Waugh in Review of Auden’s Collected Works

In the latest issue of The Weekly Standard, Edward Short reviews the the 6th and final volume of The Complete Works of W H Auden: Prose. This is edited by Edward Mendelson. Waugh is mentioned several times:

One can agree or disagree with the charge brought by Philip Larkin that Auden’s intellectual interests stultified his poetry, but one cannot maintain that the essays in which he pursued those interests are stultifying. They exude zest. There may be much about the writing of Auden’s generation that is meretricious. Evelyn Waugh was unsparing about Stephen Spender—”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”—yet Auden wrote a sprightly, elegant, witty prose…

Since Auden only published two essay collections, The Dyer’s Hand (1962) and Forewords and Afterwords (1973), there is much uncollected and unpublished work gathered here, and together with the previously published pieces, they reveal a good deal about the poet’s inner life. In 1964, for instance, in a review of autobiographies by Waugh and Leonard Woolf, he wrote something of an autobiography of his own in which he gave expression not so much to family or personal history as to the exile’s inexorable loneliness. Writing about other artists beguiled his sense of aloneness. The range of Auden’s subjects is staggering: Goethe, Gogol, Hardy, James, Stravinsky, Mozart, Tennyson, Sainte-Beuve, Dickens, Shakespeare, Dante, Kipling, Wagner, Cervantes, Johnson, Beerbohm, Waugh, Wilde, Scott—these and many others make lively appearances here. 

Waugh met Auden for the first time on a visit to the US in 1948. This was at a party given by their mutual friend Ann Fremantle in New York. Waugh wrote to his wife that he was surprised to find that he “rather liked him” (Letters, 290). The quote from Waugh in The Weekly Standard comes from a 1951 review he wrote of Stephen Spender’s memoirs World within World. This is reprinted in Essays, Articles and Reviews, p. 394. 

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