History of English Literature, Volume 8 - eBook

From the Late Inter-War Years to 2010

by Franco Marucci (Author)
©2019 Monographs 1428 Pages
Series: History of English Literature, Volume 8


For ordering the hardcover version of this book, please contact orders@peterlang.com (Retail Price: £100.00, $151.90).
History of English Literature is a comprehensive, eight-volume survey of English literature from the Middle Ages to the early twenty-first century. This reference work provides insightful and often revisionary readings of core texts in the English literary canon. Richly informative analyses are framed by the biographical, historical and intellectual context for each author.
Volume 8 continues with the 1920s and the 1930s, when the Depression, the Spanish Civil War, Fascist dictatorships, and the threat of a second war challenged apolitical Modernism. Poets led by Auden, novelists like Orwell and figures such as Lawrence of Arabia defined the period. By the end of the Second World War, a realist, satirical or comic tradition resurfaces in the novel, while in poetry the affirmation of a pre-war neo-Romantic vein, especially with Dylan Thomas, is reacted against by various movements that lead poetry back to the common man. Two important years are 1953, when Waiting for Godot by Beckett is staged, and 1956, when Look Back in Anger by Osborne gives life to the ‘angry’ novel and theatre. Extensive discussions not only of writers now become classics (Doris Lessing, Iris Murdoch, Heaney, Hill and Ted Hughes) but also of other leading ones (such as Salman Rushdie, Martin Amis and Ian McEwan) are included.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • List of abbreviations
  • § 1. English literature from the late inter-war years to 2010
  • § 2. From reconstruction to desocialization
  • Part I Writers against Totalitarian Regimes
  • § 3. Auden I: The burnt-out meteor. Militancy and disengagement in the leader of the poets of the 1930s
  • § 4. Auden II: Cabaret theatre
  • § 5. Auden III: Solipsism shaken by the call to action
  • § 6. Auden IV: Poetry until 1939
  • § 7. Auden V: An emigrant from the islands
  • § 8. Auden VI: The post-war age of anxiety
  • § 9. Auden VII: Uncollected poems until 1957
  • § 10. AudenVIII: The critic
  • § 11. Auden IX: The songbook of the passé intellectual
  • § 12. Auden X: Opera librettos
  • § 13. Isherwood I: The Berlin sagas
  • § 14. Isherwood II: The painful and doubtful awareness of diversity
  • § 15. Spender I: The imperious question: ‘Why do I write?’
  • § 16. Spender II: Romantic heroism between the wars
  • § 17. MacNeice I: A communist supporter without a party card
  • § 18. MacNeice II: The Autumn calendars
  • § 19. Day Lewis I: Anthems and choruses of the marching proletariat
  • § 20. Day Lewis II: Poems of political disillusion
  • § 21. Orwell I: The safeguard of intellectual integrity
  • § 22. Orwell II: Evolution of his political and aesthetic thinking
  • § 23. Orwell III: The reportages
  • § 24. Orwell IV: Burmese Days. Outcasts in Burma
  • § 25. Orwell V: A Clergyman’s Daughter
  • § 26. Orwell VI: Keep the Aspidistra Flying
  • § 27. Orwell VII: Coming Up for Air. Petit bourgeois hedonism gains awareness
  • § 28. Orwell VIII: Animal Farm. Stalinism unmasked
  • § 29. Orwell IX: Nineteen Eighty-Four. The last man, the last humanist
  • § 30. Caudwell
  • § 31. T. E. Lawrence
  • Part II The Novel after Modernism
  • § 32. Huxley I: The retaliation of evolutionism
  • § 33. Huxley II: The wasted youth of the 1920s
  • § 34. Huxley III: Brave New World. God ousted by Ford
  • § 35. Huxley IV: Ataraxic detachment from the world and history
  • § 36. Huxley V: Dystopian fantasies
  • § 37. Bowen I: Irish enchantments
  • § 38. Bowen II: Covert dramas of dreaming adolescence
  • § 39. Bowen III: Chill and hallucination before and during the war
  • § 40. Bowen IV: Childhood: memories and nostalgia
  • § 41. Green I: Idiosyncrasies of an auxiliary modernist
  • § 42. Green II: Early experiments in the documentary and fantastic genres
  • § 43. Green III: Satires, parodies and burlesques in enclosed microcosms
  • § 44. Hartley
  • § 45. Waugh I: Farces of an unredeemed world
  • § 46. Waugh II: The explosion of comedy
  • § 47. Waugh III: Brideshead Revisited. The twitch upon the thread
  • § 48. Waugh IV: The war trilogy
  • § 49. Greene I: The tussle with God
  • § 50. Greene II: Siding with Judas
  • § 51. Greene III: Brighton Rock. The satanic saint
  • § 52. Greene IV: The Power and the Glory. The theology of the repentant thief
  • § 53. Greene V: The Heart of the Matter. The judge judged
  • § 54. Greene VI: Novels of espionage and exoticism
  • § 55. Greene VII: The human factor
  • § 56. Snow I: Humanism and science join forces
  • § 57. Snow II: Strangers and Brothers. Intrigues of politics and academic life
  • § 58. Powell I: Farces on impotence and power
  • § 59. Powell II: A Dance to the Music of Time I. Refined entertainments for a relaxed intelligentsia
  • § 60. Powell III: A Dance to the Music of Time II. Splendours and miseries of the bourgeoisie
  • § 61. Powell IV: A Dance to the Music of Time III. Rise and fall of the arriviste
  • § 62. Cary
  • § 63. Lowry
  • § 64. Durrell I: The mythographer of ageless cities
  • § 65. Durrell II: Prospero’s flight
  • § 66. Durrell III: The Alexandria Quartet
  • § 67. Durrell IV: The Avignon postlude
  • § 68. Minor novelists between the two world wars
  • Part III Poetry until the 1980s
  • § 69. Dylan Thomas I: ‘Shut in a tower of words’
  • § 70. Dylan Thomas II: Hallucinations of genesis
  • § 71. Dylan Thomas III: The Map of Love
  • § 72. Dylan Thomas IV: Faith overturned
  • § 73. Dylan Thomas V: Under Milk Wood
  • § 74. Surrealist and New Apocalyptic poets
  • § 75. The Movement ‘and after’
  • § 76. Larkin I: Novels and early poems
  • § 77. Larkin II: The exquisite miniaturist
  • § 78. Gunn I: The celebration of entropy
  • § 79. Gunn II: Stasis and motion
  • § 80. Gunn III: Gunn ‘on the road’
  • § 81. Jennings, Davie
  • § 82. Empson
  • § 83. Richards, Leavis
  • § 84. Tomlinson
  • § 85. Betjeman
  • § 86. Ted Hughes I: The force of nature
  • § 87. Ted Hughes II: Autobiography and self-mythologizing
  • § 88. Ted Hughes III: The bestiaries
  • § 89. Ted Hughes IV: Crow
  • § 90. Ted Hughes V: Diaries of farm life
  • § 91. Ted Hughes VI: Poems on fish and flowers
  • § 92. Hill I: After the fall
  • § 93. Hill II: Reservations on the votive word
  • § 94. Hill III: The Mercian Hymns
  • § 95. Hill IV: Tenebrae and The Mystery of the Charity of Charles Péguy
  • § 96. Hill V: Ventriloquist digressions on unredeemed history
  • Part IV Regional Literatures
  • § 97. Muir
  • § 98. MacDiarmid
  • § 99. The Scottish Renaissance
  • § 100. Irish poetry after Yeats
  • § 101. Welsh poetry
  • Part V The Theatre of the Absurd, the ‘Angry Young Men’, and Political Theatre
  • § 102. Coward I: The prancing, fatuous middle class
  • § 103. Coward II: Three case studies of marriage
  • § 104. Coward III: Operettas and dream-like plays
  • § 105. Beckett I: Stations of ‘negative anthropology’
  • § 106. Beckett II: The art of mathematics
  • § 107. Beckett III: The mock-heroics of Belacqua
  • § 108. Beckett IV: The narrative trilogy
  • § 109. Beckett V: Watt
  • § 110. Beckett VI: The tetralogy of the absurd
  • § 111. Beckett VII: Multimedial and minimalist theatre
  • § 112. Beckett VIII: The ‘short prose’ and the mirlitonnades
  • § 113. Simpson, Nichols
  • § 114. The ‘angry young men’ and the theatrical revolution of the 1950s and after
  • § 115. Kingsley Amis
  • § 116. Sillitoe
  • § 117. Other ‘angry’ novelists
  • § 118. Osborne I: Invective and regret in Look Back in Anger
  • § 119. Osborne II: Other plays for lead actors
  • § 120. Delaney, Jellicoe
  • § 121. Pinter I: Post-Beckettian atmospheres and resonances
  • § 122. Pinter II: Protection and aggression of the stateless man
  • § 123. Pinter III: The self-deceptions of memory
  • § 124. Pinter IV: The shorts
  • § 125. Wesker I: The half-spent torch of socialism
  • § 126. Wesker II: Later plays of a marginalized Jew
  • § 127. Arden I: Showstopping ambivalences
  • § 128. Arden II: The sextet of major works
  • § 129. Arden III: Co-produced political theatre outside circuits
  • § 130. Bond I: Sermons of non-violence?
  • § 131. Bond II: The iconoclastic early plays
  • § 132. Bond III: Exotic parables on the theme of power
  • § 133. Bond IV: History’s missed opportunities
  • § 134. Bond V: Human survival in the post-atomic future
  • § 135. Orton
  • § 136. Shaffer
  • § 137. Behan
  • Part VI Contemporary Writers
  • § 138. Angus Wilson I: Velleities and ineptitudes of the managing class
  • § 139. Angus Wilson II: The Old Men at the Zoo
  • § 140. Golding I: Tales of primitiveness I. Lord of the Flies
  • § 141. Golding II: Tales of primitiveness II. The Inheritors and Pincher Martin
  • § 142. Golding III: The Spire. The devil in the cathedral
  • § 143. Golding IV: Transitional fantasies and satires
  • § 144. Golding V: The end of the ancien régime
  • § 145. Rhys
  • § 146. Murdoch I: The inquiry into the intelligibility of reality
  • § 147. Murdoch II: Case studies of psychic dependence
  • § 148. Murdoch III: The Red and the Green and the reinterpretation of Irish heroism
  • § 149. Murdoch IV: Marital infidelity
  • § 150. Murdoch V: Final studies of intellectual charisma
  • § 151. Spark I: Diabolical whims and criminal plans of a writerly god
  • § 152. Spark II: Vocal intrusions from the afterlife
  • § 153. Spark III: The prime of Miss Muriel Spark
  • § 154. Spark IV: Theological thrillers
  • § 155. Spark V: Grotesque and neo-Gothic divertissements
  • § 156. Spark VI: Last-minute variations
  • § 157. Lessing I: Lay madonnas of a novelist without faiths
  • § 158. Lessing II: Searching for one’s identity, but not finding it. The formative saga of Martha Quest
  • § 159. Lessing III: Notebooks of a disillusioned communist
  • § 160. Lessing IV: Descent into the oneiric and resurfacing to reality after 1962
  • § 161. Lessing V: Canopus in Argos. Fun and apocalypse in the science fiction cycle
  • § 162. Lessing VI: The Diaries of Jane Somers. Mutual assistance among women
  • § 163. Lessing VII: The dissolution of the family unit
  • § 164. Lessing VIII: In the beginning was the woman. Final novels from the early 2000s
  • § 165. Berger
  • § 166. Brookner
  • § 167. Fowles I: Metanarrative variations on negative existentialism
  • § 168. Fowles II: Heraclitus’ last disciple
  • § 169. Fowles III: The Collector. Playing with the ‘tempest’
  • § 170. Fowles IV: The Magus. The stuff that dreams are made on
  • § 171. Fowles V: The French Lieutenant’s Woman. A Victorian kaleidoscope
  • § 172. Fowles VI: The Ebony Tower
  • § 173. Fowles VII: Daniel Martin
  • § 174. Fowles VIII: Mantissa. A postmodern anamnesis of inspiration
  • § 175. Fowles IX: A Maggot. A historical and imaginary reconstruction of the eighteenth-century milieu
  • § 176. Burgess
  • § 177. Carter I: Fantasies and utopias
  • § 178. Carter II: Unease, anger, psychosis in the 1968 student class
  • § 179. Carter III: The diptych of novels on counter-creation
  • § 180. Carter IV: The Sadeian woman
  • § 181. Carter V: The short stories
  • § 182. Carter VI: Final extravaganzas
  • § 183. Barnes
  • § 184. Rushdie, Kureishi
  • § 185. McEwan
  • § 186. Graham Swift
  • § 187. Martin Amis
  • § 188. Ishiguro, Mo
  • § 189. Other postmodern novelists
  • § 190. Heaney I: Nostalgia for the spade
  • § 191. Heaney II: Digging into the strata of civilization
  • § 192. Heaney III: Poetry from the 1980s
  • § 193. Heaney IV: The ‘remembering machine’
  • § 194. Mahon, Muldoon
  • § 195. Harrison
  • § 196. English poetry today
  • § 197. Friel, McGahern, Banville
  • § 198. Stoppard I: A theatre of communicating vessels and of the bibliophile
  • § 199. Stoppard II: Shakespeare the catalyst
  • § 200. Stoppard III: The Real Inspector Hound, or dramatic reversibilities
  • § 201. Stoppard IV: The radio dramas
  • § 202. Stoppard V: The marriage of farce and ideas
  • § 203. Stoppard VI: The committed plays
  • § 204. Stoppard VII: The Real Thing. Dangerous liaisons
  • § 205. Stoppard VIII: History and fantasy literature
  • § 206. Stoppard IX: The trilogy on the harbingers of the Bolshevik revolution
  • § 207. Ayckbourn
  • § 208. Gray
  • § 209. Griffiths, Edgar
  • § 210. Hare, Brenton
  • § 211. Howard Barker
  • § 212. Churchill
  • § 213. Frayn
  • § 214. Alan Bennett
  • § 215. Hampton
  • Index of names
  • Thematic index

