Although best known for his poetry, Stephen Spender wrote a considerable body of drama, fiction, criticism, and journalism. The first of his six plays, Trial of a Judge (pr. 1938), was his contribution to the Group Theatre effort, in which his friend W. H. Auden was so heavily involved, and reflected the young Spender’s socialist outlook. Most of the others—notably Danton’s Death (pr. 1939), which he wrote with Goronwy Rees; Mary Stuart (pr. 1957), taken from the J. C. F. Schiller play; and Rasputin’s End (pb. 1963), a libretto to music by Nicholas Nabokov—likewise dealt with broadly political situations and problems. Spender’s published fiction consists of a collection of stories, The Burning Cactus (1936); a novel, The Backward Son (1940); and two novellas, Engaged in Writing and The Fool and the Princess (published together in 1958).
Spender’s nonfiction prose comprises more than a dozen books, as well as hundreds of essays contributed to periodicals. The critical works have dealt mostly with the issues and problems of modern literature, beginning with essays written for The Criterion in the 1930’s and The Destructive Element: A Study of Modern Writers and Beliefs (1935), and continuing through his study of T. S. Eliot (1975) and the selection of essays from various periods of Spender’s career titled The Thirties and After: Poetry, Politics, People, 1933-1970 (1978). Especially notable among his other critical books are The Struggle of the Modern (1963), a study of modernism’s complicated relationship to twentieth century literature in general, and Love-Hate Relations: A Study of Anglo-American Sensibilities (1974), which examines the connections between American and English literary sensibilities. Spender’s journalistic writings include Citizens in War and After (1945) and European Witness (1946). He also published World Within World: The Autobiography of Stephen Spender (1951).