AUDEN IN LOVE by Dorothy J. Farnan


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In 1941 Farnan was a graduate-student at the U. of Michigan, where she met visiting lecturer W. H. Auden and student Chester Kallman, Auden's young Brooklyn-Jewish lover; through the Forties she became one of Chester's devoted N.Y. chums; in 1948 she married Chester's dentist-father. Here, then, from her own recollection, from family papers, and from interviews with old acquaintances, Farnan has put together a chronicle of the odd Auden/Kallman relationship--with no surprises but plenty of anecdotal/domestic minutiae. They met in 1939 when Auden was 32 and Brooklyn College junior Chester was 18--""a combination of angel and satyr,"" wickedly ""irresistible,"" a would-be poet. Wystan fell ""under the Kallman spell""--and would remain utterly in love ever after. Self-destructive Chester, however, soon became sexually cold to Auden, perennially unfaithful. So Auden had to settle for a sexless ""marriage of agape"" over the subsequent decades, with a series of messy triangular relationships along the way. Farnan's documentation of these romantic/sexual brouhahas, with testimony from several (usually pseudonymous) bygone bedmates of Auden and/or Kallman, is sometimes intriguing or amusing, with an occasional insight. Eventually, however, the largely superficial (campy, childish) material becomes repetitious--as does the sketching-in of such matters as Auden's favorite foods, speech mannerisms, domestic schedule, etc. And, despite extensive background on Chester's stepmother-blighted childhood, Farnan never really illuminates the psychological bond that sustained this ""true marriage,"" concluding: ""Chester gave Wystan someone to love. . . Chester had the gift of laughter and companionship."" Still, if neither a major addition to Auden biography nor the distinctive personal memoir it might have been, this reasonably balanced account--the portrait of Chester is affectionate yet far from flattering--is generously detailed, with lots for gossip-oriented aficionados. . . and a few tidbits (relating to the poetry) for scholars.

Pub Date: Aug. 10th, 1984
Publisher: Simon & Schuster