| xvii/I →

List of abbreviations

AAA J. R. Taylor, Anger and After: A Guide to the New British Drama, Harmondsworth 1963.

ATD W. Allen, Tradition and Dream: The English and American Novel from the Twenties to Our Time, London 1986.

BAUGH A Literary History of England, ed. A. C. Baugh, 4 vols, London 1967.

BRM Modernism: A Guide to European Literature 1890–1930, ed. M. Bradbury and J. McFarlane, Harmondsworth 1991 (1st edn 1976).

CAB I contemporanei – Letteratura inglese, ed. V. Amoruso and F. Binni, 2 vols, Roma 1982.

CLA M. Praz, Cronache letterarie anglosassoni, 4 vols, Roma 1951 and 1966.

CMM Modernismo / Modernismi. Dall’avanguardia storica agli anni Trenta e oltre, ed. G. Cianci, Milano 1991.

CRHE The Critical Heritage of individual authors, London, with editors and publication years indicated in the bibliographies.

DES V. De Sola Pinto, Crisis in English Poetry 1880–1940, London 1963 (1st edn 1951).

DUN D. Dunn, ‘Language and Liberty’, Introduction to The Faber Book of Twentieth-Century Scottish Poetry, ed. D. Dunn, London 1992.

HAP Hopkins Among the Poets, ed. R. F. Giles, Hamilton 1985.

HYN S. Hynes, The Auden Generation: Literature and Politics in England in the 1930s, London 1976.

IDM F. Marucci, L’inchiostro del mago. Saggi di letteratura inglese dell’Ottocento, Pisa 2009.

IZZO C. Izzo, Storia della letteratura inglese, 2 vols, Milano 1961 and 1963.

KET A. Kettle, An Introduction to the English Novel, vol. II, London 1972 (1st edn London 1953).

KPE F. Kermode, Puzzles and Epiphanies: Essays and Reviews 1958–1961, London 1962. ← xvii/I | xviii/I →

KRG F. R. Karl, A Reader’s Guide to the Contemporary English Novel, London 1968.

LET Letture. Libro e spettacolo. Mensile di studi e rassegne.

LRB The London Review of Books.

MAR Storia della civiltà letteraria inglese, ed. F. Marenco, 4 vols, Torino 1996.

MEF G. Melchiori, I funamboli. Il manierismo nella letteratura inglese da Joyce ai giovani arrabbiati, It. trans., Torino 1974 (1st Eng. edn The Tightrope Walkers, London 1956).

MIT L. Mittner, Storia della letteratura tedesca, 3 vols in 4 tomes, Torino 1964–1977.

MPR J. H. Miller, Poets of Reality: Six Twentieth-Century Writers, Cambridge, MA 1965.

OCE G. Orwell, Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters, ed. S. Orwell and I. Angus, 4 vols, Harmondsworth 1970.

PGU The Pelican Guide to English Literature, ed. B. Ford, 7 vols, Harmondsworth 1966 (1st edn 1954).

PSL M. Praz, Storia della letteratura inglese, Firenze 1968.

SSI M. Praz, Studi e svaghi inglesi, 2 vols, Milano 1983 (1st edn 1937).

TLS The Times Literary Supplement.

WAR A. C. Ward, 20th Century English Literature 1901–1960, London 1964 (1st edn 1928).

Note. Except for the above abbreviations, full publication information of cited works will be found in the bibliographies for each author.

| 1/I →

§ 1. English literature from the late inter-war years to 2010

Setting out on this Volume 8 of my work, my observations need to go back to a good fifteen years before 1945, to introduce and contextualize figures, movements and literary experiences parallel to Modernism, or merely touched by it or decidedly and contentiously outside its area. Without this, late twentieth-century literature would not be complete, precisely because in their various transformations they announce developments well beyond the watershed of the War. In the main I have selected the following criteria for inclusion, in ascending hierarchical order: 1) by date of birth, with the automatic sine qua non that authors should debut after 1921–1922, and therefore that they should be born after 1900 (with some slight exceptions, nonetheless); 2) formal. As early as the late 1920s, the updated formula of the traditional novel began to re-enter fiction: we have seen that modernist fiction looked back to the eighteenth-century variety of Sterne, Smollett and Fielding, although in that tradition there lay other competing seeds destined to blossom in the long term. In poetry, save for clamorous exceptions, we witness the repudiation of Eliot’s poetics of fragmentation, of the mythical method and of every kind of neo-Romanticism, and a greater adherence to daily life; 3) semiotic: that is, a much more polarized attention to the addressee, somewhat more present than previously in literary communication, and more targeted, more directly brought into play. A greater interaction is also sought, instead of adjusting the product to coteries or eliminating the reader tout court by opting for self-communication; 4) one consequence is the decline of the supremacy of the signifier, of linguistic playfulness, of parody and generally speaking also of the technical and tightrope experiment; every uncouth emphasis on content over form is avoided, but an emphasis on, and imbalance towards, the formal tend to be reduced; 5) commitment: an undertaking to reform society, to approve and appropriate a poetics and practice of intervention which led writers off to the war fronts wherever freedom was being violated; a concretely socialist and communist commitment. As I mentioned in the previous volume, D. H. Lawrence too emphasized content over form, but fought for a cultural and sexual revolution, not one first and foremost political; 6) the inverse of the above: religious and spiritual commitment, with an expressly Catholic literature, the photographic negative of Bolshevism, also because human ← 1/I | 2/I → beings are portrayed as being in a vertical relationship with the absolute in the first instance, rather than as members of a horizontal community from which they are separated. In certain cases, the two groups intermingle since they are fighting for the same objective, but this merger arises more in the passage of Bolshevist sympathizers to forms of spiritualism than the contrary. This scenario will lead to borderline cases, and up to 1945, and also a little beyond, it will prove impossible to clearly separate epigonal Modernism from commitment, notably in Henry Green, or other experiences that dilute it or make it instrumental to political intervention, as in early Auden, in the Orwell of Coming Up for Air and others. One can foresee incorporating likewise the final backlashes of Modernism itself, with the last ‘tightrope walkers’, the last pasticheurs, and all of the postmodern up to the threshold of the third millennium. At this point we must introduce, postulate and register a second interstice, those writers who emerged during the first half of the century, in the inter-war years, and were active afterwards as well, in some cases with fifty- and sixty-year-long careers (such as Graham Greene). In what follows the points listed briefly above will be expanded upon, while other later transitions will be anticipated in the form of general coordinates, the subject of the six parts that make up this volume.

