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Newsletter 2 (September 1988)

September 1988

The W. H. Auden Society


A Visit to Alston Moor

A visit to Alston Moor has thrown fresh light on Auden's 1927 poem beginning "Who stands, the crux left of the watershed". On Midsummer Day three of us drove up from Oxford, found rooms in a decrepit but eager Alston hotel, and made our way to Nattrass in time to spend the daylit evening hours exploring the house and grounds (now barn and barnyard) with a copy of Paid on Both Sides and a sharp eye out for enemy spies. The farmer offered us no threat, though he looked doubtfully at three city slickers with their noses in a book and their ill-shod feet in the muck.

At nine we made the disappointing discovery that supper is not served in Alston after eight-thirty; this meant fish and chips followed by a long hard night in the hotel bar where, despite our combined effort, the pool table was dominated by a shy but clever pair of locals.

The next morning we set out for Killhope Cross with the aim of determining whether it, rather than Crossfell as Edward Callan has proposed, might perhaps be the watershed of Auden's poem. Failing to turn up any conclusive evidence, we descended to the Killhope mining museum in search of more detailed maps and, with luck, a geologist. Debate stormed among us as we entered the museum and ransacked the supply of historical pamphlets and Ordnance Survey maps. The argument was beginning to hinge on whether Cashwell was nearer Killhope Cross or Crossfell. Spotting a smiling museum guide, we asked whether she could show us on the map where Cashwell was.

"Yes, I think it's just below Crossfell." She led us toward a three dimensional topographical model of the area which, unnoticed by us, filled almost the entire room. Then she pressed a button and points of light blinked on, marking mines, mills, transport, and other things of interest. She pointed to Cashwell mine below Crossfell, but somehow this did not entirely lay to rest the possibility of a Killhope crux. Scholars being what they are, we decided to drive on to Crossfell in order to discover whether it was possible to say that the road ran to the left or to the right of it and whether there were any washing floors visible below it. As we murmured our plans over the map, the enormous lump of Crossfell began to look more and more enormous, and it dawned on all three of us at once that the map showed no road up to Crossfell. At this very moment our smiling guide asked us if we had a Landrover.

"It's about a six mile walk in from the road," she said, "unless you have four wheel drive."

Dismay soured the air. We had only a few hours remaining and had not yet begun our researches at Allendale and Rookhope.

"There used to be a road over Crossfell," said our guide. "It was called the Corpse Road. Before the church was built at Garrigill, the villagers there used to carry their dead over the mountains to Kirkland for burial. It's strange really, since Allendale is much closer and more accessible than Kirkland, but it was a longstanding tradition. The inhabitants of Garrigill may originally have come from Kirkland and liked to be buried with their ancestors. It was a rugged journey, especially in bad weather. One year a burial party was overtaken by a snowstorm, the fells became impassable, and the coffin had to be abandoned on top of Crossfell. It lay there for a fortnight before anyone could return to complete the journey."

Our jaws had dropped helpless to our chests. Corpse Road! The fells impassable! A coffin abandoned in the snow! Could Auden have heard this tale? Our guide had never heard of Auden.

"A poet you say?" But lots of people knew about the Corpse Road. "It's in the local history books," she said.

Would our guide like to see a poem by Auden that seemed to refer to the story she had just told us? Silence while she read the poem.

"This is strange; pretty hard to understand. It reminds me of another story, from a more recent winter. Near the start of this century a miner was injured by a rock fall in one of the mines. The snow was so deep outside that he had to be carried underground through the abandoned levels of old mines to Carrshield, about four miles away, where there was a doctor. By the time he got there he had caught pneumonia, and he died a few days later."

A fresh tremor of excitement shook our little party. All the points of light on the map seemed to show an affirming flame. Surely Auden had heard this story somewhere, or one like it!

Just then a horde of schoolchildren swarmed through the museum door, surrounding the map. We escaped through the model shop where wax miners sleep at night and out to the overshot waterwheel where we paused to photograph one another lost in small-boy worship before it. Weak with excitement we drove on to Rookhope in search of what we could not help calling (in view of the gastronomic catastrophe of the previous evening) Lunch or Not-lunch. Luckily the solitary pub was open and delighted to feed three solitary customers.

