Home | Sitemap | Books | Poems | Recordings | News | Notes | Criticism | Links | Newsletter | Archives | Members | Copyright | Search

Newsletter 14 (April 1996)

April 1996

The W. H. Auden Society


Writing an Auden Commentary

I have been asked by the editor to write something about an Auden Commentary that I have nearly finished. I find this an alarming request, largely because it so forcibly reminds me that a project of this sort can never really be finished (and because to go public about it in any form is to spring a trap for myself and to begin to close the exits). However it is perhaps an opportunity to ask for advice and information within a private circle of the poet's admirers and to sort out what claims I might make for an undertaking that sometimes seems to contain only limitations.

My aim is hardly different from my aim in my 1970 Reader's Guide: that is, to provide the interested reader of Auden with information that will help him or her to read the works with greater understanding. So for every Auden poem, play or libretto I encapsulate the publishing history, paraphrase difficult passages, explain allusions, point out interesting variants (including material abandoned in drafts), identify sources and influences, look at the verse form and offer critical interpretation. I don't always do all of these things. In particular I am reticent about the last of them, because criticism would be a fatal excuse to make the Commentary not merely twice as big as the Reader's Guide (which it is already) but too large to be the single-volume reference work I want it to be. I do write up some of the more significant poems at a more leisurely evaluative pace, but it truly intends to be a book that you look things up in, rather than one you read, and it isn't ashamed to fall into footnote-speak for paragraphs at a time.

The Reader's Guide was commissioned and written quite quickly; the Commentary has had the benefit of leisure. But these different circumstances are insignificant in comparison with one's continuing ignorance. Working on the Guide 28 years ago, I often felt it was enough simply to make an obvious connection that no one had made before (eg. between "A Summer Night" and Auden's guarded account of his vision of Agape in Anne Fremantle's book), to find specific allusions to support existing critical generalisations (eg. to actual Old English poems) or to construe opaque passages to my own doubtful satisfaction. I felt I was championing a neglected master (in those days still scorned by Leavisites, regretted by the English intellectuals as a Lost Leader, and of course absent from syllabuses). I accepted Auden's version of his oeuvre, did not refer to his homosexuality and felt that it would have been both intrusive and somehow unsporting to have asked him to explain any of the things that puzzled me. Now, of course, things are entirely different. The vast range of his unpublished works has not only loomed into view, but has been pretty well mapped and climbed. Papers accumulate in the libraries. Details of his private life are almost too well-known. Scholars have already staked out their Auden specialisms. The poet has in Edward Mendelson one of the most devoted, diligent and generous executors, editors, bibliographers and critics (surely unique in his multiple role). A book like mine, offering a multitude of new facts or corrective views over the whole canon, seems a rash enterprise. The responsibility behind the terms I have set myself cannot always be carried through with conviction: there are limits to one man's understanding of such a polymath as Auden.

Nonetheless, I have a confident hope that readers will find very much that is useful in the Commentary. I have corrected as many of my earlier errors as I could. Information has been collated and sifted, fresh obscurities and allusions unravelled and new areas of influence located. I note ideas large and small that Auden borrowed from writers as varied as Andersen, Augustine, Owen Barfield, Brecht, Robert Briffault, Caesar Caine, Claudel, Cervantes, Charles Cochrane, Cyril Connolly, F. W. Farrar, Flaubert, Frobenius, G. Gamow, Ira Gershwin, Goethe, Gogol, Gregory the Great, Grimm, Knut Hamsun, Hazlitt, Heidegger, Hölderlin, Rudolf Kassner, Kipling, Wolfgang Köhler, Langland, C. S. Lewis, W. J. Perry, Pindar, Cole Porter, Beatrix Potter, Rabelais, Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, Maximilian Rudwin, Bernardus Silvestris, Skelton, Thomas Sopwith, Leslie Stephen, Terry Southern, Tacitus, Arnold Toynbee, or the Zohar. Many of these sources are not mentioned or precisely or fully documented by earlier writers on Auden, and are in addition to similar sources which I uncovered in my Reader's Guide. This detective aspect of the work is satisfying, and I naturally owe a lot to spies and informers.

As an example of the problems a poem (even one of the best-known) may continue to pose, or at least of the kinds of talking-points that a commentary should air, I might say something about "In Praise of Limestone" (about which I said little of practical use in 1970). It is a poem about which many critics have written well and at length (not least in the recent symposium on the poem in Auden Studies 3, 1995, pp. 245-271) and the existence of such resourceful and sensitive readings proves that I have no space to match them. Nor shall I have the occasion to offer controversial interpretations (as perhaps is the case, for example, when Edna Longley imports MacNeice and other Thirties "rivals" into the poem).

It was the first poem that Auden wrote in Italy, and the limestone landscape was useful to him, as he later wrote in his 1971 Freud Lecture, "as a connecting link between two utterly different cultures, the northern protestant guilt culture I grew up in and the shame culture of the Mediterranean countries, which I was now experiencing for the first time." The poem relies to an extent upon this contrast, and upon others, but they are not clearly systematized. The "we"/"they" of the poem may, then, be successively (a) human beings v. animals (ie. "the inconstant ones" versus the "beasts who repeat themselves"); (b) artists v. non-artists (ie. the child v. his rival brothers, in Auden's theory of art this rivalry being a wish to please the Urmutter ); (c) English v. Italians (with their different conceptions of God); (d) valley-dwellers v. mountain-dwellers and nomads; (e) the lovers (Auden and Kallman) v. the seekers of "immoderate soils"; and (f) human beings v. statues. I grant that the poem's power comes from the suggestive and shifting variety of its propositions, but do they shift enough to let in MacNeice?

One poet who is in the poem, but hardly acknowledged, is Wallace Stevens (the secular poet who calls "the sun the sun, his mind Puzzle"). Auden had written a poem variously called "Art History" or "Miss God on Mr Stevens" from which the phrase is drawn (the following text is from a letter to Ursula Niebuhr, 10 July 1947, written ten months before "In Praise of Limestone"):

Auden also wrote out a version in a copy of Stevens's Transport to Summer (see "Notes towards a Supreme Fiction" in that volume: "The sun / Must bear no name, gold flourisher, but be / In the difficulty of what it is to be." Stevens himself called "The Comedian as the Letter C" an antimythological poem, Letters, ed. Holly Stevens, p.778). I will probably leave it to real critics to speculate on the role of this lurking "rival". Stevens's is not the only spiritual temptation in the poem, and the ambiguities of his position here may help us to feel the eternal opposition between those who recognise the demanding reality of sin and death, and those who feel that virtue and human happiness are within man's reach.

This paradox is also, I think, felt in one of the poem's most celebrated passages, the paysage moralisé which categorizes the temptations of the absolutists. The granite wastes lure putative saints; clays and gravels lure the seekers of power; the sea lures the nihilists. One of the things that I shall want to point out here is that there was a serious demographic theory behind these metaphors. André Siegfried, in his Tableau Politique de l'Ouest de France (1913), analysed French voters according to types of soil. In particular, he contrasted the independent and democratic limestone plains with the feudal granite Bocage and the isolation, conservatism and priestly vocation that such rocky soil engenders: "Calcaire ou granit, voilá la grande distinction à faire" (p. 10). Perhaps Auden did not read Siegfried, but he would certainly have come across such ideas in Morris Bishop's Pascal (1937), eg: "The French like to ascribe the traditional character of the Auvergnats, shrewd, obstinate, miserly, fanatical, to the volcanic granite of their home....They burn with the inward flame of martyrs" (p. 2). The paradox in Auden's passage here is that although these voices cumulatively represent the forces of arrogant spiritual absolutism, they do also represent the alternative urge in man to face the unknown and to face death.

Another somewhat problematical issue has been Auden's revision of the Nones text at lines 12-13 to remove the description of the nude young male as lounging against a rock "displaying his dildo" (in the 1966 text and later, this figure has become a "flirtatious male who lounges... in the sunlight", more like an Italian rent-boy than a model of faultless love). To Nicholas Jenkins in the Auden Newsletter 7 and to Lawrence Lipking in the Auden Studies symposium it is one of the examples of uncomfortably "bizarre" or "racy" diction in the poem. However, it seems to me that the choice of word is at the least ingeniously calculated. It makes the nude appositely both a notably sexual object (a dildo is a false penis in permanent erection) and a successful agent of art (since the dildo is a surrogate, as the fountains and statues are, and the Urmutter is to be charmed not by sex, but by art). The dildo is a symbol of the Freudian sublimation of sex into art: just as the obscene object itself turns into part of the babbled refrain of amorous Renaissance poetry, so the image of the nude young male "is" not only a love-object ultimately addressed in the poem, but one of the innocent athletes (in fact statues) which the poem sublimates at its conclusion when they are seen as being like the blessed, "having nothing to hide". I wrote more about the sexual significance of the limestone landscape in my 1992 Kenneth Allott Memorial Lecture, and shall have to distil and compress it for the Commentary.

A final example from the poem of a line that needs comment, but which I feel I have imperfectly understood (and how many such there are in Auden!), are lines 34-35, in which the valley-dwellers are said never to have "looked into infinite space / Through the lattice-work of a nomad's comb." For a long time all I could think of (with a sense of desperation) was the line from "A Happy New Year", Part I, stanza 5: "Look not at sky through the forelegs of mares". This seemed to be a parallel of sorts, a kind of superstition, and the fact that Auden had recently reused it (as one of Emble's dangerous charms to bring Rosetta's spirit into his power, in The Age of Anxiety, CP p. 520) gave it even more force as an "unsafe" perspective. But this line itself needs explaining, and I still didn't know what a nomad's comb was. It turns out to be half-explained by Auden's prose working drafts in the Berg Collection, which make clear that he intends a contrast between the "male nude at rest, the temple on the promontory" and "the portable objects of migrants, bracelets, seals, combs / infinity through a lattice". The artefacts of the nomad (a gypsy stall?) are simply of a different order even to bad art, which according to the following lines only "the best and worst of us " (the absolutists) are free of the temptation to produce. What did Auden see in the streets of Florence? Why should one look at the sky through a comb? Interpretations will be gratefully received.

