Satirist Craig Brown has reviewed a memoir of poet Stephen Spender in this week’s Mail on Sunday. This is a book by Spender’s son Matthew entitled A House in St. John’s Wood: In Search of My Parents. Among other revelations, the memoir confirms his mother’s previously denied affair (or at least infatuation) with novelist Raymond Chandler as well as numerous homosexual affairs of his father. Waugh was not an admirer of Spender. His views are reflected in the memoir (as amplified by Brown):
Matthew quotes Evelyn Waugh as saying that, together with Auden and Isherwood, Spender had ‘ganged up and captured the decade’ of the Thirties… Tactfully, he fails to mention Waugh’s horribly damning verdict on Stephen Spender’s writing: ‘To see him fumbling with our rich and delicate language is to experience all the horror of seeing a Sèvres vase in the hands of a chimpanzee.’
The quotes are from Waugh’s 1951 review of Stephen Spender’s memoir, World Within World, reprinted in Essays, Articles and Reviews (p. 394). Waugh might have added in a more charitable spirit that Spender, unlike his chums Auden and Isherwood (who appeared in several of Waugh’s works beginning with the novel Put Out More Flags as Parsnip and Pimpernell), did not scarper off to the US during WWII but remained in England where he served in a fire brigade.