Auden biography has now reached a sort of tertiary stage. First came the polite reminiscences; then, tell-all chronicles such as Humphrey Carpenter’s. Now, with Auden by Richard Davenport-Hines, we get an attempt to find figures in the stained, messy carpet of the life. The events of the writer’s life we can take as read (there is little new or newly handled here): he was born in 1907, the youngest of three sons of a kindly Yorkshire doctor and a snobbish, fragile mother; Oxford in 1925; a year in sexy Berlin; a spell of schoolteaching; Spain; Iceland with Louis MacNeice; China with Christopher Isherwood; to America with Isherwood in 1939 on the eve of war; settling in New York with Chester Kallman; shuttling back and forth in the postwar years from St. Mark’s Place to Ischia to Oxford to Austria, where he died in 1973. Ideas, feelings, and words must, of course, flesh out such a skeleton. It must be said that Auden’s ideas ran...


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Richard Davenport-Hines
Vintage, 444 pages, $19.95

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