At this point, if I were to list similar unsolved puzzles the editor would have no space left for the rest of the newsletter. I am grateful already to many correspondents who have fed me with information, and am ready to hear from others.


Lincoln Kirstein: 1907-1996

For many years classical ballet was at the centre of twentieth century culture: it was the meeting point for great modernist innovators in painting, music, and dance; and, later, it was the art of the two superpowers. Amongst the scholars and impresarios of dance's pre- and post-war golden age, Lincoln Kirstein, who died last January at the age of 88, had only one true peer - as he, better than anyone else, knew. When you stepped into Lincoln's townhouse in Manhattan, one of the first things to catch your attention (once your startled eyes had adjusted themselves to the pervasive shadowiness of the interior) was a small, gilded Art Deco sylph straining towards you on tiptoe as, in the room on the right, she eternally proffered a tray for visitors' cards. Nobody carries such things now of course, but there was always one item lying there already, as if someone had left it five minutes before you arrived. You had to stoop slightly to see that the black print on the hardly yellowed card gave no address, just a name. It said: "Serge de Diaghilev".

The arrangement was a miniaturized, mocking and self-mocking coup de théâtre, staged by Lincoln as a reward and a reproof for one's low-level nosiness. But, more profoundly, that card also seemed to sensitize you to the miraculous and fluid atmosphere that surrounded Lincoln Kirstein. Being with him was like stepping though a door into another world: he brought you into privileged alignment with the living, breathing age of high modernism, with its strenuousness, its exoticism, its intense demands, its autarchic fervour. In my own case, I know I felt elevated - and sometimes scared.

Lincoln was just too young ever to have met Diaghilev, but he did accidentally wander right into the middle of the Russian impresario's funeral at the Church of San Giorgio dei Greci in Venice in 1929. The corpse arrived at the Church that day in a water-borne catafalque, accompanied by boats loaded down with flowers and mourners. The gondoliers transporting the funeral party sweated inside black suits, set off with vivid red sashes. Within months of his death, Diaghilev's ballet company, Les Ballets Russes, would dissolve into contentious micro-factions.

In contrast, the two great, perhaps pre-eminent, ballet institutions that Lincoln Kirstein founded with George Balanchine - the New York City Ballet and the School of American Ballet - have survived their creators. Balanchine died in 1983 and now Lincoln Kirstein is gone too, but the dance season that ended at Lincoln Center in February this year will be followed by another this spring. And another in the autumn. In accordance with his own wishes and aspirations, then, Lincoln Kirstein had no funeral of any kind. It was as if he did not want to suggest that his death was an important ending. He declined even a bar of solemn music, even a tiny gathering of two or three of his closest friends, and certainly there were no prayers: nothing for any young tyro to stumble into and get the wrong idea from.

When the King of Spain, wandering around backstage during a rehearsal of the Ballets Russes, asked Diaghilev who he was, Diaghilev replied mildly, "Like you, sire, I am indispensable." Lincoln's aim - although he would never have put it as crudely as this - might have been to make his institutional creations so perfect, so independent, that he was in the highest sense dispensable. When that moment came, he died peacefully at his home. In effect, though, he deliberately faded away - it was as if he had slipped out of the vast white State Theater at Lincoln Center (which he had arranged to build) and disappeared into the night air without allowing anyone to acknowledge that he was leaving. Perhaps as his final act of self-effacement he simply wanted the show - and the company - to continue uninterrupted, like a spectacular leap that seems to be going on forever. Thinking about him after he died, I realized that, for all the times that I had said it to him, the one word I had never, ever heard him say to me or to anyone else was, "Goodbye."

To have created and nurtured these national ballet institutions would ordinarily have been the work of many people and many lifetimes. But somehow, aside from his role as the protector and director of these immense organizations, Lincoln was also a notable poet, a novelist, a scholar, a polemicist, an instigator, and, on occasion, even a political emissary. (He was also the shyly proud owner of one of the most extensive collections of "cat materials" - prints, photos, statues, paintings, and books - in the entire continental United States.) Susan Sontag once commented that Lincoln was "an important writer, not just a critic. He is someone whose prose you can take pleasure in - regardless of the subject- matter....it's a real voice - passionate, elevated, eccentric. I'd read him about anything." Simply to list the titles of the books Lincoln wrote about painting, dance, photography, and sculpture - many of them ground-breaking works, such as his catalogue for Walker Evans's first exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in 1938, or his still available history of classical ballet, Dance, published in 1935 - would take up several pages of this newsletter.

But even that roster would not begin to explain or compass this immensely complicated person. He worked so subtly and intensely in so many different cultural worlds that, looking back on it now, his life seems like several lives, his "self" so metamorphic as to be virtually unknowable to any one person - even, perhaps, to Lincoln. A friend thought about it once and concluded: "I might attempt a biography of Proteus, but Lincoln Kirstein?"

I got to know him, or a bit of him, when I went to see him on the off-chance that he might give me some anecdotal help with my thesis-research on Auden. Lincoln and Auden had met very early in 1939 shortly after Auden arrived in the United States - just the period that I am especially interested in. (The poem "Herman Melville," written in March 1939, is dedicated to Lincoln - acknowledgment of the gift of a copy of Billy Budd.) As a cultural celebrity, Auden was introduced to almost everyone in the Manhattan world of the arts during his early months in America. But no other bond formed then lasted as long as the one with Lincoln, who remained one of his closest friends until Auden's death in 1973. They dined together regularly, Lincoln received fresh typescripts of Auden's poems (Auden, I suspect, got Lincoln's too), and Lincoln attended Auden's birthday parties, corresponded with him, shared his jokes, his pet-hates, his joys and disappointments. They also worked together on projects like Paul Bunyan, The Play of Daniel and The Seven Deadly Sins.

On the occasion of our first meeting, I was feeling anxious about being psychically ambushed. I had read in Carpenter's biography that Auden once described Lincoln as "a little farouche in manner sometimes." So, walking down the pitch-black hallway in Lincoln's house, I was timorously expecting to confront someone who was, at best, remote, incommunicative, severe, something perhaps more like a statue than a person. I might have been better served by recalling that Auden had immediately added that, apart from the faroucheness, Lincoln was "really extremely nice." I would say that was an understatement. As I walked into his sitting room, I saw an enormous man, dressed in a spruce white polo-shirt, with a head of closely-cropped hair and a chin like the sharp end of a vast chisel. He was standing next to a yellow, tasselled lampshade. He beckoned me over into the light, grinned, asked me to read something, and then playfully poked me in the ribs. On the table by him rested a small, grimacing crystal skull, decorated with finely-carved knots of crystal snakes, and a framed photo of the Queen and her corgis.

Lincoln was, in fact, the opposite of a gelid cultural titan. He and I soon became friends (at least I like to think we did), and for the next nine years with unfailing eagerness and geniality he provided me with a translucent window into Auden's polyglot cultural world in New York during the forties, fifties, and sixties. It wasn't as if Lincoln had nothing better to do. Even in his retirement, he was an intensely serious, curious, intellectually active person. I remember coming to see him once and finding this eighty-five year-old gorgon of anti-modernism sprawled on his bed reading so carefully through a page of Finnegans Wake that he did not notice I had entered the room.

But he wasn't by any means all seriousness. He could also be extremely funny, light- hearted, and self-deprecating. I asked him once about Hannah Arendt. "Oh, she scared me," he said, implausibly. And then he made some little fluttering gestures round his forehead with his hands, symbolizing the thought-waves that seemed to radiate out of the intensely cerebral Arendt. "And she had no time for the ballet," he continued grinning. "Well, I mean," he said, starting to imitate Arendt's German accent, "it just isn't serious."

Auden thought something like that too, once calling the ballet "a very minor art." I take it as a sign of Lincoln's largeness of mind, as well as of his own deep convictions about his beloved medium, that this hardly seemed to matter to him. Nothing had ever dimmed his affection and respect for Auden. Even in the time when I got to know him, he still, after a long acquaintance, exalted the poet and the man, though always in a wry, humorous, loving way.

Their shared homosexuality was definitely one bond, though they reacted to the vicissitudes of gay life very differently. I remember Lincoln's puzzlement as he told me a story once about an occasion when Chester Kallman got arrested for cruising in the subway. At the time, Auden was giving a reading in Buffalo in upstate New York. Lincoln telephoned him and told him not to worry - he would get Chester a lawyer and take care of everything. But Auden wouldn't hear of it and cancelled the remainder of his stay so that, the White Knight, he could rush back to New York the same evening. Lincoln shrugged as he told me the story; he couldn't understand the (as he saw it) hysterical over-reaction. The "romantic anti-romantic" was the gist of the comment he made as he finished the little narrative.

But for all his personal closeness to Auden, it was clear that what was truly important to him was the writing, the poetry. Until the very end of his life, Lincoln, who had met and worked with most of the great artists of the mid-century, revered Auden more deeply than anyone else he had ever known. He read and re-read Auden's poems constantly; he loved to talk about his friend's work; he instantaneously and very generously funded some of the start-up costs of the Auden Society and then wrote for, and consented to be interviewed by, this newsletter.

