W.H. Auden: The Life of a Poet by Charles Osborne - review by W W Robson

W W Robson

A Shilling Life

W.H. Auden: The Life of a Poet


Eyre Methuen 336pp £7 order from our bookshop

‘A shilling life will give you all the facts’, and though Mr Osborne’s life of Auden costs rather more than a shilling it is certainly rich in specific information. Auden’s love-affairs are here (one of them was with a woman), and the poet’s public career is competently surveyed. But essentially the book adds little to the picture many readers will already have formed from Spender’s and Isherwood’s impartings and from Auden’s own ‘Letter to Lord Byron’, his anthology A Certain World, and his review of Leonard Woolf’s autobiography. It is really a ‘life and times’ kind of book, and like most such books it tells us more about the ‘times’ than the life. It is all rather external. I was personally acquainted with W H Auden and thought him a very nice and kindly man and an impressive one too, not only witty and humorous but often wise and sensible. In this biography something of Auden’s humour comes through, but the other things do not.

The book will be of interest to those who feel a personal curiosity about Auden, and it will do very well until the inevitable American blockbuster comes along. But it does little to stimulate thought about any general interest or value to be found in the contemplation of the poet’s

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