W H Auden: Prose, Volume III – 1949–1955 by Edward Mendelson (ed) - review by Peter McDonald

Peter McDonald

Firbank, Bellini and Rare Steak

W H Auden: Prose, Volume III – 1949–1955


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We know that writers can be badly or well served by the scholars who edit and process their works and lives; but might it is also be possible for them to be too well served in such things? Nobody can really ever know enough about the poets they love, and scholarly labours over the written remains of a Tennyson or a Byron, a Pope or a Wordsworth, are never going to be redundant, no matter how tiny the details in which they deal (Shakespeare’s laundry-lists, discovered and edited, would naturally make a bestseller). But timing in these things is important; and poetic reputations, in particular, take a lot of time to settle and consolidate. The big editorial guns can be fired too early, and a premature salvo is not guaranteed to put its subject safely among the immortals.

It is not that anyone could seriously fault the quality of the editorial attention which has been lavished on W H Auden in the decades since his death: the ongoing edition of his Complete Works has been brilliantly executed so far, and this third volume of his critical prose, covering work from the first half of the 1950s, more than meets the standard

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