This man who, at least in the dance world, often caused "all to tremble and be afraid," admitted happily that for him Auden had been an immensely elevated, and sometimes terrifying, representative of intelligence, wisdom and strength. He once recalled for me the time when, after the death of his mother, he wrote to tell Auden the news. Auden had replied baldly that now he would not need to impress her anymore. "I didn't sleep a wink the next night," Lincoln told me with a kind of solemn, ironical gratitude. On another occasion, Auden scolded Lincoln, who was famous for his ferocious polemics against modern dance: "If it's so bloody bad, why do you write about it?" The scourge of the modern dance said that he had no answer.

When Humphrey Carpenter had completed his Auden biography, he sent Lincoln a typescript requesting his comments. Replying, Lincoln dispensed, as he always did, with the usual polite waffle. He said that he disliked the work (though he later reviewed the published version very positively in the New York Review of Books). And in a letter to Carpenter, he explained his feelings about Auden:

Since his death, even more perhaps than in life, he has become a monitor, and as Chester said, a criterion. Negative aspects have for me faded. I recall his sweetness and brilliance, and while these are referred to in your portrait, what I found in your image was a dreariness, a shabbiness and a misery which of course was present in life, but which now, in my memory at least is hardly the greater part of his residue.

This beautiful, spikey tribute was prompted by a specific occasion, but, as the language used by a really gifted writer always does, it can stand as a concise statement of feeling in a hundred other contexts. Not least in the context in which I find myself here as I think sadly but also gratefully about a person from another age, another world, a man of real "sweetness and brilliance", a departed but ("in my memory at least") not vanished friend.


Tania Stern: 1904-1995

Describing Tania Stern - a translator, physical therapist, the wife of the short story writer James Stern, and a close friend of Auden - Christopher Isherwood once wrote that "she was one of the most unaffected, straightforward, sensible, and warmhearted women Christopher had ever encountered. She was also one of the most beautiful: small, dark-haired, dark-eyed, and with a body as beautiful as her face." These were his lyrical memories of her at a moment when they were members of a ragged, sun-bleached community of exiles and transients in Portugal during 1936. Almost sixty years later, on 17 April 1995, Mrs Stern, a founding member of the Auden Society, died in Wiltshire at the age of 91.

In my very brief experience of her, Mrs Stern seemed as vital and straightforward in her eighties as Isherwood had found her in her thirties. That may have been because, at least to the eye of a visitor, she seemed to have aged remarkably little physically and hardly at all emotionally. Her past was still intensely alive inside her. The young Isherwood and, especially, the young Auden were as vividly present in her conversation as the young Tania Stern is in Isherwood's prose.

For most of the day that my wife and I spent with the Sterns in Wiltshire in 1992, James Stern either sat gazing at the sunlight on the floor, or drifted slowly in and out of the room like an arthritic ghost. But when we drove away in the late afternoon, we both confessed to feeling shattered solely from the experience of listening to this small, sharp-eyed woman with a mellow German accent reminisce in her country kitchen. She hated writing anything, even letters, and she refused to transfer her memories onto paper. But she talked effortlessly, almost unstoppably, about her life of long ago with a still-dewy freshness of emotion and recall. She could still laugh admiringly, as if surprised by her own recollections of Auden's intense frankness with his New York acquaintances, and she could still find tears to weep as she described the pathos of her rumpled friend's final years.

The daughter of a prominent psychiatrist, Tania Stern (née Tania Kurella) was born in Breslau and raised in Dresden. She had three brothers as well as twin sisters, Anna and Marie. (I wrote in some detail about Mrs Stern and her husband in Auden Studies 3. The fact of her death gives me the chance to correct a few small errors in my account, such as the place of her birth and the number of sisters she had - thanks are due to John Byrne for swiftly pointing the lapses out to me.) As a young adult, Mrs Stern moved to Berlin, where she worked as a physical therapist and trainer, a member of the body-worshipping bohemia assembled in the city during the years of the Weimar Republic. She remained there until 1933, when she was forced to leave Germany for political reasons (her brother Alfred was an important left-wing dissident - and later an eminent cultural apparatchik in the GDR). In 1934 in Paris, where she was in exile, she met another emigré, the Anglo-Irish writer James Stern. They were married in London in 1935 (Ernst Freud, whom she had known since childhood, stood in for her father and brothers and gave her away). For the next few years the Sterns were based in Paris, where Tania Stern gave classes and helped fellow refugees from Germany look for jobs whie her husband struggled with his writing. (It was in the French capital, probably in early 1937, that they were introduced to Auden.)

But the Sterns were dismayed by the political situation and they soon decided that they would have to leave Europe altogether. More than a decade later, when they were unpacking belongings that had been in storage in Europe throughout the Second World War, they found they had wrapped their crockery in sheets of newspaper announcing the outbreak of fighting in Spain. That was in 1936. It took them a few more years to make the decisive move, but they eventually travelled to the United States in 1939 at roughly the same time as Auden.

In New York Auden came to know the Sterns very well. Like medieval theologians collegially distinguishing between "quidditas" and "haeccitas," Auden and James Stern liked to compare the differences between their upper-middle- and upper-class backgrounds as writers; while Auden and Tania Stern, both offspring of doctors, were acutely interested in the tiniest symptoms of physical and psychological disease. (It was Tania who first noticed the curvature in Chester Kallman's spine which was to become so pronounced later in his life.) The three sealed their intimacy in the New World by greeting each other in German, "the language of our friends, the refugees." Soon the Sterns were amongst Auden's closest friends of his own age; he was fascinated and inspired by their tightly-knit marriage, and, they remembered, he confided in them almost as often and in as direct a fashion as he questioned them about the details of their own private lives.

Tania Stern, in particular, took an active interest in Auden's personal situation, intruding on him in an authoritative but uncensorious way. Isherwood recalled that "When she looked at you, she seemed aware of all the faults of posture which betrayed your inmost tensions; but you never felt that she found them repulsive or even absurd. She was ready to help you correct them, if you wanted to." For a while in 1939-40, she persuaded Auden and Chester Kallman to participate in the physical education classes she gave in her Manhattan studio. (They did so in a desultory manner.) Mrs Stern told Auden that, as an intellectual, he was cut off from his body and she made him stretch on the floor and balance on wine bottles in his bare feet. He performed his exercises sulkily and without enthusiasm, but he did what she told him. And she also lectured him on what she felt was his lack of interest in Kallman as a person - advice which he seems to have taken seriously and tried, perhaps too late, to act on.

Indeed, both she and her husband were intimately involved in helping Auden deal with the vicissitudes of the relationship with Kallman, especially during the "Crisis" of 1941- 42, precipitated by the news that Kallman was having an affair with an "English sailor." (For more on that person, see "Jack Barker" below.) In November 1941, Auden wrote to Mrs Stern about the situation, and, as he closed his letter, he added: "Please, my dear, never hesitate to give or apologise for giving me advice. I am a great deal more dependant on you than you know or than I usually realise myself. So please be my Big Sister always." A few weeks later, during a particularly bleak period, he told her that "there's no one but you that either he [Kallman] or I can trust."

In fact, by the summer of 1942 Auden and Mrs Stern had become so close to one another that, reflecting on it years later, she believed that they might easily have fallen in love. While James Stern was away at a writers' conference that June, Auden and Tania Stern went to stay at Caroline Newton's country estate in Pennsylvania. "Have passed most of the time with Tania by the pool," Auden wrote to James Stern, "telling each other the story of our lives." The trio remained close for some time. In 1945, Auden dedicated The Sea and the Mirror to the Sterns, and for a few years in the mid-forties, the three of them were joint owners of a Fire Island holiday shack called "Bective Poplars," a compound name derived from Stern's family home in Ireland and Auden's grandmother's home near Repton.

James and Tania Stern sailed back from the States to Britain in the late 1940s, but they kept in touch with Auden. Although they apparently never went to see him either on Ischia or in Kirchstetten (it may have been something to do with Kallman, whom both Sterns disliked heartily), Auden often saw them on his annual visits to England. In their later years, Mr and Mrs Stern lived quietly, content to exist in the literary shadows, collaborating on a number of translations of German-language authors, including Hofmannsthal, Kafka, and Thomas Mann. Their most important contribution is probably their joint translation of Freud's letters.

At his own request, Auden, accompanied by Sonia Orwell, visited Mrs Stern and her husband over Christmas 1972 at their low-lying manor house in the Nadder Valley. Standing in her garden in 1992, Mrs Stern described to me how an unusually thick, almost creamy, fog had settled over the area for most of the holiday; and how, inside, Auden had sat by the fire, fogged with alcohol. Both Sterns admitted that, although they were very touched that Auden had wanted to come and see them, they found this final visit incredibly sad. Afterwards, though, Auden sent them "Thank You, Fog," a poem praising a peaceful, unruffled stay. Of the "four Selves, joined in friendship" for a few days in the timeless, country world celebrated in the poem, ("Jimmy, Tania, Sonia, Me"), Tania Stern was the last to die.


Jack Barker: 1915-1995

An elusive (and hitherto largely unidentified) bit-player in the Auden biography died recently. This was the man with whom Chester Kallman had an on-again off-again affair from the summer of 1940 until sometime during 1942. The relationship precipitated what Auden called "The Crisis" in July 1941 when Kallman refused to sleep with Auden any more and Auden, "forced to know in person what it is like to feel oneself the prey of demonic forces," briefly contemplated killing Kallman, the lover, or both of them. On "account of you," Auden declared to Kallman at the end of 1941, "I have been, in intention, and almost in act, a murderer."

Until now the interloper has, necessarily, been referred to in print as a "young Englishman" (Carpenter); "Jack Lansing" (Farnan); and a "young Englishman" (Davenport- Hines). He was, in fact, named Michael John Eustace Barker - though known to all his acquaintances as Jack Barker. Here, for the biographical record, is an account of what is known about his history.

