THE POET AUDEN: A Personal Memoir by A.L. Rowse

THE POET AUDEN: A Personal Memoir

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Prolific historian and critic Rowse combines biography and literary criticism in this forthright, cranky, and quite funny personal memoir of Auden and his times. Rowse was Auden's senior at Oxford during the 20's, later a fellow at All Souls, and a wary associate of Auden's throughout the poet's life. The tone here confirms the power of an institution like Oxford to draw up lines of self-admitted seniority that, in this case, endured over a lifetime--with Rowse reviewing Auden's progress with the critical and slyly amused view of a Don considering the record of an undergraduate. While Rowse in his youth forged ahead with real historical research, you see, Auden slipped by at Oxford with a mere Third Class in literature, and, decades later, we find Rowse arching eyebrows over some inaccuracies apparent in Auden's Shakespearean commentary: the Don regrets to inform us that Auden got the facts mostly wrong. Still, Rowse's evaluation has the advantage of candor, distinguishing between Auden's best, inspired lines and young Wystan's (always young to Rowse) wordiness, rhetorical excess, and unwillingness to ""think things through."" Ranging back over the ""low dishonest decade"" (Auden's phrase) of the 30's, Rowse questions Auden's grasp of political matters, viewing the Communist position of Auden, Spender, and C. Day Lewis during that decade as mere bourgeois posturing and--the Don clears his throat--in need of Instruction. Of considerably more interest is Rowse's account of Auden's emigration to America, and the effects of wide recognition and material security there on his work. In sum: an anecdotal, amusingly crotchety remembrance redeemed by Rowse's good sense and brief but very bright moments of illumination.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1988
Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson