Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Stephen Spender notes repeatedly in Journals, 1939-1983 that he would prefer posterity remember him primarily as a poet, which he views as the noblest of literary callings; nevertheless, the contents of this book reveal that he is comfortable in many roles. His longevity, literary gifts, and willingness to live his life openly have allowed him a wide variety of experiences and acquaintances with many famous literary figures.

In their published form, Spender’s journals are segmented into logical episodes of his life, each section prefaced by a commentary written in 1983, the year he received his knighthood. This technique allows the writer to reexamine earlier convictions and events from a position of public acceptance as an older man of letters. This position is remarkable, since the circle of writers with whom Spender associated, W.H. Auden and Christopher Isherwood most notably, considered themselves literary (and social) iconoclasts. Even so, Spender’s commentaries do not interrupt the chronological flow of events. The only chronological gaps occur within the journals themselves, and these in two places readers would hardly expect to find them: during World War II (1940-1945) and during the first years of the Cold War (1946-1948). The gaps are surprising considering Spender’s residence in Germany during the rise of Nazism and his youthful flirtation with Communism.

There is also a noticeable omission of sensitive personal material. Margaret “Lolly” Spender, the author’s first wife, simply disappears from the work with no discussion of the failure of their marriage, and Spender never reflects on his own homosexuality, though he is often remarkably candid about experiences related to it. Spender characteristically limits gossip and lurid details in his journals, just as he maintained firm control throughout World Within World: The Autobiography of Spender (1951) and another autobiographical work, The Temple (1988). The Temple was denied publication...

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(Literary Essentials: Nonfiction Masterpieces)

Isherwood, Christopher. Berlin Stories, 1946.

Kazin, Alfred. Review in The New York Times Book Review. XCI (January 26, 1986), p. 1.

The New Yorker. Review. LVII (November 10, 1986), pp. 138-142.

Sheppard, R.Z. “Confessions of a Public Son,” in Time. CXXVII (January 20, 1986), p. 68.

Spender, Stephen. Auden: A Tribute, 1975.

Spender, Stephen. Letters to Christopher: Stephen Spender’s Letters to Christopher Isherwood, 1929-1939, 1980.

Stanford, Derek. Stephen Spender, Louis MacNeice, Cecil Day Lewis: A Critical Essay, 1969.

Weatherhead, A. Kingsley. Stephen Spender and the Thirties, 1975.