Barker was the black sheep in a family of blue-bloods. He was born on the ancestral estate outside Derby on 9 July 1915, the son of Lieutenant-General Michael Barker. He was educated at Cheltenham (Farnan says Harrow) and then at Oxford, though he never took a degree there. Instead, Barker left college early and went off to a life before the mast, a period of his life recorded in his short but tiringly jolly memoir No Moaning There! (1962). (It's a Tennyson allusion: "And may there be no moaning of the bar, | When I put out to sea".)

As a young man, Barker personified the handsome, happy-go-lucky adventurer; most people who met him in the first half of his life seem to have found him guileless and friendly, though Charles Miller, who came across him in 1941 in New York, once described him in an unpublished account as a person with a sinister side, "a lean, dark young man." As well as being a seaman, Barker was an occasional journalist and he worked for newspapers and knocked around in London literary circles in the middle and late thirties. Judging by Spender's Letters to Christopher, he seems to have had some kind of affair with Spender in the summer of 1939. In his "1939 Journal," Spender even drafted a poem about Barker: "Jack, I think of you, Jack Tar, sailor on the slippery boards.... | Trim-waisted, cliff-chested, peasant-handed, with a navel chiseled in an abdomen of stone.... | kissing the shell of my ear, you held me in the sea's grip." Underneath his draft, Spender put: "Rewrite this." He never did.

By the beginning of the war, Barker was a member of the crew on a merchant ship making semi-official, and often very dangerous, voyages on behalf of the British Government. In the autumn of 1940 he sailed into New York, probably with an introduction from Spender to Auden in his pocket. When he called on Auden, he got a friendly reception and was invited to stay at the house on Middagh Street in Brooklyn, where Auden was living. Auden also apparently put him in touch with Malcolm Cowley at the New Republic, for whom Barker wrote an article. (It does not seem to have been published.) According to the recollections that Barker gave Dorothy Farnan many years afterwards, it was while he was working on his New Republic piece in 1940 that the affair with Kallman began. (Barker always claimed that he had no idea that Auden and Kallman were so close until Kallman told him sometime later.) The ensuing emotional complications are described fully by Carpenter and Davenport-Hines.

The affair died down for a while (partly because Barker was out of New York). But at the end of 1941, when Barker returned, it flared up again and there were intermittent problems, rows, and recriminations throughout 1942. In the autumn of that year, Auden called Barker down to Swarthmore for a talk. As Barker, perhaps self-servingly, remembered it:

We both behaved in a positively Kiplingesque manner, very English. Wystan was kind, gentle, and forgiving. In the most civilized way, he was prepared to make the sacrifice for Chester's happiness.... He urged me to tell him if he was right in thinking that Chester was "innocent" and had been before he met him, meaning that he had only slept with him and me and did not indulge in ... sexual adventures with pick-ups, etc. I was flabbergasted, because already Chester was far more sexually sophisticated and had had more experience probably than both of us put together.... I told Wystan that, as far as I knew, Chester had remained "innocent".

Around November 1942, letters show that Auden, feeling guilty and out of place, was contemplating leaving Swarthmore to join the Merchant Marine. Barker later recalled that sometime during the war Auden had asked for his help in getting a berth on the Murmansk Run, one of the most dangerous shipping lanes in the world. If this is true, Auden presumably made his request around the time of their first talk in Swarthmore in the autumn of 1942.

Kallman, who was now with another lover, apparently became distressed that the rivals for his affections had behaved with such gentlemanly decency and decorum. He seems, therefore, to have encouraged Barker to begin an affair with another of Auden's short-term boyfriends, Strowan Robertson ("Royce Wagoner" in Farnan). Auden summoned Barker to Pennsylvania for another man-to-man discussion. Again, according to Barker's memories of the occasion, they got on well.

A short while later, though, Auden turned permanently against Barker, and he would subsequently describe Barker to Spender as "evil" and, to others, as a "fringe personality" who specialized in ruining relationships. Whether this was true or not is impossible to say, but it is worth bearing in mind that almost all the details that we have about these events come ultimately from Barker's mouth and pen.

Jack Barker remained a sailor for most of the rest of his working life, though from time to time he apparently also undertook various short-term, land-based adventures too. Once, for instance, he set up a fish-and-chip shop in Manhattan, serving the portions on specially imported News of the World newsprint. Eventually Barker settled down in the countryside outside Colchester, and, in his final years, he married a young Canadian clarinettist. Jack Barker died on 17 September 1995, aged 80.


Charles Montieth 1921 - 1995

Charles Montieth was Auden's editor and publisher at Faber & Faber during the poet's latter years and a founding member of the Auden Society. As well as for Auden, he acted as editor for several other poets, including Louis MacNeice, Philip Larkin and Seamus Heaney, introducing the latter two to the firm. He also edited novelists and playwrights such as William Golding, Samuel Beckett, P. D. James and James (later Jan) Morris. Famously he accepted Golding's first novel, to become Lord of the Flies, when it had been turned down by nineteen other publishers. Perhaps equally famously, he rejected, after being served an extraordinary meal of sardines and syrup, Joe Orton's novel The Boy Hairdresser with the memorable phrase "several degrees too odd".

Montieth was born in Lisburn, County Antrim of a middle-class Presbyterian family, though he himself came to incline more towards the Anglican faith. He attended the Royal Belfast Academical Institution and won a scholarship to Magdalen College, Oxford, where he was awarded a double first in Greats, a significant achievement in view of the fact that his studies were interrupted for six years by the Second World War. During the war he served with the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers in India and Burma, achieving the rank of major and suffering serious leg injuries.

Invited to join Faber & Faber in 1953 by its head, Geoffrey Faber, he learned many of his editing skills from T. S. Eliot, then Faber's editorial director. He became, successively, director, vice-chairman and chairman of the publishing house until forced by ill-health to retire in 1980, continuing thereafter as editorial consultant. In addition he served as a director of the Poetry Book Society, as a member of the Arts Council and on the Library Advisory Council. His work was acknowledged by academia in the form of honorary doctorates from the New University of Ulster and the University of Kent.

Monteith's rapport and personal relationships with his authors were exemplified by his dealings with Auden. When Auden was invited to reside at Christ Church in October 1972, he arrived promptly for the start of Michaelmas Term, to be told that the accommodation in which he was to live was not yet available. When a distraught Auden told Montieth of this situation, the publisher immediately arranged for All Souls, where he was a Fellow, to make a room available to Auden until his Christ Church premises were ready. Humphrey Carpenter relates in his biography that Montieth met Auden at Oxford station and carried his bags to the waiting taxi. Then next year Auden died in Vienna and Montieth attended the funeral at Kirchstetten. At a reception for the mourners at the house of Auden and Kallman, Charles Osborne recalls Montieth speaking in Greek to another guest, a language he apparently taught himself by listening to language tapes.

He said of Auden that he was "the perfect author" from his point of view: "deadlines were met, proofs returned on time, letters were answered by return post." Doubtless, in a more gentlemanly publishing age, many of Montieth's authors would have returned the compliment.


Charles Montieth, born 9 February 1921, died 9 May 1995.

Book Reviews

W.H. Auden and Chester Kallman, Libretti, and Other Dramatic Writings by W.H. Auden 1939-1973, edited by Edward Mendelson (The Complete Works of W.H. Auden, volume two: London, Faber and Faber, 1993). 758 pp. £60.

This bulky and beautiful volume contains the several libretti which Auden and Kallman composed together, along with their `English version' of The Magic Flute, the ill-fated rendering of The Duchess of Malfi written by Auden in collaboration with Brecht, the (rejected) lyrics for the musical Man of La Mancha, some pieces for radio and a few other things. It is, one should say first, simply a masterpiece of an edition: as well as the texts themselves, there are over two hundred pages containing drafts and variants, reproductions of the authors' introductions and programme notes, and lengthy essays on composition and reception, including extensive quotations from previously unpublished letters. Entire early versions of some libretti are included; while, at the other end of the scale, notes ponder the authority of commas (including one which entertains, and reluctantly rejects, the claims of a `comma ... inserted in T.S.A, in Robert Craft's hand' - my astonished italics: the authorship of a comma!).

The only comment about editors to be found in the scripts here is less than flattering, made in Elegy for Young Lovers by the genius Mittenhofer's acolytes, Carolina and Reishmann, who snootily sing

But this weak-minded pair are no spokesmen for Auden, for whom scholars were never the object of romantic disdain: in his Oxford inaugural, he judged `rather silly' Yeats's predictably scornful poem on the subject; and one imagines he would be entirely delighted with this tome, though probably secretly. No modern poet has been as lucky in his editor - except, of course, it wasn't exactly luck: in a life more typically characterised by reckless personal negligence, Auden's choice of the young Mendelson as literary executor was perfectly inspired (inspired, as a matter of fact, by Kallman, according to Davenport-Hines's recent biography). Quite apart from the exhaustive patience of its scholarship, the commentary in this book breathes that urbane and sensitive literary intelligence which we have already enjoyed in Early Auden (1981); and the whole thing has an unmistakably monumental feel: the Auden Complete Works is clearly going to be one of the great editions.

The Poems is obviously set to be the crown, although my guess is that the Essays and Reviews (in how many volumes?) may well affect our sense of this extraordinarily self-scrutinising imagination even more. Both these are yet to appear - as, perhaps, is an enticing gathering of Auden's many translations, mentioned here in the apparatus though not announced on the dust-jacket. The only volume to have been published until this Libretti is the similarly sumptuous 1989 volume devoted to the plays, mostly written with Isherwood, from the Thirties. It is tempting to see the libretti, even more than the theatre pieces, as substantial but somehow inessential to an understanding of Auden's central writing life, rather as one thinks of Pope's Homer or Wordsworth's Excursion, important in an historical kind of way, but not (as Eliot said of The Princess) something we are normally likely to read more than once. But that would be a mistake: to be sure, I don't believe anyone would base an argument for Auden's importance solely on the libretti and plays; but they are significant for all that. The remarkable shift away from the theatre and towards the opera, which these first two volumes of the Works fortuitously emphasise, is a very important fact about his imagination, and tells us a good deal about the development of Auden's aesthetic thinking.

