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Auden’s Funeral

Stephen Spender, 4 June 1981

... To Christopher Isherwood I One among friends who stood above your grave I cast a clod of earth from those heaped there Down on the great brass-handled coffin lid. It rattled on the oak like a door knocker. And at that sound I saw your face beneath Wedged in an oblong shadow under ground: Flesh creased, eyes shut, jaw jutting, And on the mouth a smile: triumph of one Who has escaped from lifelong colleagues roaring For him to join their throng ...

Diary

Stephen Spender: Towards a Kind of Neo-Paganism, 21 April 1983

... Schloss drew herself up and said in a piercingly reproachful voice: ‘I don’t read, I write, Mr Spender.’ I nearly ruined the afternoon of one of my poet colleagues by mentioning the name of one of his contemporaries (a charming fellow, I thought) who, as well as being a poet, reviews volumes of poetry. Reviewing and being reviewed is the sad commedia of ...

Was she Julia?

Stephen Spender, 7 July 1983

Code Name ‘Mary’: Memoirs of an American Woman in the Austrian Underground 
by Muriel Gardiner.
Yale, 200 pp., £10.95, May 1983, 0 300 02940 3
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... I suppose I should ‘declare an interest’. In 1934 I had a love affair, which is briefly related here, with the author, who has remained to this day one of my closest friends. I have written about this in World within World, where Muriel is called ‘Elizabeth’. Many people think that Muriel Gardiner is the model for Julia in the story bearing that name by Lillian Hellman, published in Hellman’s second volume of ‘memoirs’, Pentimento ...

Diary

Stephen Spender: Unnecessary Wars, 9 April 1992

... I completed my memoir World within World in 1950, when I was 41. Reading it now, 42 years later, it seems to me that much of it represents the situation of a generation of English writers during the Thirties, novelists and poets, coming from a background of the professional middle class, and most of them born between 1905 and 1910. The accident of the time, as well as of the social class into which they were born, accounts for many of their attitudes during a period that covered two world wars – or perhaps only one war, lasting from 1914 to 1945, with a truce under the terms of the Treaty of Versailles between 1918 and 1939 ...

What I believe

Stephen Spender, 26 October 1989

... When asked the question ‘What do you believe?’ I suppose it to mean, first and foremost, ‘Do you believe in God?’ My mind is a blank with regard to this, as to similar questions. ‘Do you believe in life after death?’ ‘Do you believe that life has any meaning other than that which we put into it?’ I am incapable of thinking that there is an eternal being whose existence has neither beginning nor end, because I cannot think a beginning which has no previous beginning, an end which has no subsequent end ...

Purging Stephen Spender

Susannah Clapp, 26 October 1989

Sylvia Townsend Warner: A Biography 
by Claire Harman.
Chatto, 358 pp., £16.95, July 1989, 0 7011 2938 7
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For Sylvia: An Honest Account 
by Valentine Ackland.
Chatto, 135 pp., £6.95, July 1989, 9780701135621
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... Persecution of Fascists’. On her next visit, to attend a writers’ congress, she fell out with Stephen Spender, and was later to urge his expulsion from the Party: ‘let us be sure it looks like a purge ...

On the Feast of Stephen

Karl Miller: Spender’s Journals, 30 August 2012

New Selected Journals, 1939-95 
by Stephen Spender and Lara Feigel, edited by John Sutherland.
Faber, 792 pp., £45, July 2012, 978 0 571 23757 9
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... Stephen Spender was a visitor to the city of Hamburg both before the war and after, when he played a part in the work of occupation and recovery. He was well on his way to being the noted ex-communist poet, whose lyricism of the left spoke up in praise of pylons and the landing aeroplane, gliding over the suburbs, ‘more beautiful and soft than any moth ...

A Great Big Silly Goose

Seamus Perry: Characteristically Spenderish, 21 May 2020

Poems Written Abroad: The Lilly Library Manuscript 
by Stephen Spender.
Indiana, 112 pp., £27.99, July 2019, 978 0 253 04167 8
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... StephenSpender had spent two terms as an undistinguished student at University College, Oxford, before he finally met W.H. Auden. It was not for want of trying. Michael, Spender’s elder brother, an insufferable turbo-brain at Balliol, had known Auden at school and kept in touch, but refused to arrange an introduction for Stephen, fearing, as Spender later put it, that ‘in producing me he would be playing the weakest card in his hand ...