2. In the chronology of twentieth-century English literature it is possible, and indeed essential, to establish the decade as the unit of measure, not the twenty-five-year generation; or even the discriminating factor of the year of birth. Being born in the early 1890s had a quasi-mathematical effect: taking part as adults in the First World War. Being born in the first years of the new century meant eschewing it, and not even living it as witnesses or as combatants, while growing up in the atmosphere of decay and disillusionment of the early post-war years. Being born in the early 1920s or 1930s was something totally different again. And so, to repeat, twentieth-century English literature can also be divided up generally speaking by date of birth. As 1844 was for the Victorians, so the years from 1903 to 1907 were of grace for the new generation. Common traits can be found among those born in those years, in Waugh, Greene, Green, Powell, Beckett, and Snow, who read one another even if they were not really close, and who had mostly followed the Eton-Oxford scholastic model, exhibited a note of Modernism that was not that of Joyce, and were brought together under the sign of ← 2/I | 3/I → the burlesque and the dialogic fantasy. Having arrived too late for the First World War they fought, some of them, in the Second; but first they had to face the crossroads or triple crossroads between Protestantism, Catholicism, and humanist agnosticism or Bolshevism. In the 1920s, apathy, disaffection and irresponsibility reigned, as shown by the small turnout for the 1919 elections, with Prime Minister Baldwin gaining success because his was not a politics of principles. The Great Strike of 1926 called urgently to public responsibility a young intelligentsia that believed they could burn themselves out before the age of thirty, and whose daredevil capricious vicissitudes are described impassively in the early novels of Huxley, Waugh and Powell. It is no coincidence that the main alternative to Modernism is the Auden generation of the 1930s, taking its cue therefore from the similar characters of a group of writer-friends animated by common purposes and objectives in that decade. The task of every historian of this decade-long literary movement has been made easier by Samuel Hynes’s book, The Auden Generation (1976), an extremely useful spectrogram of the politicized, socialist and Marxist literature that recognized Auden as its leader. In fact, into this network were gathered, tangentially or directly, all the great and less great writers with few exceptions, and exceptions that are signally the whole of historical Modernism, which is unquestionably not insignificant. Hynes’s book is also a calendar that measures and categorizes – taking the pulse, as it were, of the literary community year after year and even month after month – the development of the aesthetic and ideological debate, as well as the curve of simple moods, against the convulsive background of the major historical events. Above all, Hynes reconstructs the mixed sentiment of the generations of university graduates born during the first decade of the century, who felt envious of those who had gone to war, and regretted not being of an age to fight. Their vision of the First World War was substantially filtered through the poetry of Owen, who, in his most famous aesthetic definition, disavowed blind and fanatical heroism: ‘the poetry is in the pity’. This notwithstanding, an alternative myth of the war was being formed. In the wake of the panorama of futility and destruction in The Waste Land, two groups were born: Waugh’s ‘bright young things’, and the political activists who gathered around Auden, who himself nevertheless held the most ambiguous and indecisive political ideology of them all. ← 3/I | 4/I → At the end of the 1920s, the Oxford Poetry series began to appear, which, in anthologies edited also by Auden, gathered together the compositions of that university’s aspiring poets. Each yearly issue opened with a preface, and these prefaces represent a gradual becoming aware of the relationship between art and society. Already in 1930, nostalgia for the myth of the First World War, with its repercussions and deformations, confused itself and overlapped with the fear of a second war, which even translated into a search for a hero to invest in, who could be a fascist and communist at one and the same time: in concrete terms, the two Lawrences, D. H. and T. E. Room was made for the dream or reality of a revolution, which, however, had to lead to the basically Georgian goal of a primitive, rural, uncontaminated England: ‘Merrie Olde England’. Apart from the poetry magazines and those of a miscellaneous nature,1 politicized publishing was born by merit of Victor Gollancz, whose first work, which appeared in 1933, was a catalogue of victims of Nazism, and who in 1936 founded the Left Book Club with the goal of politically educating the masses. The emergency caused new and more politically committed literary genres to open like a fan, such as the documentary, in film as well as in print, and reportage, since, in certain cases, writing was synonymous with informing; another fortunate repertoire was the travel book, aimed at restoring to the reading public the sense of an enlarged world, and at once a surrogate for exploration and heroic adventure. In 1936, when the first warnings came of the intercontinental storm brewing, the committed writer had gradually to repudiate the traditional pacifism of left-wing writers. But the distressing outcome of the Spanish experience was retraction, apathy, and resignation. The farewell to the 1930s was meted out in the most ferocious terms of indifference and abjuration by Malcolm Muggeridge in his The Thirties ← 4/I | 5/I → (1939). But a debunking had already come from Auden, who defined the political experience, which he himself had originated, a ‘low dishonest’ decade, virtually the same words as in Christopher Caudwell’s verdict. The protagonists accused themselves of having taken their stance too much on the heat of the moment, of having abandoned themselves to gross error and spontaneous gestures, and above all of having cultivated so many ambiguities, and been prone to a great deal of indecision and uncertainty of aims. Orwell and Caudwell had been right: the courage to become out-and-out politicized writers had been lacking. The essay by Virginia Woolf, ‘The Leaning Tower’, written in 1940, annihilated a generation roosting as on a Tower of Pisa, leaning and above all of ivory, a generation that founded its subsistence on the alienation of the masses but felt threatened by the world’s revolution: one therefore that propelled whoever lived on the tower downwards towards the masses. For others, the Oxfordians’ obvious sense of guilt was due to the privilege of living off and exploiting the workers as well as the wealth coming from the Empire, were it not for the fact that this warmth towards the workers was romantic, mythical, and sentimental, rather than being a coherent political vision. Reams have been written to say and remind us that, in the final analysis, Marx was adopted by the Thirties poets as a convenient tool to act more freely, and to write poetry undisturbed, with no real intention of repudiating the middle classes.

3. Socialism and communism immediately after the War, and Anglicanism and Catholicism, alternatively or also consecutively offered themselves as an anchor to which to cling in a world in decline to those born in the early years of the twentieth century, who had escaped the glory and ignominy of the First World War by dint of their age (and this is largely Orwell’s diagnosis, as we shall see, in ‘Inside the Whale’). Viewed statistically, Catholicism was more tempting and won out over communism: the writers of the 1920s were almost all communists, convicted or potential, and if some continued heatedly to be so, others crossed to the opposite pole. What was it that these writers found in Catholicism? Waugh converted from atheist nihilism, apolitical and therefore not socialist, and did so as a form of interpreting and normalizing the contemporary world. The Catholicism of the last decade of the nineteenth century, aesthetic and decadent, imbued with mysticism and sensuality, and as such a compromise, ← 5/I | 6/I → fascinated him. It was no coincidence that Waugh became Catholic after studying Rossetti and the Pre-Raphaelites and the ambiguous cult of the saints, especially the female ones. Greene too let himself become infected, since his Catholicism – which, he would always maintain, was not emotional, but abstract and intellectual – was an upturned gradus ad Parnassum, that is, a mystique of sin and hell. These two writers, in particular, conceive human life as a Baroque, Counter-Reformation agon, contextualized in everyday life, between the sinning man and the pursuing God (above all Greene). But, we come to realize, this is a representation, and the representation of Nineties Catholicism – that of Johnson, Dowson, and Francis Thompson – which dated back to Hopkins. Ford Madox Ford, too, who was benevolently prefaced by Greene, depicted himself as a damned soul incapable of defeating the seductions of sin, particularly of the sexual kind, cultivated and caressed satanism and had it fight with the instinct of purification. It was only a short step to another Catholic sui generis with daring ideas on sexual morality, born only a decade and a half later: Muriel Spark. The polarity between the Catholic generation and the politicized poetry of the 1930s is highlighted by one fact: Auden’s affiliates could not live alone, while Waugh and Greene could not but live alone.2 At the same time, it is an implicit result that while Auden and his group were poets, the Catholic generation, and in any case another contemporary generation outside Auden’s, were novelists and prose writers operating on two radically divergent aesthetics: serialism and indeterminateness. Some of them built coordinated, closed and interrelated oeuvres, and were authors of sagas and sequels, or novels modelled on one another and obedient to a fixed formula as regards setting, layout, time and place (Powell, Snow, even Beckett), whom we might even call classicists or neoclassicists. Others – Angus Wilson, among many others – did not write even one novel the same as another; they reject any principle of internal order, surprise and faze the reader, each novel representing a new beginning. ← 6/I | 7/I →