The Plays volume confirmed our sense of a brilliantly inventive, vigorous and clever pairing of talents producing works of `playful amateurishness' (Barbara Everett's description). Fascinating and often terrifically entertaining, they have a kind of waywardness about them and, for all the political edge, their kind of success can seem curiously lightweight, a moment-to-moment affair depending precariously on coming up with another bright idea. True, the vivid recklessness of their cabaret style never let the plays ossify into the stiff decorum of Eliot's later verse-drama; but neither did it create an especially coherent dramatic idiom. The problem Auden faces in the plays, as Mendelson says in the introduction here, is that of `the proper voice for a poet who wants to write a public and heroic art as well as a private and intimate one', the two kinds of creativity Auden would later theorise as the opposing principles of `Prospero' and `Ariel'.

The world of opera, as Mendelson comments, held out a possible solution to these problems in its sheer exorbitance. Incorrigibly virtuoso, opera is effortlessly public: it wears its inauthenticity on its sleeve, so to speak, and makes a virtue of its gratuity. Any question of realism or fidelity to the public realm is a confusion of terms, a vulgar intrusion from that prior, but uglier and remote, primary world of the ethical life which is, quite properly, irrelevant. In this way, opera enjoys the innocence Auden always associated with music, `halcyon structures' that are `useful / As structures go - though not to be confused / With anything really important'. Innocence here derives largely from its absence of words: `[i]t is both the glory and the shame of poetry,' he says in The Dyer's Hand, `that its medium is not its private property'; but this is a polite way of declaring it neither fish nor fowl: poetry is usually stuck in Auden's aesthetics between the plainly referential truth-telling of the novel (`A higher art than poetry altogether,' he told Lord Byron) and the reckless, non-referential sublimity of self-delighting music (`Only your notes are pure contraption,' he told the Composer, `Only your song is an absolute gift'). A libretto, though, is a special case, for the opera magically passes on its special musical dispensation to the words it uses: thus licensed, the poet can engage in all the pleasures of the High Style without sounding `false and ridiculous'.

The earliest of the libretti here, and among the most interesting (though I suppose an interesting failure), is Paul Bunyan, the only one not to be written with Kallman: it is the last and most substantial product of Auden's creative partnership with Britten, a self-conscious attempt to write an `American' work by two men as new to America as they were to opera. The folk songs and ballads show Auden's gift for fantastic hyperbole to good advantage (especially in the lovely `Carry her over the water', later collected in the Shorter Poems), and there are some surreal high jinks reminiscent of the plays - an invisible giant, singing cats and dogs, `film star' personifications of subconscious drives, and so on; some favourite Auden notions are rehearsed (`Often thoughts of love conceal / Love we are ashamed to feel'). As is the case with almost all of the operas, it is structured as a quest, here set in the early, colonising days of America, the moral apparently being that both brains (Inkslinger) and brawn (Helson) are needed in the communal effort of social life. The charm of the whole piece is Arcadian: it is the life led according to nature (though it rings oddly on modern ears to hear a life devoted to cutting down trees described in that way). However, the real weight is placed, in an unbalancing way, on the conclusion, when Bunyan, spirit of action and motivation, departs, and the characters are left in that existentialist isolation in which one is alone with the terrifying obligation to act, a more familiar position in which to find Auden's people: `Gone the natural disciplines / And the life of choice begins'. America is symbolically important, one realises, not for the frontier optimism that is the opera's ostensible subject, but for the post-lapsarian state of rootless individualism looming on the horizon throughout the piece. This Auden was to explore with much greater confidence in The Age of Anxiety and other works over the next few years: `America is what you do,' as Bunyan tells the folk he is abandoning to themselves, `America is I and you' [sic].

Both Britten and Auden came to reject Bunyan, for good artistic reasons; but for Auden, this rejection was involved with a much more personal matter: his `marriage' with Chester. The intertwining of renewed art form and renewed life is made clear enough in a letter Auden wrote to Monroe K. Spears (quoted in The Disenchanted Island, p. 271), which describes Kallman as `the person who was responsible for arousing my interest in opera, about which previously, as you can see from Paul Bunyan, I knew little or nothing'. There is indeed a much greater awareness of what is feasible, and a tighter sense of structure, in the later pieces; but the great theme of the Good Life, and how it is to be led when one is no longer a luckily thoughtless piece of `nature', remains constant. It is the central interest of The Rake's Progress, the real masterpiece amongst these libretti. Tom Rakewell is a version of the aesthetic individual, one (fallacious) attempt at the Good Life: voracious for experience but permanently anxious to avoid the reality of the present moment, his type is exemplified, as Auden learned from Kierkegaard, in Don Juan. Tom's situation differs from Don Juan's in that, as Auden wrote in Harper's Bazaar, his Leperello, Nick Shadow, is really a Mephisto; and, in the course of an ironically successful quest, he grants poor Tom his three wishes, leading him from the life of the senses (in a brothel) to the life of l'acte gratuit (marrying someone he does not love) to the life of a would-be saviour (he has a machine which makes bread out of stones). Tom is saved at the last moment by the tenacious Marina-like love of Anne Trulove (`O sacred music of the spheres! / Where now our rages and our fears?'), this Love being the real reality from which he has been fleeing all along. Unfortunately, by this stage the devil has made him insane and he has been confined to Bedlam, thinking himself Adonis and Anne Venus - though of course Anne's love has acquired a feel of divinity, so this is not in fact mad at all. (As Kallman remarks in one of the essays appended here, you wouldn't willingly have Anne to dinner, for she does comes across as terribly dull on the page.) The structure of the piece, then, is Don Giovanni, but with a redemptive conclusion; the cast come forward to sing not `This is the end of those who do evil', but, more modestly, `For idle hands / And hearts and minds / The Devil finds / A work to do'; so the figure of Bunyan (`I am Way / I am Act') implicitly features here still; as Anne sings in the epilogue, `Not every man / Is given an Anne / To take the place of Duty'.

Delia, also written for Stravinsky, but not taken up by him, is a mock-Tudor piece, with a faintly fancy dress feel, in which Delia is forced to choose between earthly Orlando and the magus Sacrapant: with the help of Dame Nature, she correctly opts for Orlando, who explains that the real life can only be led in time, at the price of mortality. It feels schematic, partly because it is crammed into one act; but the same theme is treated altogether more brilliantly in the `English version' of The Magic Flute (from which the two immortal characters in Delia seem to have been drawn). Auden and Kallman alter Mozart's opera substantially in Act Two to emphasise the quest structure that they claim to discern beneath the original. The most important element of the Auden/Kallman plot is the reconciliation of Sarastro's rationalism and the Queen of the Night's instinctual naturalism, a marriage between Apollonian and Dionysian impulses symbolised by the nuptials of Tamino and Pamina. As Sarastro says, `Can she, the Queen of superstitious Night, / In her extremities of heart, be right? / No, no. We need each other', going on to comment, as if he's been reading `September 1, 1939', `By freeing one another / We learn ourselves to free, / For man must love his brother / Or cease a man to be'. It is, similarly, the battle between Dionysus (in person this time) and the Apollonian intellect of the rationalist Pentheus that is dealt with in the version of Euripides, The Bassarids, a rather cumbersome affair on the page, though Auden thought Henze's music made it a masterpiece. The conflict is ruinous this time, in a way familiar from earlier works like F6 - the struggling, weak son is killed off by Mother, undermined because he does not apprehend or acknowledge the instinctual (Dionysian) elements in his own personality: we learn about Pentheus's subconscious by the device of an intermezzo, the best thing in the libretto, which stages a revealing dream of the hero's, like the Father Christmas scene in the middle of Paid on Both Sides.

Repressed Pentheus's struggles with the Dionysiac converts amongst his people lead him to tyranny, but Dionysus himself is hardly likely to breed a stable social democracy. The connection between the kind of amoral aestheticism embodied by the hectic Byronism of Dionysus and the causes of political brutality is a running theme of Auden's work, expressed most memorably, perhaps, in `Epitaph on a Tyrant'. (Actually, Dionysus is described as dressed `Beau Brummel fashion', but one gets the idea.) The cruelty of the aesthetic character bases itself on a conception of the Romantic artist as egotistic and megalomaniacal, as we might guess from the title of his lecture course at Swarthmore, `Romanticism from Rousseau to Hitler'. The archetype is represented in Elegy for Young Lovers, in the character of Mittenhofer, a monstrous poet who has chosen perfection of the work rather than the life in an almost comically emphatic way. He behaves quite disgustingly to everyone throughout, and, since we have to take his towering genius on trust, I would think the opera difficult to steer away from being the Triumph of a Shit, which would lose the tension between art and goodness that is necessary to make it work (though I suppose if he has all the good tunes, an audience might warm to him a little). Mittenhofer's last crime, before finishing his great poem, is the effective murder of two young lovers, one his godson and the other his recent mistress, whose deaths somehow enable him to complete his work: the plot is a little stretched, but the allegory is clear enough. Mittenhofer is loosely based on Stefan George and Yeats (who, to be fair, wrote as beautifully about Robert Gregory alive as he elegised him dead). Reading between the lines, as Mendelson points out, we can see that the character of Mittenhofer is also drawn, interestingly, from Auden himself. He has indecipherable handwriting, for example, and in one of his poems `Ports' is misread as `Poets', reversing Isherwood's mistake in "Journey to Iceland" (though, unlike Mittenhofer, Auden gladly accepted what Providence had offered). Mittenhofer's aesthetic villainy comes across as melodramatic in cold print, and the moral issue consequently trivialised as compared (say) to its exploration in The Sea and the Mirror; but, as has been said, that is what we might expect without the music: Verdi's Iago looks fairly idiotic on the page, but proves terrifying once sung. Certainly, one could believe Mittenhofer capable of the most wretched kinds of brutality were he ever to become Führer (he seems to hold some kind of court post already); though, as Auden and Kallman take care to point out in their introduction, `this does not mean that we think his outrageous behaviour an Austrian characteristic', other Austrian examples not being hard to think of.

