ENGAGED IN WRITING by Stephen Spender


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Turning from poetry to prose, Stephen Spender chooses the novel form to punctuate an attitude of lonely disenchantment. The first novel in Engaged in Writing depicts an international writers' conference which meets, full of high zeal, to discuss international understanding. Representatives of every contemporary political, literary and philosophical school are present, with factions impotently trying to communicate and never achieving even surface understanding. Set against the background of sensual Venice, men, lost forever in the jungle of bloodless ideology where the fact rather than the purpose of the conference is primary, luxuriate in the cacaphony of their barren slogans. Lightly veiled personalities, such as Sartre and other internationally fashionable litterateurs are parodied although the parody itself is only slightly penetrating. For those who are not familiar with the scene and figures of literary Europe, Spender's caricature of confusion will be, itself, pretty muddled. The second novel, The Fool and the Princess, tells the story of a self-educated young Englishman, who during his service in a DP camp in Germany becomes infatuated with himself as an intellectual and further projects this infatuation to a female DP, with whom he compares his womanly and somewhat opressed wife, to his wife's disfavor. The experience leads to growth in both people, though it is certainly a shabby development limited by their potentials, and, in the end, the husband and wife come together in a relationship predicated on mutual alienation. As novels, both these attempts manifest similar limitations; Spender has selected somewhat fantastic contexts in which to present his dialectic. Unfortunately, the context, from an imaginative point of view is rather flimsy and is obviously no more than a vehicle for his agonized brand of weltschmerz.

Pub Date: Sept. 12th, 1958
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Cudahy