4. Poetry, the novel and the theatre came to operate over the last half-century against a background formed by the added parameters of the sociology of mass communication, of the literary market and of the huge broadening of the field of English language literature, but ipso facto no longer English or even British. New elements, factors and phenomena of the scenario to take into account are the increased leisure time, which made further room available for reading and entertainment; it was radio, cinema, and above all television that emptied the theatres where musicals and the commercial repertoire had always held sway. Poetry, from the time of Larkin and the Movement, has tried desperately to find a remedy for its intrinsically elite nature, by means of a relative lowering of its formal and lexical difficulty, while at the same time attempting to produce texts that can be recited, performed, even sung, or serve as a vehicle of protest and a festival event. The novel has lately become torn between the trap of market demand and absolute inspiration, a market gone mad and turned savage due to the profound crisis of publishing, the advent of the Internet and a disaffection with quality reading, a market conditioned by the predominance of the escapist, sensationalist, instant sale variety. Is a compromise possible? The media maintains the exact opposite and often persuades even the most cautious and presumably objective and unswayable of critics that this or that novel will pass into history, that it is the masterpiece of the current century and will continue to be so into the next. Indeed, the typical novelist of our times appears tyrannized and obsessed by the market, and when an author has debuted with a successful novel, which may even be deeply felt, he or she is pestered by the publishers and obliged, while the iron is still hot, to come out immediately and fatally with a less polished and convincing product. With the aid of advertising, writers therefore dissimulate their collusion with the bookshop system. It is also true that they often make the risky wager of lampooning mass culture, perhaps like Amis in Money, simply by describing it and exploiting its expressive means and idiolects. The most questionable aspect is that many novels written by wily authors are already designed to be transposed for the cinema or as television series. And in any case the highest accolade for a novel is to be transposed for these media, whilst the digital encyclopaedias rush to say, as if it were a certificate of guarantee, that it has been filmed by and ← 7/I | 8/I → with whom, listing also the book prizes won, which, it is easily intended, are obtained by a sapient hype. As things stand, various contemporary novelists who have just passed on have remained the authors of a single book, having then produced in series largely forgotten works, as in the case of Anthony Burgess.

5. Flexibly, as many do following a formula of compromise, I too shall imply as ‘English literature’ that of the British Isles including Ireland. The term ‘English literature’ has now become notoriously improper, but is retained here in this unquestionably imprecise sub-significance. As a result African, Indian, Australian, Canadian and Caribbean writers in English will be excluded. Pending are cases such as those of writers who were born and grew up in Commonwealth countries and moved to England as adolescents, youths, or young adults: these are situations to be resolved case by case using common sense, without splitting hairs, and according to the variable extent to which they have become part of the literary establishment centred in England and in particular in London. I am no less perfectly aware of the error or impropriety committed in separating and splitting up a literary universe in the English language like today’s, that is, globalized and hence cemented by strong internal ties; aware, in short, of the myopia that hinders conceiving it and considering it as such, in place of the literature of ‘little old England’. They are both undoubtedly overlapping universes, separate and independent yet sutured together by the English language in which the literary works are written. A second problem concerns the inclusion and exclusion of living and hence still active writers. It would have been a transgression against the principles underlying this work to aim at exhaustiveness. This is of course a mirage, found in many cadastral surveys of twentieth-century literature that are repeatedly unleashed onto the market, since there is barely the time to write about and interpret in a makeshift way a work that has just come out that another takes its place. According to Eliot’s well-known criterion, each new work alters the provisional vision of even a single writer, when it does not render it completely obsolete. I for my part will not fall victim here to encyclopaedic ambitions, and have resisted the temptation, or rather the unrealistic ambition of the card index or catalogue raisonné. My objective is not to level off and set everything on substantially the same ← 8/I | 9/I → plane, but to map the geography and dig deep, highlighting the differences and eminences, passing quickly over that which stands out the least and over the flatter surfaces. The second reason is that history is not a news commentary, and I believe that, by and large, for up to at least two thirds of a writer’s career it is not possible to draft a credible, objective summary that is not arbitrary and subjective, or still conjectural. The panorama of English letters in the last twenty-thirty years remains indecipherable, too fragmented, too cacophonous, too fleeting, eluding intelligible classification and even semi-definitive evaluation. This means that dozens and dozens of the latest authors, or even those on everyone’s lips, will not be found included here. Talking about this work of mine with friends and colleagues I have often heard glowingly recommended the name of this or that writer to be dealt with indispensably over any other – entirely unjustified enthusiasms for a historian. To these invitations I reply that it is still too early, and that prudence is wanted, elicited by writers who were alive thirty years ago, on whom incautious critics decided to write overly premature books that now have very little or no value, since they have become obsolete or have been superseded by later works of this or that poet or playwright, whose developments were unforeseen. Hence, readers of this volume should by no means be surprised if, assuming the voice of Jiminy Cricket, I shall complain to the point of tedium about these cases of precipitousness concerning writers such as Durrell, Golding, Spark, Angus Wilson and others. This is to say that literary events, writers and their works should be and will be seen in perspective, a word that implies fully realized detachment from the experience in question, and presupposes, above all, the coming into being and the availability of a literary experience in its totality or virtual totality, and not in mid-stream. Similarly, amongst the late twentieth-century writers open to historical analysis, and whose production is closed by now, some only have been singled out for attention. Living writers at the height of their powers will not be dealt with save for a few exceptions; but others will, such as Geoffrey Hill and Doris Lessing,3 since they are so advanced in years that ← 9/I | 10/I → it is difficult to think that their further productions can radically alter an estimation that has already been well defined and delineated as their work developed. In taking this decision – no living writers, save for the documented exceptions – I automatically exclude not only promising authors in their thirties and forties, but also some writers now in their sixties of undoubted and already proven importance, certain of whom are conceivably on their way to becoming in twenty or thirty years the most representative of their generation. This I readily concede.

1 Many of those just born, which distinguished themselves in editorial programmes and policies from the modernist magazines, included in their title the adjective ‘new’, as in New Signatures, brought to life in 1932 by Michael Roberts, where the politicized writers of the 1930s espoused the idea of literature as an instrument of change; or New Country, edited by Roberts again since 1933, or John Lehmann’s New Writing. That same year The Cambridge Left was born. Grigson’s New Verse, from 1933 to 1939, reinstated the criterion of quality, toning down the political content.

2 See in Couto 1988 (bibliography of Greene, § 49.1), the conclusive interview with the novelist, and his irony concerning that ‘gang’ to which he glories in not having belonged, and his approval, as a general rule, of writing in isolation.

3 Lessing and Hill were living when this Volume 8 was first published [translator’s note].

§ 2. From reconstruction to desocialization

It was the very historians and sociologists of the second half of the twentieth century who suggested to compress these fifty years according to these two antithetical terms and concepts, reconstruction and desocialization, which are also two poles that never come close by their very nature. And they cannot, given that, since 1945, politics and society have been travelling on two asymptotic, or better divergent, roads, progressively deaf and mute to one another, as it were. Politics may rebuild houses destroyed by the war, in concrete terms, and return to filling citizens’ wallets; but re-establishing society needs educators and inspirers. It is easy to notice that with the Second World War the maîtres à penser or even just the cultural mediators disappear, the last being Orwell and T. S. Eliot, who, in updated horizons, covered the function carried out by Ruskin, Matthew Arnold and, in his small way, Hopkins in the nineteenth century. Other potential educators, such as Marcuse, denied that they were so, with their implicitly disintegrating message. But there were also fewer charismatic leaders and even the reference point of the monarchy faded out. British politics has only counted two important figures from 1945 until today, if Churchill’s last cabinet is excluded, and two figures who, with their name and antonomasia could leave their mark on an epoch or, at least, on a segment of an epoch, and thus faintly comparable to a Peel or Disraeli in the most recent past: and they are Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair. The sufficiently marked character of these premierships can be gathered from the fact that terms have been created from them that have become part of the political lexicon, such as ‘Thatcherism’ or ‘Blairism’, whereas in the period 1945–1970 the two main parties were not excessively distinguishable in ← 10/I | 11/I → terms of differences of opinion, and were somewhat camouflaged, so much so that it was common to speak of ‘Butskellism’.1 And as I shall explain, a distinctive or more distinctive programmatic objective of Thatcher and Blair’s mandate was precisely that of the reconstitution of the community, or at least of a community (desocialization means nothing less than the collapse of Matthew Arnold’s organic social unity). With all of her tact and discretion, or precisely in virtue of this, Queen Elizabeth II, whose reign has now surpassed in length that of Victoria and her namesake Elizabeth I, could not aspire to define these sixty years as ‘Elizabethan’ without running into an unfortunate equivocation. However, to return to my opening assertion, there could not be any mediator or educating agency in the late twentieth century precisely because the battle against the principle of authority had been won, and continues to be won daily hands down. This could prove to be a very general key to understanding this recently ended half-century as well as the one that has just begun. The components and proofs are various, as are the phenomena. After 1945, there was an explosion of anarchic and individual freedoms after an unconscious, century-long repression; and oppression was something that British society, the grandchild of its Victorian ancestors, knew well. A kind of domino effect rapidly began, which led to questioning and destroying everything that had been acquired and become time-encrusted. Above all, there was a desire to re-dictate history ipso facto and one that until then had been identified with violence, extermination and war. Immediately after 1945, Britain was very far from embracing a radical disarmament, in fact it launched and financed research into the H-bomb, and was ready to intervene militarily worldwide to support any armed revolt against communism, to keep under control various strategic areas and points on the globe, such as Gibraltar and Singapore, and to preserve precious bridgeheads. The British protests and marches of the 1950s against nuclear arms and the atomic threat were not aggressions, since an apparently contradictory culture had begun to spread ← 11/I | 12/I → from America, one of good graces, gentleness, flowers, and respect for the environment. The ‘beat’ root covered a multitude of semes, among which the two most significant were the ‘beaten’ and the ‘blessed’. The so-called ‘generation gap’, which is actually an eternal sociological fact and a constant in history, became radicalized in this half-century. The young moved to the assault and arrived in the front line in the name of the revenge of fantasy, and in the name of fantasy wanted to eradicate everything old and gangrenous.2 The ideal of eternal youth seems a typically contemporary, modern myth, with the young who must remain young, attractive and without an ounce of adipose tissue, and who attend the gym daily to have a body that is slim, lithe and muscular; but the adults go too, to become young again, while the ladies subject themselves to lifting and plastic surgery. In reality, this was a Faustian dream, an eternal myth, which thirty years earlier had been expressed by Waugh’s ‘bright young things’, for whom there was no tomorrow, and even if there was, it did not count. The boomerang of repression is permissiveness. In the early 1960s, the use of contraceptives was no longer clandestine or prohibited, surrounded by an air of scandal and demonized. The myth of virginity and feminine purity was superseded and demolished from one day to the next, like that of the family nucleus as the basis of society. In an unstoppable vortex one by one the myths of respectability collapsed, while those that until yesterday had seemed insurmountable barriers of ethics and morals were shattered. The revolution in the world of fashion consists in the fact that its only constriction is freedom, the freedom to mate garments, mix colours, upset traditional combinations of dress and occasion – in a nutshell, to write new rules for the system; and this principle extended also to hairstyles and hairdos. The ‘informal’ was not merely an exquisitely artistic phenomenon, which had to do with pop art or Ian Fleming and Le Carré who had staggering sales while the purely literary-cultural limped onwards; or with cinema that, with Reisz, Richardson and Loach accompanied and often prevailed over ← 12/I | 13/I → the literary communication, by making it more flowing, while broadening youthful rage and feminine protest. On the contrary the ‘informal’ also means a social behaviour that can be observed in the fashions of first-name terms at first sight, of walking barefoot around the house or removing your shoes on the train and putting your feet on the seat being tolerated by ticket inspectors. But this fancy is also prone to abandon past fetishisms simply to adopt others, picking up fleeting, infectious, plagiarized fashions one after another, such as toe nails lacquered now with pale diaphanous varnishes and now with gaudy ones. As a penultimate, tangible symptom, or even as an allegory of the clash between the repressive Crown and individual freedom, some have interpreted the otherwise inexplicable national grief over the death of Princess Diana.