The libretti have always enjoyed rather less currency than the plays, and this exemplary and enjoyable volume should put them where they belong, a large and integral part of the corpus. It contains one undisputed masterpiece, and a cluster of other texts that, as Mendelson says, `surpass everything written for the musical theatre in English'. What other twentieth-century poet could match so wide and diverse a body of work? We look forward, greedily, to the next instalment.


Seamus Perry is Sir Walter Oakeshott Junior Research Fellow in English Literature at Lincoln College, Oxford.

Stan Smith (ed.), Critical Survey: Auden, VI-3 (1994), OUP.

It was, I think, Spender who defined literary criticism as a conversation about writers' works going on behind their backs. We have moved on since then. While the conversation continues, the voices are louder, there are many more of them, more "lerid" as well as more "lewed", and the writers sometimes figure less as honoured guests than as the hired help whose offerings of wine and canapés only momentarily distract the critical party-goers from their primary interest - the in-depth analysis of each other's analyses. Stan Smith's Auden number of Critical Survey makes an agreeable exception. Several contributors are themselves poets, and what the whole group writes about is Auden's poems. Not, of course, that their author would have listened to a word of even these literary-critical conversations. Yet such intelligent prompting to re-read his work could hardly have displeased, even if the pretty comprehensive ignoring of the clue to all the post-1940 writing - "Our grief is not Greek...we are not to despair" - might have prompted some exasperation. But though the main emphasis falls on the earlier writing, with two pieces about The Orators and two others mainly about the Thirties poems, work from Nones, The Shield of Achilles, and Homage to Clio figure prominently in the rest. It is a relief to know that Larkin's funereal lament over Auden's unserious "American" poetry - it "no longer touches our imaginations" - has been so convincingly set aside.

Writing on The Orators, both Robert Crawford and Stan Smith (as well as editing the issue, he contributes this essay) ingeniously slide around the fact that this strange work is considerably less than the sum of its parts, or as Auden later wrote, "a case of the fair notion, fatally injured". Crawford develops the idea that amongst its other satirical targets we need to include "English Studies". As the first English poet to undergo the searing torment of a University degree course in Eng. Lit., Auden got his own back in The Orators, mercilessly parodying the idiom and voices of educational institutions, not excluding those of I. A. Richards, a critic Auden admired, but whose headmasterly categorisation of poor readers of poetry in Practical Criticism supplied him with further models of institutional arrogance. But Auden, being himself a teacher and, as his friends found out, having a strong pedagogical drive, the mockery was also self-directed, and Crawford finds this doubled relationship with education prophetic of today's situation where, as writers and readers, we are all "inside and outside the institutional, academic literary system". True enough, if also historically myopic. When, one bemusedly wonders, were poets wholly on the outside? The Georgians, perhaps, but before them? The mere question conjures up a perfect swarm of offended poetical ghosts whose anger might, though, be placated by Smith's more substantial piece, and especially its proposal that The Orators was Auden's reply to The Waste Land.

Where Eliot's allusive method is haughily elitist, in its difficult obscurity, in its claim to utter universal human truths from the cultural centre, Auden's use of it is farcical, anti-metropolitan, and democratic. Prayers to popular-fictional detectives, random scattering of the names of personal friends and little-known thinkers - "loony Layard" being the celebrated example - details from provincial Glasgow's dormitory-suburb Helensburgh, whose streets, residents and businesses were familiar only to Auden, add up to a sustained mockery of Eliot's cultural authoritarianism. Nitty-gritty research into sources like the Helensburgh Gazette allows Smith to display a trump card. Identifying the hitherto mysterious "Bill Bryden", whose account the Airman in his third-but-last Diary entry reminds himself to settle, he proposes this printer-stationer monopolist of Helensburgh's means of social communication as a small-town version of the tyrant Beethameer. Smith also argues for the work's scornfully specific allusion to the national political scene of August 1931, the collapse of Ramsey Macdonald's Labour Government and the subsequent landslide victory for the National Government with its "doctor's mandate" for the cure of England's sicknesses. This, and much else, has its absorbing interest, though one has to add that such careful attention to referentiality is difficult to square with Smith's hailing of the work as "postmodern", while over his unhappy devotion to that literary-historical chimera, roaming the land and seeking whom it may devour under the name of "Modernism" - there is no shortage of victims, the creature lives well - it is best to draw a tactful veil.

Douglas Dunn makes strikingly good sense about "Auden and Political Poetry". In Auden's response to the Thirties, he identifies two conflicting impulses: the imaginative v. the ideological. The economic and political crises gave enjoyable scope for the first, as in his many variations on the doom-laden "Leave for Cape Wrath tonight" note. (Empson, with direct experience of the Sino-Japanese war, was to identify this trait as boyishly melodramatic.) It was also the source of Auden's most memorable writing - witty, denunciatory, mischievous, satirical - above all, formally brilliant. Yet the anarchic texture of such poems is structurally contradicted by the language and arguments of his second response, the discourse of the public-spirited citizen-poet making his affirmative contribution to a solution of the crises. "Spain 1937", Dunn suggests, is the paradigm case. Moreover, a certain hollowness in this public language, the uncertainty about where Auden exactly stood in relation to the Communist analysis which the poems either affirmed, or at least found simpatico, was both opposed and complemented by his search for an authentic private happiness, evident in "A Summer Night" and other lyrical pieces. Dunn finds that these contradictions, already implicit in Poems (1930), surface during the middle of the decade, and point towards the final withdrawal from engagement announced in "September 1, 1939", prompting the further thought that the line in that poem truly crying out for a revision Auden chose to avoid is that containing the phrase "low dishonest decade". All political choices have their murky consequences, but of those posed by the Thirties, that of the Popular Front was not, after all, the self-evidently dishonourable candidate. Might it not be that the famously perjorative adjectives, so satisfying to later Cold Warriors, level at the decade charges whose more appropriate target was the uncertain character of his own past commitment? Projected uneasiness of this kind would, at any rate, account both for the line's polemical moralising and, when he later revised the poem, his not attending to this particular "dishonesty". Over-all, Dunn's argument is particularly attractive in its refusal to push the poetry aside in favour of "themes", "ideas", and "information", and perhaps drawing on his own experience, in its general suggestion that Auden's difficulty confronts all poets for whom contemporary politics are important: how to reconcile creative response to it as subject-matter with a chosen ideological position.

In "Faking and Making in Some Poems...", Michael O'Neill engages the main difficulty admirers of Auden's later poetry have to face up to: producing a great deal of it, he nevertheless built into its tone and structure his conviction that poetry is "small beer". Why then should he want us to read it? Having concluded that poetic pleasure was deeply suspect, that poetry was a form of magic and that for readers to enjoy it meant entering a world of illusion, why did he not confine himself to a form of writing better fitted to carry out the other half of the Horatian formula, to wit "instructional" essays?

Essays, of course, there were, and many of them, but having still enough faith in poetry's ability to convey essential truths, Auden developed a kind that incorporated his balancing doubt about their likely success. "Skilled verse is the art of a profound sceptic" - guided by Valery's aperçu (which Auden cites in A Certain World) O'Neill comments with memorable perception on such poems as "The Cave of Making", "The Truest Poetry is the Most Feigning", and "The Shield of Achilles", the complexity of whose truth, one might say, is to be found less in the ideas they incorporate than in the silences they point to. He brings out their continuity with what he calls Auden's propensity for "higher gossip about feelings and values", in tones usually witty and engaging, sometimes arch, sometimes plain excruciating ("Lakes" provides my prime exhibit: "just reeling off their names is ever so comfy"), as his way of refusing solemnity about the whole poetic craft. And if this account, by leaving on one side such didactic works as The Age of Anxiety and For the Time Being, tells only part of the story, looking back to Dunn's analysis, one can see that the earlier mismatch of structure and texture has been transformed, the former now reflecting profound convictions which hold in check the latter's potential for mischievous subversion. In an admirable phrase, O'Neill rightly reminds us of the "uncomplacent sadness in Auden's laughter", and more generally of the sustained decency and generosity of his moralising, qualities that above all and at any level of interest, make him the most re-readable of modern poets.

Glyn Maxwell writes interestingly about "Bucolics", as does Mark Currie about Auden's subtle use in his later work of the Adamic myth of prelapsarian innocence, though the argument is sometimes muffled by adventitious intellectual "noise". Invoking both Derrida and Raymond Williams, he concludes that "if the successful transmission of truth in a discourse is a prelapsarian ideal, it would be a mistake to extract from Auden some coherent political programme, or some subtle reconciliation of his Christianity with his socialism." Nodding obediently, if also wondering whether anyone has been so misguided as to commit this blunder, the reader nevertheless remains puzzled by Currie's sidelining of the poet's dogmatic certainties. In his comments on "Memorial for a City", he seems to forget its central paradox of the felix culpa, and in an acute discussion of the debate in "Vespers" between the Arcadian and the Utopian he ignores its formidably explicit conclusion - both Christian and political - that "without a cement of blood (it must be human, it must be innocent) no secular wall will safely stand." Currie, in effect, abstracts his challenging theme from the theological context in which the poems embed it, and recalling Auden's own plea that criticism should above all concentrate on illuminating its subject, one is tempted to quote Beckett's advice: "Try again. Fail again. Fail better."


