book."
Another task I remember which he gave to the form was that of editing the galley proof of The Poet's Tongue. The form room was cluttered with yards and yards of proof paper and a right merry time we had. I am sure he must have done the proper editing later on but for us it was an enormous excitement and still remembered some sixty years later. Wystan had that ability to get his classes really involved in what they were doing and excited about it.
He came to stay with us while addressing the Cheltenham Literary Festival shortly before he died: I noted again then his insistence on having weight on top of him while in bed. While at The Downs he lived in a bachelor's accommodation which was a small house on the lawn. In the summer senior boys were allowed to sleep on the lawn and Wystan pulled his bed out of his room in The Lodge. I can still recall the sight of his bed strewn with blankets heaped one on top of the other (and the floor carpet on top of the lot) as he slept under the Worcestershire night.
Finally I cherish a limerick he wrote in my "Autograph Book", which was very much the "in" thing in those days, signed W.H. Auden Nov. 1932:
There was once a juggler called Bowes
Who gave most remarkable shows
He would balance a bear
On the tip of each ear
And a horse on the tip of his nose.
The Auden Society has been involved in placing several commemorative plaques in locations especially associated with the poet. The first plaque - actually a stone tablet, made of blue-grey limestone - was officially unveiled in September 1993 in the cold splendour of Christ Church cathedral to the accompaniment of hymns and speeches. In line with the more mobile and rootless culture that Auden came across the Atlantic to find, the Society's second plaque - a plaque this time, made of brass - was presented for inspection by members of the Society at a meeting on 24 June 1995, a warm, wet day, outside the railings at One Montague Terrace in Brooklyn.
This plaque, fixed at a height of about six feet above ground on the front facade of a large brownstone house, commemorates both Auden's residences in Brooklyn: he lived (from 1939 to 1940) on the top floor of One Montague Terrace, and then (from 1940 to 1941) in rooms a couple of blocks away at Seven Middagh Street. The building at the latter address was demolished some time ago to clear a path for the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, so the plaque at Montague Terrace will necessarily serve as the sole reminder of the two stages in Auden's brief but important sojourn in Brooklyn.
The wording on the rectangular plaque is: "W. H. Auden | Poet (1907-1973) | Lived in Brooklyn Heights from 1939 to 1941, | from 1939 to 1940 on the top floor of this House, | Where he wrote `New Year Letter' | And Love Illuminates Again | The City and the Lion's Den, | The World's Great Rage, the Travel of Young Men. | Dedicated on 24 June 1995 by the members of the W. H. Auden Society."
Grateful thanks and acknowledgements are due to the following members of the Society who contributed to the costs of the plaque: Melissa Bowden, Joseph Brodsky, T. N. Danforth. Kevin Halligan, J. D. McClatchy, Graham Martin, James Merrill, Robert P. Rushmore, and Jerl O. Surratt. Thanks are also due to Mr. and Mrs. Kenny, the current owners of One Montague Terrace, for their helpfulness and the use of their wall.
At the informal 24 June meeting a Society member made a short speech. Then Mr. and Mrs. Kenny invited everyone standing in the street to visit their home, where they had generously laid out refreshments. As of 4 September 1995, in spite of New York's brass-melters, the plaque is still in place.
Urchfont Manor in Wiltshire will be hosting two events relating to Auden early in 1996. There is a day course entitled "W. H. Auden: Poetry for Our Time" on 19 February 1996; and a "poetry weekend" featuring Auden and four other poets, from 22-24 March 1996. Details from: Urchfont Manor College, Urchfont, Devizes, Wiltshire, SN10 4RG . Tel: Devizes 01380 - 840495.
The University of Bristol Opera will be presenting a production of Benjamin Britten and W. H. Auden's Paul Bunyan at The Victoria Rooms, Bristol, from 15-17 February 1996. Tickets will be available in January, 1996, priced in the region of £5-7. They can be obtained from Alistair Park, University of Bristol Opera, 8B Ralph Road, Horfield, Bristol BS7 9QP. Tel: (0117) 940 2769.
Richard Davenport-Hines's biography of Auden is published this month at £20. Heinemann are offering W. H. Auden Society members the opportunity to order it by post at £15, plus £2.50 postage and packing (£5 for surface mail delivery outside the UK). Interested members should send a cheque made payable to Reed Books and quote reference number K122. The address is Reed Books Services, PO Box 5, Rushden, Northants, NN10 6YX; alternatively, ring their credit card hotline, 01933 414 000. quoting reference number K122.
The W. H. Auden Society welcomes new members. Annual subscriptions (which include two issues of the Newsletter) are as follows:
Individual members £6 $10
Institutions £9 $15
There is a concessionary price for studentsof:
Past issues of the Newsletter are available at £5 ($9) each, three or more copies at 50% discount. Please apply to the editor.
New members and those wishing to renew subscriptions should send cheques (payable to "The W. H. Auden Society") to Katherine Bucknell, 78 Clarendon Road, London W11 2HW, England. Receipts on request.
Members will note that there is a form attached to their copy of this issue. I would ask you all to complete this form and return it, either to the above address or to: Nicholas Jenkins, 193 Prospect Place, Apt. 4, Brooklyn, NY 11238, USA. The details requested (in case the form becomes detached) are a confirmation of name and correct postal address and a confirmation of renewal date for subscription to the Society.
I am aware that there have been a number of new books on Auden, notably Edward Mendelson's edition of Auden and Kallman's Libretti and Stan Smith's issue of Critical Survey (Vol. 6, No. 3), which have not yet been reviewed. There are also more books about to be published. I will do my best to remedy this situation for the next issue, planned for April 1996. The next issue will also contain John Byrne's tribute to Tania Stern and one to Charles Monteith.
I would be happy to receive any letters, on any subject, but especially relating to this issue, or any articles or items for inclusion in future Newsletters. If any member would be willing to review upcoming books, such assistance would be particularly appreciated. All contributions may be subject to editing.
Please send any articles or correspondence to : Michael Kilby, 1 Stansfield Close, Headington Quarry, Oxford OX3 8TH, or to my attention at Magdalen College. My telephone/fax no. is (0)1865 62530.
Quotations from Auden's work are copyright 1995 by The Estate of W. H. Auden.
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