2. The country in debt, the state coffers dried up, 600,000 war casualties, its prestige as a pre-war superpower, above all else, faded and gone: for Britain in 1945 this was in short the balance of the aftermath on the cessation of the conflict, despite its having been won. For the first time in its recent history, Britain needed help to rebuild, and it asked for loans.3 The paradox pointed out by Eric Hobsbawm is that this post-war Britain, reduced to admitting defeat, underdeveloped, without industries, with a galloping deficit and recourse to rationing, which according to other historians was entering the ‘great British economic disaster’ between 1945 and 1992,4 was nevertheless, and remained, ‘a golden age’. As Macmillan proudly said in 1957: ‘Let us be frank about it – most of our people have never had it so good’. And the history of manners comes to our aid in noting the counterpart of a London that for the whole world was ‘Swinging London’. An impartial solution to this difference of opinion could be that Britain was coming out of a period of fatted calves, that all European countries had to cope with reconstruction after six years of war, and that Britain had to adapt and tighten its belt a little, and more than the others since, willing or not, it was on the point of carrying out a vast decolonization, with all the ← 13/I | 14/I → economic repercussions that this would bring.5 The ignominious result of the 1956 Suez crisis was judged by some as proof that Britain wished to re-establish its old imperialism, and with the failures and upsets that Britain met in Cyprus and above all in Ireland; but then it was France that bluntly imposed a veto twice on Britain’s agonized requests to join the EEC, a road that would not end until 1973 when the UK finally entered. The crisis, or a crisis, intervened at the end of the 1960s and the early 1970s; tangibly in 1973, with a rise in the price of oil made by the producing countries, or perhaps two years earlier with the devaluation of the pound. Attlee’s Labour party, in power after the end of the war, had meanwhile launched a nationalization policy (the Bank of England, electricity, civil aviation) and support for council housing; but the real feather in its cap was the Welfare State which ensured a free health service for families. Under Macmillan decriminalization of homosexuality between consenting adults began its path through Parliament; but ironically, his government slipped on a banana skin of Meredithian memory, the Profumo Affair.6 The course of literature, the dramatic one at least, was unexpectedly derailed by a new university legislation, with the political decision to opt for a mass university system that would flank – not substitute for! – that of the elite of Cambridge, Oxford, or London, and new-built, decentralized campuses which took the name of ‘red brick universities’. But those who live by the sword die by the sword: the university for the masses assimilated subversive contents that backfired on those who had supplied the tools to acquire that culture. Literary ‘anger’ was born in the mid-1950s as a protest that was genuinely and solely British against the university education system, fifteen years earlier than the Parisian protest of 1968; but this emerged also as an indefinable ← 14/I | 15/I → and indefinite malaise, which evidently eluded Macmillan when he uttered that celebrated sentence – ‘You never had it so good’ – thinking exclusively of the wallet. Harold Wilson became Prime Minister for the first time in 1964 with a programme of industrial and technological modernizations and above all the opening of credit for the younger class; however, during his second, minority, mandate in 1974, he backtracked and withdrew daring new modernizing projects, focusing instead on a return to stability and the ‘quiet life’ – to traditional British values, therefore. When the Tories returned to power, Mrs Thatcher not only launched severe measures against deflation that impacted on the currency’s purchasing power and provoked a wave of protests and strikes, but also resuscitated the imperialistic spirit with the reconquering of the Argentine Falklands. With this she hammered on about restoring the old individualist Britain, healthy, isolated, proud, tenacious; she actually wanted, in a way, to re-Victorianize Britain.7 Blair won the elections in 1997 focusing on the co-responsibility of the individual in managing the community: if, in other words, the individual prospers then the community benefits, which is an updating of Matthew Arnold’s organicism. To close on the note I began with, we need to see if and where an evident attempt to further Europeanize Britain will lead, tangible in the rail tunnel under the Channel opened in 1994. In 1993, Europe became a federation, but significantly Britain remained outside the Euro.8 A short time from now it will be necessary to weigh up a new social mediation, that is, the network of total, non-stop communication for groups of users on the ‘Web’.

1 From a combination of the names of the politicians Butler, Tory, and Gaitskell, Labour (M. Fforde, Storia della Gran Bretagna, Bari 2002, 345). Neither of them, repeatedly predicted to become Prime Minister, would ever be elected.

2 Along with the protagonists of the plays and novels of the ‘angry generation’, which I shall be studying, we might recall here another document of the sudden exaltation of anarchic freedom and the ascent to national fame of the teenage class, the in-itself mediocre novel Absolute Beginners (1959) by C. MacInnes.

3 Planned to last for four years starting from 1947, the Marshall Plan offered various forms of aid to Europe for a total of 12.5 billion dollars.

4 M. Fforde, Storia della Gran Bretagna, chapter XIII.

5 As a fruit of its decolonization the United Kingdom became multiracial; against this Britain the right-wing extremist Enoch Powell used to thunder with his slogans advocating the return of all non-English citizens to their homelands.

6 This a tangible example of the contradiction between politics and society, out of phase with each other: unmasked, Profumo denied a flirt with the call-girl Christine Keeler, who was splendidly immortalized by the photographer Lewis Morley, nude and sitting backwards on a chair, in an obvious citation of Marlene Dietrich in The Blue Angel.

7 See the eloquent excerpt of a speech quoted in M. Fforde, Storia della Gran Bretagna, 357. Fforde also goes into a detailed description (362) of the economic and ideological foundations underlying Thatcherism, those of the Austrian, naturalized English economist F. Hayek and of the philosopher K. Popper, both contrary to large-scale state economic interventions, and, as already noticed, into the Tories’ assimilation of the right-wing extremist pseudo-ideology of Enoch Powell.

8 As this volume was being translated, Britain voted to leave the European Union in the referendum of 24 June 2016 [translator’s note].

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Writers against Totalitarian Regimes

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§ 3. Auden* I: The burnt-out meteor. Militancy and disengagement in the leader of the poets of the 1930s

The literary decade of 1930–1940 is dominated by Wystan Hugh Auden (1907–1973), who was head and shoulders above any other figure working in England in the dramatic and poetic field – without turning to the novel, therefore – with the sole and possible exception of Dylan Thomas, who ← 19/I | 20/I → emerged even more precociously in that decade, and of D. H. Lawrence. This supremacy could be slightly reassessed if we think that, at the beginning of the 1930s, Yeats was publishing his last collections, that Eliot was entering a delicate phase of reconsideration of his art, that Beckett the playwright was not yet born, and that Beckett the novelist and poet was still in gestation. In fact, before going into detail on the intrinsic and individual significance of Auden’s literary advent, we need to look at the historical and collective issues surrounding it. With his charismatic personality, Auden gave life to a movement and a generation that can be designated as Thirties poetry and be divided into four main aspects and concepts. After repeated and chronic isolationisms, or fanciful and ephemeral fellowships, a form of associated culture was reborn in Britain, with a close-knit group of poets and intellectuals with common intentions – and yet objectively critical of one another – of a kind that had no longer existed since the early Romantic period: a circle that felt the joyful and fruitful sense of composing together rising forth, like Wordsworth and Coleridge, ← 20/I | 21/I → and who cultivated the ancient custom of the dedication, of compositions written ‘to’ or ‘for’.1 In that decade, around the brightest star, Auden, gravitated in particular three satellite writers, Christopher Isherwood, Stephen Spender and Louis MacNeice; and following a slightly wider orbit, Cecil Day Lewis and Edward Upward. This platoon constituted a totally and deeply English formation and mode of literary expression, and this can be well noted in the fact that they were educated in public schools and then Oxford University. At Oxford, Auden had impressed his fellows with his pontifical behaviour, inexhaustible eloquence, Wilde-like poses and volubility. The group was then the product, the final one, of the extremely prolific British educational system, where the immediately previous literary scene could boast only very bland and tardy fellowships like that of Eliot, Pound and Joyce, the writers of the moment being either American emigrants (Eliot, Pound), or Irishmen bearing historical and extraneous racial and even anti-British marks (Yeats, Joyce), a spasmodic and rootless writer like Lawrence, or another isolated phenomenon like Virginia Woolf. The second and third data are that Auden’s generation proposed itself as yet another re-founding of the literary art and intended art as a revolutionary tool; the fourth is homosexuality that, along with the literary passion, bound this group together, and had to be long hidden or at least camouflaged by all of its members.2