Graham Martin is Professor of English at The Open University.

Auden, Richard Davenport-Hines (Heinemann, 406pp., £20).

Auden often indicated his wish not to be the subject of a biography. As early as 1936, while still in his twenties, he and Louis MacNeice, in "Their Last Will and Testament" proposed to "leave or rather fling" their "pudenda" at their future biographers and Auden asked the recipients of his letters to destroy them, a request which most, fortunately, ignored. But Davenport-Hines noted in his article in Newsletter # 13 that Auden believed writers' biographies could be justifiable because "the ways in which [writers] 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."

Auden as a biography meets this criterion more than most in that it is a thematic rather than a detailed account of Auden's life. Davenport-Hines wisely does not attempt to repeat the chronological detail of Humphrey Carpenter's earlier Auden biography: a redundancy which some other biographers fall into (Selina Hastings' biography of Evelyn Waugh follows very closely in the footsteps of Martin Stannard's study, for example). Auden delves deeper into those aspects of Auden's life and philosophy which Davenport-Hines perceives as pivotal to the poet's career. He stresses the significant influence of his father, in contrast to the emphasis often given to Constance, his mother. He traces the origins of Auden's return to Christianity in his experiences in Spain in 1937 and in China in 1938; whereas many see the reconversion stemming from Auden's reaction to his emigration to New York in 1939 and to his mother's death in 1941.

The search for synthesis and unity is also emphasised, and a connection made between this quest and Auden's renewed embrace of Christianity. Whilst acknowledging Yeats as both a "father-figure" of Auden, and also one he repudiated later in acts of "filial usurpation", Davenport-Hines does not dwell on their similar pursuit of unity - moral and social on the one hand and aesthetic on the other. But he rightly emphasises Auden's China sonnets and "Commentary" in Journey to a War as a "synthesis of human nature" and as such some of the most significant poetry of the decade; as was recognised by contemporary reviewers like Geoffrey Grigson and William Plomer. Though perhaps, in praising "Isherwood's meticulous reportage" in the prose commentary of Journey to a War, he understates Auden's contribution. Whole sections of this commentary were taken from Auden's diary and hardly changed by Isherwood; as is revealed by a comparison of the text with, for example, Auden's diary manuscript of their stay in Hankow (stored in the Manuscript Department of the British Library.).

Another theme touched upon by Davenport-Hines is Auden's class-consciousness, especially his droit de seigneur attitude to sex with "the lower classes". Gore Vidal, in his recent autobiography, Palimpsest, reiterates this trait of Auden's, claiming Auden harangued him on the subject of class and quoting from Edmund Wilson's diaries Auden's reported sorrow at not having been to Eton.

Many of Auden's poems are given a new gloss by his biographer's careful research. The debts of The Orators to Auden's Berlin experience are made clear; a Proustian influence is detected in "A shilling life will give you all the facts"; Auden's contemporary experience is emphasised in "September 1, 1939". Davenport-Hines suggests, in what to me is a new reading, that Auden intended a comparison between New York City and limestone terrain in "In Praise of Limestone" because the former is composed of cultural differences and hidden relationships - though I had assumed "the nude young male" of the original version to be a veiled reference to the younger Kallman. The influence of Coué and Thouless is seen in "The Secret Agent"; "Partition" is seen to be possibly, in part, autobiographical. "Rois Fainéants" it is suggested, satirises Auden; the public poetic celebrity reflecting the impotent grandeur of the Merovingian kings. These are just some examples of the novelty and breadth of reading Davenport-Hines brings to this book, without attempting to read meanings beyond those that the poet could have intended. As he says, he tries to interpret Auden's words, never to re-interpret them.

In only one area would I quarrel with the actuality of this laudable objective. In his Prologue, Davenport-Hines states that Auden's vision of violence in 1936 was one of "the decisive instants of his life". This I interpret as referring to his experience of "the waking nightmare of the whaling station" where he and his fellow-travellers saw whales being processed in Iceland. Undoubtedly this was a shattering experience at the time but was it so decisive as Davenport-Hines suggests? Some of the evidence for the decisiveness is not sourced: Auden's "short, sharp" craze for whales or the "other poems" reminiscent of the "callous ditties" being played by the wireless at the whaling station, for example. This evidence could have been strengthened. It is surely erroneous to state "The whale stood as a metaphor for human concerns in an epoch of `external disorder and extravagant lies', he wrote in 1936." This implies that Auden, not Davenport-Hines made the connection. In fact this quotation is from the epigraph to Look, Stranger!, addressed to Erika Mann, whom he married the year previously so that she could obtain a British passport and evade the Nazi regime. Quoted in full, this epigraph surely has a different context:

If Auden had a "decisive" vision of violence, would it not have been more likely to have occurred in Spain in 1937; or, more likely still, in China in 1938, when he wrote the sonnet about the dead soldier "Far from a cultural centre he was used"?

If this is a blemish, it is a small one in such a thoughtful and catholic embrace of Auden's development. The later Auden is traced without dwelling overmuch on the sudden deterioration of person and poet, but without avoiding the sad detail either; his personal self-destruction mirroring the repetitive pronouncements and didactic monologues which came to stand for conversation. But the impression one is left with is of an immense intellect, of, to paraphrase the author "a vastly more complex mind than our own."

A final thought on photographs, both Auden's own and the ones of him selected for this book. Davenport-Hines refers where relevant to the photographs Auden took on his trips to Iceland and China, sadly not reproduced by Faber in their reprints of Journey to a War and Letters From Iceland. This is a necessary reminder of their overall quality and relevance to the accompanying text. In Auden the photographs are refreshingly well selected, many published, I believe, for the first time. They provide an important visual commentary on the topics developed in the book and the captions are especially well-written and relevant.


Thekla Clark. Wystan and Chester: A Personal Memoir of W. H. Auden and Chester Kallman. 130 pp. Faber and Faber. £12.99. ISBN 0-571-17591-0

Auden had a great gift for friendship, if not for romantic love, and sketches and memoirs by those who belonged to one or another of his multiple circles of acquaintance - from the academic, the familial, the gay, the poetic, the medical, and the intellectual all the way to the late "little anglo-american | musico-literary set" - have accumulated rapidly. Here is yet another book by a friend; though it is not like one by any of the others.

Thekla Clark, an Oklahoman visiting and then living in Europe, knew Auden and Kallman well from 1951 until Auden and Kallman's deaths in, respectively, 1973 and 1975. Auden was sufficiently fond of her that, one day in 1952, while they were wandering along drunk after an Ischian dinner party, he suddenly proposed to her. (Auden, who once called marriage "the only subject," made periodic offers of marriage throughout his life; Clark writes that, contrary to purist legend, he also had many "crushes" on, and several affairs with, women.) It could never have worked (Auden told her that any son they had would be called Chester) and both soon managed to laugh off the suggestion. So Clark was, as she straightforwardly says, neither a "sister, nor lover nor fellow poet." But she, and subsequently her third husband John, became so important to both Auden and Kallman that, in 1964, when Auden wrote "For Friends Only," the poem about the guest bedroom in his Austrian farmhouse, he chose them as the dedicatees, his archetypes of the ideal friends.

This is Thekla Clark's first book, and she is certainly not, and would probably not claim to be, an verbal artist of the same calibre as other friends of Auden like Oliver Sacks or Robert Craft. But if literary quality is any augury of success, Wystan and Chester ought to do better than many of the earlier Auden memoirs. Relaxed, tolerant, lively (if occasionally slightly arch), Clark's writing is far more perceptive than that of most memorializers.

Because her affectionate essay is a distillation of a more than 20-year friendship with one of the century's major poets - and, poignantly, with one of its minor ones too - it has an automatic importance. Besides being a great writer, Auden was a brilliant conversationalist, and Clark, who has a good memory and a fine sense of narrative timing, is able to get down on paper some interesting remarks by Auden which would otherwise have gone unrecorded. I particularly liked her account of a gloomy walk with him in 1957 during which he talked about his sense of the rootlessness of his experience both as a male, as an expatriate, and, it is implied, as a homosexual. On the comic side, there is also a bravura account of Auden and Clark's visit to Bernard Berenson's mansion, I Tatti, outside Florence. Afterwards, still choking on the exquisite expensiveness of Berenson's taste, Auden commented that he had been longing to secrete somewhere in the depths of the house a satin pillow embroidered with the words "Souvenir of Atlantic City." Wystan and Chester is a book that can make you laugh out loud.

On a more mundane level, one factor which makes the volume particularly valuable for Auden scholarship is that the site for the early stages of Clark's friendship with Auden and Kallman, the Italian island of Ischia, has so far only been very patchily covered in the main biographies. More information about Auden's summertime, Mediterranean world was badly needed, and Wystan and Chester goes a long way towards supplying it. In the Fifties the island was a kind of holiday camp (in both senses of the word) for many literary and artistic figures, including Tennessee Williams, so Clark's social portrait will also be relevant to scholars interested in other writers besides Auden. She provides details about Auden's circle on Ischia and she is excellent at evoking the gentle rhythms and cozily grubby circumstances of his daily life there. In the second half of her book she also adds valuable information about Auden's later, better-documented existence in Austria.

These anecdotal and documentary elements are the lucky unearned returns from intimacy with a famous person. But Thekla Clark's memoir rises above merely reverent reportage. What is most impressive about her book is its psychological acumen and novelistic vividness. Auden is presented as a convincingly complicated character, swayed by strange passions, enthusiasms, and moods, his leaps of thoughts more poetically intuitive than strictly logical; and Clark registers the changes in his state of mind over the years sensitively. Her writing about him is always loving and candid - she is unusually clear-eyed about his genius as well as his foibles. (Most previous memoirists captured the weaknesses more easily than the strengths.)

