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Later Auden Hardcover – April, 1999

3 customer reviews
Book 2 of 2 in the Auden Series

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Editorial Reviews Review

Edward Mendelson was handpicked by W.H. Auden as his literary executor. As the man who has overseen every posthumous edition of the poet's work, Mendelson has an intimate understanding of Auden's writings that few can match. While Later Auden is, of course, in one sense a sequel to Early Auden, it is also complete unto itself, and although it does contain some biographical elements, it is not strictly speaking a biography--more a work of literary criticism informed by biography. Thus, while beginning with Auden's 1939 arrival in the United States from his native England, Mendelson immediately launches into an extended analysis of the poem "In Memory of W.B. Yeats," which in turn leads to a discussion of Auden's conception of the poetic "gift" in battle with his intellect. Ample space is given throughout the book for Auden's poetry and prose, revealing rather than describing his views on politics, literature, sexuality, and other issues. But Mendelson is always careful to show how, even when Auden is positioning himself at his most detached, the writings are always informed by his life's circumstances. Later Auden (along with its companion volume) is probably the closest we shall ever come to an indispensable guide to Auden's work--and perhaps the next best thing to reading the poems themselves.

From Publishers Weekly

This mammoth, accessible study ties the life of major English poet W.H. Auden to his ideas, and both to his poetry. MendelsonAa Columbia University professor who is also Auden's literary executorApicks up where his Early Auden left off, in 1939, when Auden emigrated to the United States. He sees in Auden two kinds of poetry, which he calls "myth" and "parable." The first stresses the impersonal and the aesthetic; the second, the voluntary and the ethical. Auden's best poems represent or acknowlege both; his weaker work adheres to one or the other. This intriguing interpretive scheme gets necessarily submerged as Mendelson tracks Auden's voluminous output, his life and his rapidly-shifting ideas. Throughout his writing life Auden's deepest beliefs changed frequently, sometimes faster than he could finish the poems he meant to embody them. (Some beliefs were strange indeed: in 1940 Auden thought that he had been granted true loveAin the form of longtime companion Chester KallmanAas a reward for his childhood attachment to lead-mining machinery.) Most usefully, Mendelson has read what Auden read, finding in now-neglected thinkers (Charles Williams, Eugen Rosenstock-Huessy, R.G. Collingwood, F.J.E. Raby and Owen Barfield) the seeds of this omnivorous and idiosyncratic poet's changes. Auden's successive reversals and self-repudiations can be dizzying; Mendelson's clear prose and copious citations do their best to help readers hang on. His focus on Auden's long poems and his defense of Auden's very late "domestic" poems will send many readers back to them. And the poet's own amply quoted manuscripts will give most readers one more source of pleasure: "You're so good," he tells one intimate, "and I'm a neurotic middle-aged butterball." (Apr.) FYI: John Fuller's W.H. Auden: A Commentary, published last year, is an exhaustive reader's companion to Auden's work. (Princeton Univ. $35 640p ISBN 0-691-00419-6)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 592 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar Straus Giroux; 1st edition (April 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374184089
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374184087
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.5 x 2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #841,250 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Keith Peters on June 21, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Professor Mendelson's book on Auden's work from the 1940s to his death in 1973 is one of the best way to appreciate the poet's later poems, prose and librettos. "Later Auden" details that there was both a public and private interpretation of much of his work, including "The Rake's Progress" written for composer Igor Stravinsky, "Age of Anxiety", and "Thanksgiving for a Habitat". By all means, if Auden appeals to you, this is a necessary book.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Keith Peters on June 17, 2000
Format: Hardcover
For any one looking for an introduction to Wystan Auden's work, there is no better way than to pick up both Early Auden and Later Auden by Edward Mendelson. Both of these books help one understand some of the more obscure aspects of Auden's poetry, and in particular, to distinguish both the personal and public parts of his work. I pick up this book again and again. I also recommend it unreservedly to anyone looking to get acquainted with one of the 20th century's most important voices.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By S. Schuler on October 23, 2008
Format: Paperback
Edward Mendelson is in a particularly privileged position. He is Auden's literary executor, he knew Auden personally if somewhat distantly, and he has access to many of Auden's still-unpublished documents, papers, and letters. He draws on all these advantages, as well as his own formidable critical skill, to unpack Auden's often obscure poetry. Auden is an easy poet to misunderstand, and Mendelson does invaluable work in correcting many previous misreadings of Auden. Mendelson is well aware of important influences on Auden's thought, and he ably traces many subtle shifts in Auden's philosophical, theological, and political opinions, firmly but gently reproving sundry critics' oversimplifications of Auden's development as a poet. Mendelson's work is especially valuable in its consistently insightful explanations of Auden's obscure references and particularized language. Auden frequently uses seemingly common terms in very particular ways, and Mendelson's readings of the poems are always helpful in untangling Auden's thoughts and intentions.

Be warned though that this is a long book, and necessarily so, since it is a nuanced argument. The book is written to be read cover-to-cover, though it can serve as a good reference book for any reader who is already familiar with Auden's work. As literary criticism goes, Mendelson is clear and readable, partly because his interpretation is not controlled by any preconceived literary theory. Some readers may find that the lack of theoretical commitment bothersome, and others may be irritated by Mendelson's frequent focus on a largely biographical reading of Auden's work. But Mendelson's criticism goes a long way toward proving that, in Auden's case at least, interpretation must take biography into account.
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