2. Like many of his peers, Auden came under the spell of Mosley’s fascist propaganda, and believed in the messianic advent of a strong man. This is a myth, and a self-projection, that surface throughout his work with real and imaginary references, the first of which is certainly that charismatic saviour who answered to the name of T. E. Lawrence. As with many poets working in the early years of the century – suffice to ← 21/I | 22/I → think of Dylan Thomas’s declaration of intent3 – Freud was attributed a revolutionary value that could complement that of Marx. Auden wished above all for a purely psychic revolution, the liberation of the personality, especially of the senses, and from religious repression, the liberation of the id, that is to say. Only after his trip to Berlin in 1929, did he understand revolution in its exquisitely political sense, without ever forgetting the Freudian sub-sense, however. The trait d’union, up to a certain confused point, was also the philosophy of the subconscious, only partially Freudian, of the other Lawrence, D. H. But Auden and company eventually chose the antidote to fascism. In 1922, Auden remembered losing faith and at the same time to have begun writing poetry thanks to the incitement of an old school friend, Robert Medley.4 During the 1926 General Strike, he took the side of the unions and gave proof of political commitment for the first time. In certain moments, Auden’s early poetry describes, without symbolic filters and allusive networks, the desolation of the poor and the 1929 Depression; his plays provocatively illustrate the futility of bourgeois existence, the confusion of the modern world, with all its conventions and prejudices. His work in drama and cinema was espoused as a vehicle for political engagement and an impulse to transform society. The ever juvenilely intellectual and fanciful Marxism of the poetry of the 1930s nevertheless definitively faded away with the signing of the Russo-German pact in 1939, and would be more tangibly retracted after Auden’s move to America. Auden and the other poets of his circle failed in other words to challenge Orwell’s position as the only real socialist writer, albeit dissident, before the war. Coherent with his ideological support for the republican cause, Auden had gone to Spain in 1937 with the idea of becoming an ← 22/I | 23/I → ambulance driver,5 but after witnessing the spectacle of churches in ruins he returned home disillusioned, having nonetheless written what was judged to be the most intense English poem inspired by that conflict. The reverse side of militancy was resistance and indecision, dissimulated by self-incitement. Auden was never a card-carrying member of the English communist party, whilst in 1938 Orwell described him and Spender as ‘parlour Bolsheviks’6 – his bêtes noires – and Auden in particular as a ‘gutless Kipling’.7 The English Marxist Auden already aspired, almost like Yeats, to the restoration of a patriarchal, humanistic and enlightened order. The ultimate litmus test of his cautious ideological stance is an extremely late questionnaire addressed to a few poets concerning the war in Vietnam: Auden objected that poets knew less than the ordinary citizen, since they also found out about political events from the newspapers. In fact, his response was anti-communist, in favour of a negotiated peace, requiring the Americans to remain in Vietnam until this was stipulated. He also wrote a poem against the Soviet invasion of Prague. The fact is that political engagement had never invalidated art for art’s sake. The early Auden was a poet’s poet who blended together echoes and provenances of the most disparate and stratified kind. His apprenticeship was a period of transition, as he imbibed doses that had to be metabolized: distinct phases of absorption which were swallowed up and, as it were, spat out again. A native of York, he was the third born in the family of a doctor and an ex-nurse, the family relocating to Birmingham when his father became a functionary of the military medical school and a professor of hygiene at the university. Therefore the first scenes to impress themselves on his mind were the mining districts of the ill-famed central zones of England. As a child he read avidly brief treatises and publications dealing with science, geology and mining and, until the age of sixteen, wanted to become a mining engineer. His family library nonetheless also abounded in books of fairy tales and facetious poems. He said that the impulse to write poetry ← 23/I | 24/I → came first from de la Mare’s anthology, Come Hither, in 1923. Hopkins had been revealed to the wider reading public in 1918, hence at a time when Auden was particularly receptive. But no less influential were Owen and his experiments in pararhyme, Hardy and his formal and stanzaic variety, Anglo-Saxon alliterative poetry and, on the opposite pole, the rhythm of the vaudeville and the blues. At Oxford he discovered Eliot, who displaced Hardy and Edward Thomas in his sympathies. At that time he held that poetry should be clinical and austere, far from the passions of the average man. In another short manifesto, he sustained the idea of art as the disposition of words in a pattern, with sentiment and idea relegated to the sole function of the occasional. Discussing the 1930 and 1933 collections, MacNeice drew attention to the chameleon-like quality of the writing, deriving from the Metaphysicals and Eliot’s ‘music of ideas’, and underlined the extreme variety of rhythm, measure and tone: solemn and light-hearted, dramatic and humorous. It immediately became common practice to exalt or deprecate Auden’s obscurity, complaining that his authentic gifts did not come to fruition in a finished work and that he obstinately pursued an odd kind of associationism. The insidiousness of early Auden derives naturally from the absence of contextualization, in itself a vice common to practically all the poets of his time, and also from the vice of empty deixis – here, this, that, but where and how and when? – and moreover from the use of abbreviations or kenning (‘the children of the sea’, or rather fish) and from the intentional and necessarily encoded references to homosexual love,8 and the Oxford student jargon. Evaluation in the heat of the moment took the usual British form, that ← 24/I | 25/I → which, influenced by taste, confined itself to cataloguing as efficacious, vigorous and successful certain lines extrapolated from texts to the disadvantage of others, treating the poet as a musician who can be lauded or rebuked for the pure sounds he produces. A fragmentation such as this could be justified because it came about from the way in which Auden’s poems were put together, composed at times of material discarded from others submitted to his friends and pruned by them.

3. The ongoing diatribe regards late Auden. If I have defined Auden as the poet who got a decade underway, this is implicitly because the decades that followed where no longer dominated by him. After such a promising start the community of readers and scholars expected something new and more from him. He is the far from rare example of a poet who reaches his peak, in quantity and quality, extremely precociously; in terms of a wider estimation, Auden dried up in 1957, leaving afterwards minimal, insignificant remains. His friends were fully aware that he knew how to dress everything in poetry, understood as a metrical and prosodic involucrum of extremely beautiful, moulded rhyming and assonantal lines, but that left to himself he had not much to say. Hence the fault in Auden is his not having found along the way his own definite, marked, personal conceptual universe, transfused into unprecedented metaphors and symbols, entirely his own. It is undoubtedly a bit of an anticlimax to say that Auden is the champion of spiritualized love set against hate (one overly rhetorical line proclaims that ‘we must love one another or die’),9 that his poetry is a criticism of hubris and a eulogy of humility, or that his leitmotiv is that art ‘makes nothing happen’. His ‘vice’, therefore, is conceptual ← 25/I | 26/I → weakness, a scarcity of ideas.10 What ideas there are, are often of little interest, and yet developed with suffocating prolixity.11 Until the infatuation with Kierkegaard, Auden borrowed these ideas from minor thinkers, both marginal and little accredited, and justly so, excluding himself thus from the general circle of fruition.12 In the end, leaving aside the enormous promise of the golden decade, the successive reflective poetry is anything but fascinating,13 whilst the long poems are almost a fiasco. We must therefore search for Auden’s more native vein in the songs or in the short poems, witty though also vigilant and bare as regards the imagery, often slightly absurd and incongruous, where his imagination and flair in blending are kept under control and the line of thought is neither dominant nor overly cerebral, and unhindered by erudite digressions. The sudden loss of invention transpires undeniably from the long poems written after 1940, to the degree that Auden fails to hide the need to rely on pre-existing ideas, original ones having dried up (his beginnings were not like this, indeed quite the contrary). In 1939 he had celebrated the deceased Yeats, but there continued to be denied him, as an anti-Romantic, Yeats’s visionary, apocalyptic and prophetic scope, hence visionary poetry. He did not have a personal myth derived from a figure of antiquity, such as Helen or Ulysses.14 ← 26/I | 27/I → As a child he had been enthralled by the Old Norse myths,15 without them appearing on the page however, if not very superficially. He moved to America in 1939 with Isherwood and was enrolled in the American strategic services with the purely fictitious rank of major. In the autumn of 1945 he was already on his way back to America from Germany and in 1946 took out American citizenship, taking the opposite path to that of James and Eliot.16 This decision was judged emblematic of an ideological surrender, of cowardly political disengagement, and Orwell rebuked Auden again in 1943, saying that he was ‘watching his navel in America’. A short while before he had reflected himself in the alter ego M. F. Ransom in the drama The Ascent of F 6. This hero, who fails and succumbs, is a mystic divided between solipsistic hubris and socially worthwhile activity; but he is also one who has failed to dominate a devouring Oedipus complex. One should thus disassemble Auden and read him through a series of dualisms. The first is nationality, the rift between the English and the American Auden. The watershed falls in the year 1939, almost exactly halfway through his life, if not his career. This date also demarcates the atheist, communist Auden before 1939, and the religious and spiritual Auden afterwards. As a young man, he had cherished a project that comes to an end with his departure – the project of an active, communist and revolutionary literature which at the same time claimed to be absolute and artistic. If one moves down a level, one can perceive other dualisms within the writing. Auden is a poet and dramatist, and as a poet writes poems which he himself collected in two volumes containing respectively the long and the short. As a dramatist he wrote alone or in collaboration, either autonomous works or serving other artists as a librettist. One should not forget his mediation in this field of music and opera, including his collaboration with Britten, or his translation into English of some of Mozart’s libretti and the service done in two of the operatic masterpieces of the twentieth century, by Stravinsky and Henze. ← 27/I | 28/I →