After lunch we visited Lintzgarth, looked at the ruined chimney of the Rookhope smelt mill, and pondered the now empty skyline above Bolt's Law. We turned around at Brandon Walls, circled through Allendale, and headed home along the road that passes in sight of Crossfell, gazing wistfully cruxward, frustrate and vexed.

The authors, who prefer to remain anonymous, wish to thank Sally Orrell of the Killhope Lead Mining Centre for her generous and invaluable help.

The Internationale W. H. Auden-Gesellschaft

The Internationale W. H. Auden-Gesellschaft (International W. H. Auden Society) based in Vienna and Kirchstetten was founded in 1977 by Dr. Karlheinz Roschitz, writer and journalist, and Peter Müller, the author of this article. Among the committee members are Stella Musulin, Auden's biographer, and Herta Staub, his translator. The honorary chairman is former Chancellor Bruno Kreisky.

The word "International" is intended to indicate the openness of the Austrian Auden Society to similar societies abroad and its readiness to work on the international plane; it in no way suggests a monopoly of Auden.

The main aims of the Society are the promotion of Auden's work in the German-speaking world and the care and maintenance of Auden's house and other memorials in Kirchstetten.

In his early years in Austria, Auden and his work were little known there. The language barrier was a disadvantage since few of his poems were translated into German in his lifetime. In addition, his summers in Kirchstetten were largely devoted to writing and he rarely gave public readings or lectures. However the 1966 award of the prestigious Austrian State Prize for European Literature and his speech at the opening of the Salzburg Festival in the same year naturally increased public awareness. The few lectures he gave in Vienna - including the one on the last day of his life - drew large audiences and were also, unusually, reported in detail by the media.

Auden's outstanding reputation also caused many people to hesitate to approach him. Even Friedrich Heer, the great Austrian philosopher of culture, who had made a close study of Auden's work, was unable to summon up the courage for a personal meeting until Stella Musulin intervened. In Kirchstetten, however, he was a member of the village community, being a regular patron of the three inns and a Sunday churchgoer. For their part, the inhabitants of Kirchstetten were, and still are, very proud to have had a famous poet in their midst (the second poet to live there, the first being Josef Weinheber). They honoured him by naming a street after him on his 60th birthday and by allowing him a place of honour in the church. This last honour is remarkable since normally it is only given to heads of families and mayors with local roots going back for centuries. Auden's burial in Kirchstetten was a moving demonstration of affection and belonging. There can be no inhabitant of Kirchstetten who does not possess at least one book of Auden's; some are even written in English though few inhabitants understand the language.

Since its foundation in 1977, the Austrian Auden Society has held about 70 events, of which several took place in the Federal Republic of Germany. Fostering Auden's work has already become a tradition in Kirchstetten with a regular programme of events. Recently a matinee took place as part of the International Danube Festival in Kirchstetten. Meanwhile the Auden memorials in Kirchstetten are being visited more and more frequently by increasing numbers of people and the care and guidance of visitors is largely in the hands of the Auden Society.

The most important and costly task at present is the renovation of Auden's home in Kirchstetten. Franz Strobl, son of Auden's last housekeeper, lives in the larger part of the house, while the poet's living room and study are kept unchanged and are open to the public. During this autumn the attic is to be extended to allow the provision of a document room as a museum. Since December 1987 the house and surrounding property have been protected monuments at the request of the Auden Society, being one of the very few memorials to contemporary artists in Austria. The house is also being completely restored to include all the furnishings which came from Auden. The work is expected to be completed early in 1989.

Also at the instigation of the Auden Society, a bust of Auden by the Polish sculptor Kostek was erected in 1980 and a few years ago the memorial tablet was unveiled at the house in Vienna where the poet died. The county town of Neulengbach in Lower Austria honoured the poet with a street named after him and a similar honour is proposed in Vienna.

Up till now one of the most ambitious projects has been the big Auden exhibition which was held in the Vienna Künstlerhaus in 1984, and the International Auden Symposium associated with that. In the same year the W. H. Auden translation prize was set up as a permanent memorial to the poet and in fulfilment of his own wish. The prize, worth 50,000 Austrian Schillings, is awarded every other year.

