The richly detailed follow-up to Early Auden (not reviewed), Mendelson's well-received study of the poet's most notable period. With unparalleled access as executor of Auden's literary estate, Mendelson (English and Comparative Literature/Columbia) blazes a scholarly trail ending in Auden's "private spheres" as an expatriate poet and lecturer after the "public chaos" of WWII, which was preceded by his formative, more eventful experiences of the 1930s. Here he takes Auden at his word when he wrote "anything of importance that happens to one is immediately incorporated, however obscurely, into a poem", and nothing, however obscure, escapes Mendelson. While the poetry that made Auden famous was created in Britain, this later period includes major, rich works such as The Age of Anxiety, the tour de force The Sea and the Mirror, and the anthology favorites The Shield of Achilles and "In Praise of Limestone"—all of which Mendelson exhaustively unpacks, making good use of drafts, correspondence, and Auden's own literary criticism. With these and much of Auden's prolific output, he elucidates both their relation to the poet's personal life, which was dominated by his rise-and-fall affair with Chester Kallman, and his personal mythology, with its high-church Christianity and Jungian inclinations. While Mendelson ably keeps up with Auden's restless intellectual existence, which absorbed Kierkegaard and Tillich, among others, he underplays his early legacy, especially the influences of Freud and Marx, whom Auden could not fully expel from his creative pantheon. Just as Mendelson assisted Humphrey Carpenter with researching his masterly biography of Auden in 1981, here he provides an invaluable academic trove. Not a critical study so much as a biography of Auden's poetry itself that is comprehensive in situating the work in the life.
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