Stephen Spender: The Authorized Biography by John Sutherland - review by Jeremy Lewis

Jeremy Lewis

The Clownish Poet

Stephen Spender: The Authorized Biography


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EARLY IN 1943, James Lees-Milne called in at St George's Hospital to see Stuart Preston, a handsome and much sought-after American Army sergeant who had been struck down with jaundice. Draped across the end of the sergeant's bed was the elongated figure of Stephen Spender, clad in his fireman's uniform. 'He is extremely handsome still, with an open radiant face framed in fuzzy wind-blown yet close-cut hair which in its stellar wav reminds me of Einstein's,' Lees-Milne confided to his diary. 'Is he as innocent and guileless as I he appears? He is very polite, with a schoolboy's awkward good manners.'

Lees-Milne, an amused and observant Spender-spotter over many decades, goes unmentioned in this sprightly, enjoyable and often infuriating biography, but Professor Sutherland provides other examples of the curiously ambivalent reactions aroused by his subject. Cyril Connolly, who worked closely with Spender on Horizon, famously remarked that he was not only

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