While the two Exhibition catalogues of 1978 (Wiener Neustadt) and 1984 (Vienna) are unfortunately out of print, the Symposium articles which were published a few months ago (W. H. Auden - Findings of a Symposium, English-German, 150 Austrian Schillings) is still available as is the large English-German volume of poems (W. H. Auden - Poems - The Kirchstetten Poems 1958-73, 320 Austrian Schillings). Both publications can be ordered through The British Bookshop, Blackwell and Hadwiger, 1010 Wien, Weihburggasse 8, Austria. In addition, numerous books and articles in the last few years have dealt with Auden and his writing in Kirchstetten.

With the translation and publication of the whole of Auden's lyric output from his time in Kirchstetten, an ardent wish of the Auden Society has been realised. This has been achieved with the close co-operation of the Lower Austrian regional government, the Lower Austrian Society for Art and Culture and, last but not least, the British Council, with which the Auden Society has happily associated itself for a number of years. For the immediate future our main aims are the completion of work on Auden's house in Kirchstetten, setting up an Auden archive collection and the drawing up of a comprehensive Auden programme for the International Danube Festival of 1990.


Peter Müller was born in 1947 in Ollersbach, Kirchstetten. He first became acquainted with Auden in 1962. Besides being a co-founder of the Internationale W. H. Auden-Gesellschaft, he is press secretary to the Federal Office for Memorials and an author and publisher. He can be contacted at A-1080 Wien, Schlösselgasse 16/17, Austria.

This article is adapted from a literal translation of Peter Mülller's German made by Joan Pargeter.

Auden and Britten in Performance

Paul Bunyan, Aldeburgh Festival, June 1988

The Ascent of F6, BBC Radio 3, 16 June 1988

Since its first performance in 1941, Paul Bunyan has had the reputation of an interesting failure. Even after its 1970s revival, it was treated as a curiosity rather than a work worthy of consideration on its own merits. However, the unqualified success of the concert performance at Aldeburgh must go far to establish Paul Bunyan in the mainstream of Britten's operatic oeuvre.

For Auden, Paul Bunyan was his first extensive expression of what America meant to him. It is neither a historic view of the creation of America, nor a mythic view, though American legends are used. It depicts the movement experienced by all societies from the government of necessity and neighbourhood to the life of choice and free movement. Auden believed this movement to becompleted in America as nowhere else. And his relative certainty about this process gave him the freedom to explore a variety of forms and comic ideas. Moreover, the equality of this collaboration between Auden and Britten allowed Britten's music to play a far fuller part than it previously had in their work together.

The performance was in no way diminished by being presented in concert form; such incongruities as a chorus of lumberjacks in dinner jackets and woolly hats would doubtless have delighted the authors. The American soloists sang and acted with gusto. High points included Pop Wagner as the ballad-singer narrator sporting an improbable (but real) moustache; Slim's entrance, singing the most lovely of Britten's songs, through the auditorium; and the Western Union boy arriving on stage by bicycle to hand his telegram to conductor Philip Brunelle. As a bonus, we also heard Inkslinger's love-song, omitted from the final version of the work and therefore from the Virgin Classics recording.

By contrast with Paul Bunyan, The Ascent of F6 tends to be regarded as a modest success. Extracts from the original production were shown on television and there was even a short-lived 1939 revival at the Old Vic, starring Alec Guinness as Michael Ransom. Perhaps because of this, the Radio 3 broadcast was a disappointment although, once again, Britten's inventive music was a delight. Robert Eddison as the Abbot sent a pleasing shiver down the spine not only because he has one of the most thrilling voices in British theatre but also because he was a founding member of Rupert Doone's Group Theatre.

However, listening to the play, its problems seemed to outweigh its successes. The uneasy distinctions made between private and public worlds tended to blur when they should have raised questions. At the same time, a slight dragging in performance left the mind free to observe just how uncomprehensive the play is. Socially it ranges from lower middle class (the stereotyped Mr and Mrs A) to the lower reaches of the aristocracy (Lady Isabel) with Sudoland represented only by monks whose abbot is the sole English speaker. This would not have mattered if the actor playing Michael Ransom had offered us a sharply defined character; too often we got not Michael Ransom, but the actor's respect for the poetry of his lines.

Some of the difficulties were, undoubtedly, due to the change of medium. Radio imposed too great a weight of naturalism on the wireless and mountain scenes, which would probably work better with the self-evident artifice of the stage. In addition, the play was (so far as I can tell) transmitted uncut which made it a work of literary archaeology rather than a genuine performance. Since the play seems never before to have been performed in its entirety, this was a first for Radio 3. But I suspect that what F6 really needs, in addition to the Britten music, is a stage performance whose director's first concern is to make the play succeed with a contemporary audience.