Spender’s Purges

Frank Kermode, 5 December 1985

Collected Poems 1928-1985 
by Stephen Spender.
Faber, 204 pp., £4.95, November 1985, 0 571 13666 4
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A Version of the Oedipus Trilogy of Sophocles 
by Stephen Spender.
Faber, 199 pp., £12.50, November 1985, 0 571 13834 9
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Journals 1939-1983 
by Stephen Spender, edited by John Goldsmith.
Faber, 510 pp., £15, November 1985, 0 571 13617 6
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... clerk, examining the author’s credit card in Seattle, asked him if he was related to the poet Stephen Spender. Assured of his customer’s identity, the clerk expressed his pleasure: ‘Gee, a near-celebrity.’ No doubt the status of full celebrity was reserved for movie stars and ball-players. At any rate there is little doubt that ...

From Soup to Fish

Andrew O’Hagan: The Spender Marriage, 17 December 2015

A House in St John’s Wood: In Search of My Parents 
by Matthew Spender.
William Collins, 448 pp., £25, August 2015, 978 0 00 813206 4
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... In​ the 1990s, when literary parties were more fun, or I was more fun, I used occasionally to see Stephen Spender: there he was, the establishment on quivering legs, queer as a chocolate orange but safely married. (When I spoke to him, I discovered he could flirt with his eyes shut.) Frank Kermode, a great friend to this paper but never knowingly unmalicious, remarked that ‘Stephen never knew where he was going but he always knew the quickest way to get there ...

Kitty still pines for his dearest Dub

Andrew O’Hagan: Gossip, 6 February 2014

Becoming a Londoner: A Diary 
by David Plante.
Bloomsbury, 534 pp., £20, September 2013, 978 1 4088 3975 1
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The Animals: Love Letters between Christopher Isherwood and Don Bachardy 
edited by Katherine Bucknell.
Chatto, 481 pp., £25, September 2013, 978 0 7011 8678 4
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... by Bloomsbury – the books, the people, the scarves, the gossip – which led them to venerate Stephen Spender as one of its last links. Squeezed into a narrow bed, they would read Spender’s World within World together and admire ‘that entirely English’ set-up in which, Plante wrote at the time, ‘I fantasise ...

At Home in the Huntington

John Sutherland: The Isherwood Archive, 10 June 1999

... to be a mysterious cove comprehensible only to his pals (among whom Waugh did not number himself). Stephen Spender, Waugh declared, had been granted at birth all the fashionable literary neuroses but his fairy godmother ‘quite forgot the gift of literary skill’. (Once celebrated as the Shelley of the Thirties, he was later described by Geoffrey ...

Stainless Splendour

Stefan Collini: How innocent was Stephen Spender?, 22 July 2004

Stephen SpenderThe Authorised Biography 
by John Sutherland.
Viking, 627 pp., £25, May 2004, 0 670 88303 4
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... When Stephen Spender’s son Matthew was ten years old, he caught his hand in a car door. ‘The event,’ John Sutherland writes, ‘recalled other tragedies in the boy’s little life; the running over, for example, of his dog Bobby – a "rather lugubrious looking spaniel” and a present from his godmother, Edith Sitwell ...

Look, I’d love one!

John Bayley, 22 October 1992

Stephen SpenderA Portrait with Background 
by Hugh David.
Heinemann, 308 pp., £17.50, October 1992, 0 434 17506 4
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More Please: An Autobiography 
by Barry Humphries.
Viking, 331 pp., £16.99, September 1992, 0 670 84008 4
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... when the ‘facts’ are right, how much more so when they are wrong? Hugh David’s book about Stephen Spender misleads in every way, factually as well as aesthetically, although in the general welter of disinformation it is barely possible to distinguish fact from treatment. As David’s previous studies of the period reveal, he has a rather ...

I am a cactus

John Sutherland: Christopher Isherwood and his boys, 3 June 2004

Isherwood 
by Peter Parker.
Picador, 914 pp., £25, May 2004, 0 330 48699 3
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... Xtopher,’ Stephen Spender wrote in April 1931, ‘is a cactus.’ Prickly, solitary, self-sufficient, hard to handle and difficult to love. How to get to grips with ‘Isherwood’ (as he has chosen to address him) was a problem for Peter Parker: something that perhaps explains the 12 years this usually brisk biographer has spent on his task ...

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