4. Alongside the Auden in the making, who wrote and published, another Auden was revising his work from a distance to form a parallel canon, while subdividing his short poetry into four phases that doubled the afore-mentioned dualism.17 Labelling the two editions of his poems, both short and long, as ‘collected’, in 1947 and 1957, he showed he was prematurely ready for disarmament. In 1956 he returned to England to take up the post of Professor of Poetry at Oxford, which he held until 1961. In the last decade of his life he lived between New York and Europe (Italy, Ischia, and Austria)18 following a rhythm similar to that of the great wealthy Victorians – winter at work in Austria, summers in the agreeable south of Italy. By now, for the general public, he had acquired the unmistakable features of a large wrinkled elephant, or of a small Buddha with creased skin and yellowed fingers, his nails black and bitten to the quick, who cared little for clothes and personal hygiene, and would appear in public wearing tattered felt slippers. Having officially joined the Anglican Church, he went to church regularly on Sundays in the Austrian village where he had settled, making a virtue out of necessity and attending the Catholic churches, but going to Masses that were celebrated without a sermon. His faith was elastic and irenic, one that notably did not consider his practised homosexuality, condemned at that time by the Church, either as an obstacle or a reason for guilty feelings. An inveterate smoker, he was found dead after a heart attack at the Kirchstetten summerhouse. The year of his rediscovered faith is 1940, but the process was gradual and his acceptance remained mostly hypothetical – often merely the recovery and employment of a series of parallel myths as a vehicle for particular emotions. Faith was born from the repudiation of that liberal humanism that also elicited Eliot’s distaste, ← 28/I | 29/I → and left Auden disappointed. The concept of ‘anxiety’, the hinge of his personal theology, was explained by Auden both in a psychoanalytical and an existential sense, through Freud (anxiety with regard to the past and one’s parents) and through Kierkegaard (anxiety as the feeling of the relationship between the self and God).19 Anxiety changes nature, from illness to unease, leading to choice and hence it means man’s insecurity in a period of crisis presaging an outcome.20 The complement to anxiety is a triad of conflicting theological concepts, Eros, Logos and Agape. Following Yeats, Agape does not deny the flesh, but places it in equilibrium with the body, opposing it to Logos which is pure spirit. But St Augustine at this stage comes to his aid, in the case study of the city, simultaneously healthy and unhealthy, a city that may be agapic or egotistical. This series of ideological and theological concerns is elaborated in abstract and heuristic terms, rather than deriving from a powerful personal intuition, from an intimate and dramatic conflict, articulated nonetheless in tranquillity. Auden was aware of this, and made it known that he was not attracted by the mystical manner of Eliot and Hopkins, who rattled off their troubles dauntlessly.21 He had never been a heated and anguished poet. One never hears him scream or see him tear his clothes, not even in his youthful poetry. His stance is neither lyric nor symbolist.22 According to Spender,23 he lacked the real ‘experience from which to write’. In this poetry of ideas, the corollaries are the discourse on the limits of art faced with life and the eventual inefficacy of art in changing the destiny of the world, a leitmotiv that is ← 29/I | 30/I → common to the many obituary poems, whose outcome is the negation of the thaumaturgic magic of art. Man’s loss of status as lord of creation does not receive the apocalyptic treatment found for instance in Beckett; rather the animate and the inanimate proceed in asymptotic progression without ever meeting, indeed in reciprocal indifference, a theme which stands out in the odes on the great dead, whose death nature attends impassively.24 Albeit less anguished and tormented, Auden shares with Matthew Arnold a tolerant, liberal, pro-European message, which therefore exalts love conceived not as egocentric romanticism, but rather as a synonym for friendship. In conclusion, the two contemporary major writers, Auden and Beckett, shared inverted destinies, the latter moving from Baroque turgidity to a naked, telegraphic dryness, whilst the former moves from the bare, paratactic poetry of the early years to the overloaded, sumptuous verse – it, too, and above all, Baroque – of the years following 1939. Gradually the expansive and discursive Auden comes to resemble late Browning, as he is by no means alien to an erudite, peculiar mental viewpoint, in the form of fragments picked up here and there in a somewhat casual manner. Had not Browning investigated the relationship between human and divine love, between body and spirit, between sex and sublimation? Like him, Auden always knew, in exceptional moments, how to write the immaculate lyric, the little tardy masterpiece.25 His ideal climate, his period of election after 1940 was, apart from metrical experimentation, the Augustan one. This is proclaimed by his predilection for wit, for brachilogical form, for the absence, albeit not uniform, of diffusion. Auden loves the aphorism, the acrobatics of allusive, hence obscure, thought; he is fond of the epitaph and writes encomia like the greats of the eighteenth century. It is clearly easy to locate this ascendancy, mixed and entirely irreconcilable with others, because Auden is the great transformer and blender of disparate experiences. Praz hit the mark when, after adhering to Bates’s opinion that he is our Keats, our Pope, our Donne,26 he observed that the more accurate ← 30/I | 31/I → alter ego was Pope. With Auden, the pseudo-eighteenth-century vein of the verse essay was heard again, a reflective vein confirmed by his mature and senile loves, Goethe, German philosophy and Byron. So the sign of late Auden is that of an extremely elevated poetry of occasions. He is the great jester who knows how to dress everything in poetry as long as he is given an occasion: to find an Italian equivalent one must turn to a poet such as Monti. Or he is a King Midas who turns everything he touches into gold, that is, verse of high workmanship and formal variety.27

5. It is understandable that the first critical monographs, written when Auden was still alive, were exegeses and commentaries. As a result they are arid, catalogue-like, in their ‘crude paraphrasing’28 of poem after poem. This type of approach is instructive: books such as those of Spears from 1963, Fuller from 1970, and Mendelson from 1981, prove indispensable for the quantity of information, for their resolution of small enigmas and the elucidation of cultured and erudite references; however, they also show how straw-clutching and nagging, inventive and irritating the search for presumed, arcane and subtle concepts in Auden is. The challenge of the poetry of ideas29 is hard to meet, and if Auden’s poetry after 1939 is reduced to prose, one simply collects from each example a series of contorted axioms that are not easy to verify and are above all of little originality. Or one notices a discrepancy between their meagreness, or superficiality, and the ability of the verse, the sparkle of the words, periphrases and tropes. Faced with the unrelenting paraphrasing of the commentators one is left in doubt as to whether it was the critic or the poet who wrote this barrage of repetitive sophisms, and receives the impression and experiences the evocation of that ‘critic’s critic’ whose analysis, Auden himself found, ‘is so much more complicated and difficult than the work itself’.30 As said by Desmond MacCarthy,31 in ← 31/I | 32/I → Auden one perceives ‘the suggestion of some portentous significance which melts when examined’. Above all the late, or second American Auden of the long poems, has been thus either exalted to the point of delirium or murderously slated. For instance, the disagreement on The Age of Anxiety is irreconcilable: John Bayley judges it a masterpiece and Randall Jarrell the worst work written by Auden in about twenty years. Thom Gunn shifted the target to Homage to Clio.32 In 1969, Auden was already a distant classic over whom hovered what had become by then an academic debate. Hence, the poet’s death certificates followed each other in constant rhythm, that is to say, with every new work coming out after 1939. Recently, however, Auden has become the representative poet of a coterie, that of the homosexuals. Auden’s homosexuality is a suppressed chapter, by Auden himself who never flaunted it,33 and one which the scholars of gender are reopening with the usual deformation of taking it as the keystone, unique and revealing, of the world of the poet. He is undoubtedly the poet of reference of this international micro-community.34 Auden in America and for America lends himself, however, to a more variegated balance. The third and fourth phases of ← 32/I | 33/I → his career invent a small poetic genre without any true precedent, which was studied and adopted enthusiastically by the younger American poets: the verse conversation or rather that poetic style halfway between the prose and the poetic register, imbued with highly formalized self-irony and conscious carelessness – the voice of a Berryman or a Lowell.35 This sprezzatura style, which for Auden always works quite well, is nevertheless prolix and most of all full to the brim with private and incidental references which can be neither enjoyed nor shared, and at times, if not always, it ends up in digressions that are an end in themselves.

* The Complete Works of W. H. Auden, 8 vols, ed. E. Mendelson, Princeton, NJ 1988–2015 (Plays and Other Dramatic Writings, 1928–1938, 1988; Libretti and Other Dramatic Writings, 1939–1973, 1993; Prose and Travel Books in Prose and Verse 1926–1938, 1997; Prose 1939–1948, 2002; Prose 1949–1955, 2008; Prose 1956–1962, 2011; Prose 1963–1968, and Prose 1969–1973, 2015). The poetic editions here referred to are Collected Poems, ed. E. Mendelson, London 1976, 1991, 2007, which contains Auden’s final revisions, and The English Auden: Poems, Essays, and Dramatic Writings, 1927–1939, ed. E. Mendelson, London 1977, which reprints the poems included in the first published edition. Juvenilia: Poems 1922–1928, ed. K. Bucknell, Princeton, NJ 2003.

Life. C. Osborne, W. H. Auden: The Life of a Poet, London 1980; H. Carpenter, W. H. Auden: A Biography, London 1981; T. Clark, Wystan and Chester: A Personal Memoir of W. H. Auden and Chester Kallman, London 1995.