However, the real emotional centre of the book lies in its empathy with the secondary and the frustrated. The element that gives Wystan and Chester its true importance is the superb portrait that Clark draws of Chester Kallman. Besides accounts of his conversations and his hilarious theatrical set-pieces, she includes a couple of Kallman's by no means negligible poems. (James Fenton in a graceful introduction adds some generous touches of his own to the book's complex portrait of Kallman.) In many respects, the result is unique in its acuity and balance, belonging alongside classic portrayals of "human unsuccess" in the literary sphere like Johnson's Life of Mr Richard Savage and Martin Amis's witty but sympathetic essay on the horrible John Braine. Until now, Kallman has usually been described by writers on Auden in uncomplimentary terms, the feckless object of a great poet's inexplicable affection. This time though he gets something much more like a brilliant case for the defence. Clark changes and deepens the picture considerably and her portrait of him - with his verbal brilliance, his sensitivity, his fantastical campiness, his pessimistic wit and his colossal self-destructiveness - is a literary achievement in its own right. "To the outsider," she writes, "his face could have been read as debauched, but to us it was anguish." Clark shares her sense of the anguish with us, though she also immortalizes some wonderful, and very funny, remarks by the person who once justifiably signed himself in a letter to her as "L'Homme qui rit."

Wystan and Chester is not a complete record of Auden and Kallman's life during the period in which Clark knew them both. Living in Europe, Clark has very little knowledge of Auden's artistic world in New York. Nor does she devote any space or serious attention to analyzing Auden's poems: this is explicitly not a critical book and the many illuminating connections between Clark's narrative and Auden's poems will have to be made by the readers of the book themselves; the author, perhaps rightly, does not see that as part of her job. Nonetheless, the links are there: for instance, the contents of that 1957 talk about rootlessness which I commended earlier provide an interesting gloss on Auden's delphic phrase in the poem "In Praise of Limestone" about "we, the inconstant ones."

The late, Johnsonian Auden, heavily in evidence in Clark's book, wanted poetry to be about truth-telling. But one of the best (and saddest) moments in Wystan and Chester concerns a bit of evasiveness in Auden's work. In "For Friends Only," Auden declares that one of the reasons why he hopes guests will value their stay in Kirchstetten is that he and Kallman will provide a sympathetic, intimate audience for them. If "lovers are ... behaving badly," "we" will listen to confessions, he says, "Examine and give our counsel." But Clark describes a different reality. In the evenings, Auden, bound like one of Dante's circling sinners to his purgatorial routines, would retire to bed (usually "nodding drunk"). Then, far from Kirchstetten visits being occasions for the guests to unburden themselves to the hosts, the guests were conscripted as confessors and therapists for Kallman. Clark describes the long nights when her husband would stay up late listening to Kallman discussing all the slights he had endured from friends and lovers, and running through all his rages, fantasies, and disappointments.

Truth and love can never really differ, says Auden in another poem in the "Thanksgiving for a Habitat" sequence. But when they seem to, he concludes that "the subaltern should be truth." It is Thekla Clark's achievement in Wystan and Chester to have promoted both truth and love to Officer status, especially in her picture of "Poor Chester" who "died miserably and alone and much, much too young."


Wystan and Chester is to be published in America by Columbia University Press.

Notes and Queries

New Year Letter

Dear Editor,

Can any of your learned readers identify a couple of allusions in "New Year Letter" which, so far as I can tell, have eluded the vigilance of the poet's commentators from John Fuller onwards? Here is the passage from Part 1, ll. 368-82:

Labellière gains an entry in neither the Oxford Companion to French Literature nor Larousse. Nor, unsurprisingly, does the Bank Nun figure in the DNB. Perhaps they are so well-known that no-one has thought they needed identifying? If so, this admirer of the poem has to confess a shameful ignorance and to hope for enlightenment.


"Pressan Ambo" and "Sampson" identified?

After reading my piece in Newsletter No. 12, a friend has pointed out that the line "Life lurked there, evil, envious, out of its epoch", from the unpublished epic "In the year of my youth...", recurs in The Dog Beneath the Skin as: "And Life lurks, evil, out of its epoch". The first time it is describing the Northumberland village of Blanchland, the second "Pressan Ambo". God clearly meant me to miss what seems a clinching identification.

On the subject of "In the year of my youth...", it occurs to me that the name Sampson, given to Auden's dream companion, and not otherwise accounted for, may have a rather amusing derivation. The 1ft. 10 in. gauge locomotive which ran between the Cornish Hush mine at Frosterley in Weardale and the Whitfield Bow dressing floors - part of the London Lead Company's Bollihope development - was called "Sampson". It was built in 1847 by Stephen Lewin at the Poole Foundry, Dorset.

There is a picture of this toy-like engine, looking endearingly dignified, on p. 88 of Life and Work of the Northern Lead Miner, by Arthur Raistrick and Arthur Roberts (Alan Sutton: 1984, 1990).

I am happy to report that the holiday brochure for Wear Valley Council (Weardale, incidentally, is the highest inhabited dale in England), now mentions Auden's name, along with that of Sir Walter Scott, in connection with Rookhope. The North Pennine Tourist Partnership in Alston is also in touch with BBC TV about a possible "Bookworm" programme on Auden and his "Mutterland". Things are looking up.


Myers' Literary Guide: The North East, which contains a section on Auden, is published by Carcanet at £9.95 [ISBN 1 85754 1995 (Carcanet)].

The source of Auden's "Musée des Beaux Arts"?

"...And even more extraordinary is the behaviour of the woodmen and the shepherd and the cowherds. Murder is being done within a yard or two of them, and they pay absolutely no attention....But here, in this quiet glade `twixt Milan and Como, on this quiet, sun-steeped afternoon in early Spring, with a horrible outrage being committed under their very eyes, these callous clowns pursue their absurd avocations, without so much as resting for one moment to see what is going on."

"Words for Pictures: `Peter the Dominican',
a painting by Giovanni Bellini, in the National Gallery",
Yet Again
by Max Beerbohm, 1909.


Editor's Notes

Norman Williams, a Society member and previous contributor, writes to suggest that The Ascent of F6 contains coded references to Czechoslovakia and to the threat posed to it by its Sudetan German minority. Blavek, the leader of the rival expedition, may be derived from an obsolete Czech word, Blavanka, meaning "Prussian Blue". Williams cites a number of instances where words in this play could have a Czech origin, especially in the monk's chant (Act II, Scene I). The suggestion that the line "Kang ku gar, bari baroda" contains a veiled reference to St. Barbara, the patron saint of armourers, is possibly less convincing.
Another member, John Bridgen, asks for assistance from Society membership in the publication of his book Humphrey Moore: Public Schoolmaster, Naturalist, Poet, which he hopes to have published by Lutterworth Press at £27.50. As a poet, Moore was strongly influenced by the early Auden, particularly in his imagery and style. He was a friend of Frank McEachran and met Auden in the latter's company. Members can express support for the publication of this book by either making a sponsoring contribution or by indicating their interest in purchasing the book upon publication. For details please contact The Lutterworth Press, P. O. Box 60, Cambridge CB1 2NT.
John Fuller considers the influence of the maternal relationship and the "Mother" symbol on Auden's poetry in his Kenneth Allott lecture "Pleasing Ma: The Poetry of W. H. Auden". This lecture is now published by Liverpool Classical Monthly No. 9 (1995). Copies can be obtained from them at Blackburn's Building, Great Newton Street, The University, P. O. Box 147, Liverpool L69 3BX.
The University of Bristol Opera successfully presented a fully staged version of Britten and Auden's Paul Bunyan at The Victoria Rooms, Bristol, from 15-17 February 1996. The Friday night performance, which I attended together with four hundred other patrons, was both lively and enthusiastic. Owen Leech conducted an orchestra which did justice to Britten's score. The cast was led by Richard Dearsley as Johnny Inkslinger, Conchita Perez as Tiny and the dapper Ong Yin Loong as Hot Biscuit Slim. Congratulations to Alistair Park for directing a successful production. He has promised to put together some thoughts on producing this opera, despite Auden's casual and idiosyncratic stage directions and production notes, for the next issue of this Newsletter.

Memberships and Subscriptions

May we respectfully remind members whose subscription renewals are still outstanding that this Newsletter will continue to flourish only with their active support and cooperation. Thanks to all members who responded to our renewal request last time.
The W. H. Auden Society itself will thrive if it can attract new members. Annual subscriptions, which include two issues of the Newsletter, are as follows:

Individual members £6 $10

Institutions £9 $15

Students £3 $6

Any member who introduces a new subscriber will receive an twelve-month extension to his/her own subscription.
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 or checks (payable to "The W. H. Auden Society") to Katherine Bucknell, 78 Clarendon Road, London W11 2HW, England. Receipts on request.
Nicholas Jenkins is moving to Cambridge this summer to join the Harvard English Department. Please do not send checks or correspondence to his old address; I will advise his new address in our next issue.

From the Editor

A founding member of the Society, Joseph Brodsky, died recently. We are greatly saddened by his passing and will include an appreciation in our next issue.

I would be pleased to receive letters on any subject, but especially relating to this issue, or any articles or items for inclusion in future Newsletters. If any member knows of books or articles soon to be published, please let me know so that I can notice them and, if possible, arrange for them to be reviewed. 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.
All writings by W. H. Auden Copyright 1996 by The Estate of W. H. Auden.
All writings by Lincoln Kirstein Copyright 1996 by the New York Public Library (Astor, Lenox and Tilden Foundations).

Return to home page or to top of this page or to general contents page.