Paul Bunyan has been recorded by the Plymouth Music Series on the Virgin Classics label. The Ascent of F6 as broadcast on BBC Radio 3 can be heard by arrangement at the National Sound Archive, British Library, 29 Exhibition Road, London SW7 (01-589-6603).

Notes and Queries

Auden and Holly Golightly

Long ago I pointed out [London Magazine, July 1965] that the heroine of Capote's Breakfast at Tiffany's (1958) had modelled her life-style on that of Isherwood's Sally Bowles, but it has not been previously recorded that she was also - perhaps surprisingly - a reader of Auden's poetry.

In Auden in Love Dorothy Farnan recalls an incident which took place in a Long Island train in 1943 or 1944, when Chester Kallman coined the adjective "hideola", and how from then on he would use it to denote people, places or things that he thought distasteful or ugly. Auden, true to his magpie-like propensities, appropriated the word and found a place for it in his poem "Music is International" (1947), in which he subordinates music to

. . . anything really important
Like feeding strays or looking pleased when caught
    By a bore or a hideola.

Miss Golightly must have had the passage in mind when describing her feelings about Jose, her first non-rat (a term with Mortmere overtones) romance:

Because I do love Jose - I'd stop smoking if he asked me to. He's friendly, he can laugh me out of the mean reds, only I don't have them any more, except sometimes, and even then they're not so hideola that I gulp Seconal or have to haul myself to Tiffany's: I take his suit to the cleaner, or stuff some mushrooms, and I feel fine, just great.

So far "hideola" has been disdained by the OED.


Upward Papers

The British Library has recently acquired the literary papers of Edward Upward. The collection includes manuscripts for virtually all of Upward's published work as well as much discarded and unpublished writing. There is a surprisingly large cache of juvenilia, including what survives of the Mortmere manuscripts produced by Upward and Isherwood together in the 1920s. (The Mortmere material has been described by Brian Finney in Christopher Isherwood: A Critical Biography for which Upward permitted access to the manuscripts.) About 100 Isherwood letters are among Upward's papers along with drafts of Isherwood's published and unpublished work.

Also in the collection are three early letters from Auden (written 1930-32, referred to and briefly quoted by Humphrey Carpenter in W. H. Auden: A Biography) and ten early poems with the fragment of an eleventh. The poems were all written before the publication of Poems (1928). "Buzzards" appeared in that volume. "Cinders" was published in the Oxford University Review, 3 June 1926, and in Oxford Poetry (1926). "Thomas Epilogises" (represented here by a fragment) also appeared in the 1926 Oxford Poetry. "The Traction Engine" was included by Isherwood in Lions and Shadows. The poem beginning "Like other men when I go past" was recently published by Lachlan MacKinnon in his Eliot, Auden, Lowell: The Baudelairean Inheritance. The remaining six poems in Upward's collection, "Elegy", "An Episode", "Christmas Eve", "At the Maison Lyons", "On Receiving a Christmas Card", and "The Photograph of a Boy in Costume", have never been published; moreover, the last three of these are not known to exist in any other copy.

Sally Brown, Curator of Modern Literary Manuscripts, is cataloguing the Upward papers and hopes to make them available to readers early in 1989.

Also of interest, the Library's Department of Printed Books last year acquired Upward's copy of Auden's Poems (1928) with corrections in Auden's handwriting.


Non-traditional viewpoints

For a doctoral dissertation I would appreciate hearing from anyone who has any new and especially non-traditional points of view on the poet. I would be grateful in particular for ideas on a feminist approach.


307 Woodhaven Road, Centerville, Georgia 31028, U.S.A.


The item on the Auden Concordance in the first issue of the Newsletter was an edited version of Stan Smith's account. The date of the Collected Poems should have read 1976. In the item on the Norman Wright manuscript the Auden estate copyright of course applies solely to the poem and not to Stan Smith's accompanying text.

Forthcoming Events

A READING of Auden's poetry by Gavin Ewart, John Fuller, Roy Fuller, Andrew Motion, Peter Porter, Stephen Spender. Introduced by Charles Monteith.