Criticism. F. Scarfe, Auden and After: The Liberation of Poetry 1930–1941, London 1942, and W. H. Auden, Munich 1949; R. Hoggart, Auden: An Introductory Essay, London 1951; J. Warren Beach, The Making of the Auden Canon, Minneapolis, MN 1957; M. K. Spears, The Poetry of W. H. Auden: The Disenchanted Island, New York and Oxford 1963, 1968, and, as editor, Auden: A Collection of Critical Essays, Englewood Cliffs, NJ 1964; B. Everett, Auden, Edinburgh and London 1964, J. G. Blair, The Poetic Art of W. H. Auden, Princeton, NJ 1965; F. Binni, Saggio su Auden, Milano 1967, and ‘Wystan Hugh Auden’, in CAB, vol. II, 235–321 (the second essay, which is a reprint of the first with some additions, is muddled and repetitive, albeit rich in useful information and critical comment); J. Replogle, Auden’s Poetry, London 1969 (focused on the discontinuities in contents, style, voice and genre, connected with an alleged antithesis between ‘Poet’ and ‘Anti-poet’); A. Serpieri, ‘Lo specchio e il caos’, in Hopkins-Eliot-Auden. Saggi sul parallelismo poetico, Bologna 1969, 165–208 (an excellent general survey); G. W. Bahlke, The Later Auden: From ‘New Year Letter’ to ‘About the House’, New Brunswick, NJ 1970, and, as editor, Critical Essays on W. H. Auden, Boston, MA 1991; J. Fuller, A Reader’s Guide to W. H. Auden, London 1970, and W. H. Auden: A Commentary, London 1998; F. Duchêne, The Case of the Helmeted Airman: A Study of W. H. Auden’s Poetry, London 1972; F. Buell, W. H. Auden as a Social Poet, Ithaca, NY and London 1973; Auden: A Tribute, ed. S. Spender, London 1975; E. Mendelson, Early Auden, New York 1981, 1983, and Later Auden, New York 1999 (studies by the most authoritative critic and connoisseur of Auden, indebted to the transversal approach of J. Hillis Miller); D. Mitchell, Britten and Auden in the Thirties: The Year 1936, London 1981; G. T. Wright, W. H. Auden, Boston, MA 1981; E. Callan, Auden: A Carnival of Intellect, New York and Oxford 1983; CRHE, ed. J. Haffenden, London 1983; S. Smith, W. H. Auden, Oxford 1985, and Auden, Plymouth 1997, also editor of The Cambridge Companion to W. H. Auden, Cambridge 2004; L. McDiarmid, Auden’s Apologies for Poetry, Princeton, NJ 1990; J. R. Boly, Reading Auden: The Returns of Caliban, Ithaca, NY 1991; M. O’Neill and G. Reeves, Auden, MacNeice, Spender: The Thirties Poetry, Houndmills 1992, 6–34, 85–115, 145–80 and passim; A. Hecht, The Hidden Law: The Poetry of W. H. Auden, Cambridge 1993; C. Dell’Aversano, The Silent Passage: itinerario poetico di W. H. Auden, Pisa 1994; R. Davenport-Hines, Auden, London 1995; M. Bryant, Auden and Documentary in the 1930s, Charlottesville, VA and London 1997; A. Jacobs, What Became of Wystan: Change and Continuity in Auden’s Poetry, Fayetteville, NC 1998; R. Emig, W. H. Auden: Towards a Postmodern Poetics, London 1999; A. Myers and R. Forsythe, W. H. Auden: Pennine Poet, Nenthead 1999; The Poetry of W. H. Auden: A Reader’s Guide to Essential Criticism, ed. P. Hendon, Cambridge 2000; P. E. Firchow, W. H. Auden: Contexts for Poetry, Newark, DE 2002; A. Kirsch, Auden and Christianity, New Haven, CT 2005; T. Sharpe, W. H. Auden, London 2007, and, as editor, W. H. Auden in Context, Cambridge 2013.

1 HYN, 85. This compactness should not be exaggerated, and one reads at times ‘negationist’ boutades like that of Press 1965, 24 (the book on MacNeice cited in this poet’s bibliography, § 17.1), that is, that there is no evidence that all four poets ever got together and sat down for a discussion in the same room. It is true that MacNeice was systematically excluded from the basic quartet.

2 Auden and Isherwood were lovers until 1939; only MacNeice was not homosexual; Spender was, despite marrying twice.

3 ‘My poetry […] is the record of my individual struggle from darkness towards some measure of light’ (quoted in Fitzgibbon’s 1970 biography of Thomas, 151–2, listed in the bibliography in § 69.1).

4 Medley, who became a painter, was the first to arouse Auden’s homosexual inclination. Auden attributed it to his father’s long absence from home, in the war between 1914 and 1918, just as his weakness for smoking was linked to a too premature weaning at his mother’s breast (Osborne 1980, 44).

5 In reality, his duties were reduced to that of a radio announcer for programmes in English destined only for compatriot combatants.

6 OCE, vol. I, 347.

7 A judgement later retracted.

8 Auden’s sexual habits suggest a controlled, in reality somewhat disconcerting hiatus between irresistible starvation and the self-control of artistic work: two spheres incommunicado. The promiscuous Auden was a hunter of muscular boys, and he gathered a collection of conquests in the most diverse locations on disparate occasions. As the psychiatrist Layard stated (cited in Carpenter 1981, 90), ‘Wystan liked being beaten up a bit’. This reciprocal separation between body and mind was dated back (by Mendelson 1983, 65 and 216–17) to the nine months spent by Auden in Berlin in 1929. In 1983, an examination of notebooks and letters not yet published at the time, allowed Mendelson, who made extensive use of them, to discover and cast light on some links within the lyric poems. Auden, in particular, detailed the inner torment of his homosexuality, and in fact up to 1933 his poems also conceal this fatigue.

9 This is the closing line of a repudiated stanza in one of Auden’s repudiated poems, ‘September, 1, 1939’, the date of the outbreak of the war (this contortionism is habitual in Auden, as we shall see). Another brief repudiated poem, to be found nonetheless in the anthologies, ‘Petition’, from 1929, between the comic and the pathetic calls on God for a universal palingenesis, summarized however in an easy, Dickensian formula as ‘a change of heart’.

10 The ‘lack’ in Auden of a ‘settled ideology’ was noted by T. S. Eliot, adding that if a writer lacked ‘ethical and religious beliefs’ the technique, too, is damaged (quoted in Carpenter 1981, 137).

11 The reviewer R. Mayne (CRHE, 449) rightly noticed that Auden at times ‘complexifi[es] simplicity’.

12 Apart from Freud, Lawrence, Marx and Groddeck, Auden, as shall be seen, was influenced by Layard and Gerald Heard.

13 Indeed, the word ‘bore’ and the adjective ‘boring’ appear with independent regularity in the judgements of some more or less famous historical readers: Edith Sitwell, E. A. White, Evelyn Waugh and P. Dickinson (quoted in Carpenter 1981, 137, 189, 247, 348). Auden himself, in the poem ‘The Cave of Making’ (1964), hoped to become, or already believed he was, ‘a minor atlantic Goethe’, silly like all poets, and ‘at times a bore’. In recent times, Derek Walcott alone has insistently emphasized the ‘tremendous intelligence behind the poetry’ of Auden (quoted in Jenkins’s article discussed below in n. 33).

14 As Serpieri 1969 also notes, 168–9 and 170, where he mentions Auden’s ‘repugnance for personal myths’.

15 Auden believed that he had Norse ancestors, and that his surname, in truth uncommon in England, was the corruption of a Scandinavian one.

16 Auden looks to the island, or many islands, and opposes them to the Continent, a constant theme both in the work and the biography.

17 Replogle 1969, chapter II, maintains that Auden is discontinuous and contradictory, Poet and Anti-Poet, an antithesis that is far from apt and is applied too mechanically. They are the two faces of the same poet, the first sublimating, the second satirical, making a joke of everything. The discontinuity is between solemnity and self-parody. Auden’s prose, too, is supposed to reveal the rift between the Poet and the Anti-Poet (ibid., 176).

18 The Kirchstetten farmhouse was bought in 1958 with the Feltrinelli prize money, purchase of a house in Ischia proving too expensive.

19 Auden edited the works of Kierkegaard. Replogle 1969 attempts too casually to demonstrate that the progress from Marx to Kierkegaard was consequential and painless: the latter shared the analysis of human alienation, but added God.

20 The spiritual and religious sense of the concept of the ‘frontier’ is hence re-semanticized (Spears 1963, 185), as I shall discuss further on.

21 Quoted in Spears 1963, 334.

22 Serpieri 1969 insists that Auden operates in the area of allegory, rather than in that of symbol and symbolism, or in that of Modernism or the archetypical method. He notices in the second, converted Auden, the advent of ‘a new allegorical manner’, as in Eliot.

23 CRHE, 342, echoed by Duchêne 1972, 14, who argues that Auden is a poet constantly withdrawing from experience.

24 Bahlke 1970, 18.

25 Browning is rarely evoked with regard to Auden. Herbert Read does so in his tribute to him in CRHE, 272–3.

26 PSL, 683.

27 This ability was recognized by C. James (quoted in Carpenter 1981, 421).

28 Spears 1963, 223.

29 Replogle 1969, in chapter I, analyses Auden’s poetry as a ‘source of ideas’ (90).

30 The Dyer’s Hand, 49. Even Mendelson 1983, who usually explains and paraphrases everything, must hoist the white flag in some cases, and attribute his explanatory helplessness to the poet’s confusion (cf. 139–40 n. †).

31 CRHE, 336.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2019 (November)
English literature twentieth century twenty-first century Second World War
Oxford, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, New York, Wien 2019. XII, 671 pp.

Biographical notes

Franco Marucci (Author)

Franco Marucci is a former Professor of English at the Universities of Siena, Florence and Venice Ca’ Foscari. His publications include Il senso interrotto. Autonomia e codificazione nella poesia di Dylan Thomas (1976), The Fine Delight that Fathers Thought: Rhetoric and Medievalism in Gerard Manley Hopkins (1994), L’inchiostro del mago. Saggi di letteratura inglese dell’Ottocento (2009) and Joyce (2013). His Storia della letteratura inglese in eight volumes was published by Le Lettere, Florence, 2003–2017. As a creative writer he is the author of Pentapoli (2011), followed by Il Michelin del sacro (2012). He runs the blog <http://francomarucci.wordpress.com/>, with comments and features on literature and music, and a weekly sports page.


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