Thursday 20 October. Reception 6.30 p.m. Reading 7.30 p.m. National Poetry Centre, 21 Earls Court Square, London SW5. Tickets: £3.00, Concessions £2.50, Auden Society and Poetry Society Members £1.50. Box Office 01-373-7861/2

A RECITAL of settings of Auden poems by Lennox Berkeley, Hans Werner Henze, and Benjamin Britten. Singer: Mark Milhofer. Reader: John Fuller.

Wednesday 2 November 8.00 p.m. Holywell Music Rooms, Holywell Street, Oxford. Further details in October from Katherine Bucknell 01-373-4884

Publications and Recordings of Interest

W. H. Auden and Christopher Isherwood, Plays and Other Dramatic Writings 1928-1938, ed. Edward Mendelson. U.S.: Princeton University Press, January 1989 (available November 1988), about $35.00; U.K.: Faber and Faber, January 1989, £35.00. This is the first volume in a projected edition of Auden's complete works.

Geoffrey Burgon, Canciones del Alma and Other Works. EMI: disc EL7/497621; cassette EL7/49762/4; CD CDC7/49762/2. This includes Burgon's recent song sequence, This Lunar Beauty for counter-tenor and guitar, with settings of five poems by Auden and one by MacNeice. James Bowman sings, Forbes Henderson plays guitar.

Rev. E. E. Bradford, To Boys Unknown. Gay Men's Press, £3.95. Poems in this volume were admired by Auden and John Betjeman.

Hugh Kenner, The Sinking Island - The Modern English Writers. Barrie & Jenkins, September, £16.95. Includes a chapter, "The Dishonest Decade," on Auden.

Edna Longley, Louis MacNeice - A Study. Faber & Faber, £5.95.


Lawrence & Wishart

Frank Kermode's excellent book, History and Value, may have reminded readers of the wealth of proletarian literature of the 1930s, now largely forgotten. However, the encouragement of working-class writing and the formulation of principles for a non-bourgeois literature were so significant at the time that students of the period are often drawn to examine the "other" literature produced.

Lawrence & Wishart are now developing titles of contemporary interest but have previously issued a number of publications on the history, politics and culture of the `30s (owing to their links with the British Communist Party whose heyday was in the `popular front' period of the late `30s). This includes a selection of novels of the period by Simon Blumenfeld, Harold Heslop, Lewis Jones and John Sommerfield.

In addition, Lawrence & Wishart have re-issued three major works of 1930s Marxist criticism: Christopher Caudwell's Illusion and Reality (which Auden reviewed in laudatory terms), Ralph Fox's The Novel and the People and Alick West's Crisis and Criticism. Of their retrospective studies, Culture and Crisis in Britain in the `30s should be mentioned, with its essay on Auden by Arnold Kettle and Margot Heinemann's study of Louis MacNeice, John Cornford and Clive Branson. While the communist stance of the authors may grate on some readers, their perspective must have at least a historical relevance. Also worth mentioning is Stuart Macintyre's A Proletarian Science, first published by Cambridge University Press and now re-issued in paperback by Lawrence & Wishart. This is a study of British Marxism and Marxists from 1917 to 1933 and shows which Marxist ideas and theories were dominant in this period.

Lawrence & Wishart publications are mainly available in paperback at low price. A full catalogue can be obtained by writing to Matt Seaton, Publicity Department, Lawrence & Wishart Ltd, 39 Museum Street, London WC1A 1LQ, England.

Readers wishing to suggest a publishing house for inclusion in the "Back-List" section of the Newsletter should write to the Editor. Small publishing houses will probably be favoured over large ones and ideally publishing houses from various countries will be represented. Suggestions for "Back-List" should mention publications likely to interest the readers of this newsletter.

From the Editor

The deadline for the third newsletter is 15 March 1989.
I would be pleased to receive any articles or items for inclusion.

Editor: Kathleen Bell, Flat 5, The Adage, 86/88 High Street,
Bidford-on-Avon, Warks B50 4AD, England.

Assistant Editor: Eleni Ponirakis, 20 Mornington Avenue,
London W14 8UJ, England.

New Members

The W. H. Auden Society welcomes new members.
Anyone wishing to join should send his or her name and address with £3.00 or $5.00 to
Katherine Bucknell, 70 Lexham Gardens, London W8 5JB, England.

Cheques should be made payable to The W. H. Auden Society.
We regret that subscriptions will be increased from January 1989.
Details will appear in the next issue of the Newsletter.

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