Written in 1930 when Spender was only twenty-one years old, THE TEMPLE was not published at that time since it could not conform to British libel and censorship laws then in effect. Author John Fuller discovered the original manuscript in 1986, among Spender’s papers housed at the University of Texas, Austin, and encouraged him to revise and publish it.
Though most of its characters are based on the young homosexual men Spender knew during his student days, THE TEMPLE is not a novel about homosexuality; rather, it analyzes and contrasts the personalities of British and German youth during the final years of the Weimar Republic. Those familiar with Spender’s life will recognize the young W.H. Auden (Simon Wilmot in the novel), Christopher Isherwood (William Bradshaw), and their first meetings in Auden’s rooms at Christ Church College, Oxford. The heart of the work, set immediately before the period covered in Isherwood’s own BERLIN STORIES, details in two parts with Spender’s visits to Germany, which in this revised version are set in 1929 and 1932.
Paul Schoner (Spender) journeys to Hamburg, Germany, between Oxford terms, ostensibly to learn German. He stays at the home of the parents of Ernest Stockmann, an acquaintance originally introduced by the dean of Schoner’s college. Theirs never becomes a true friendship because Stockmann, who spent a year in residence at Downing College, Cambridge, tries to adapt his likes, interests, and even personality to those of is British guest.
Schoner does develop a lasting friendship with another German, Joachim Lenz, son of a wealthy coffee merchant. Lenz (identifiable with photographer Herbert List) ultimately casts off the burden of a secure future as a businessman to pursue photography. Schoner also meets an array of young Germans, all desperate in their search for freedom from their parents’ standards.
After the carefree summer of its first part, THE TEMPLE evolves into a second section, much more somber, set in the winter of 1932. Some of Schoner’s friends seek their destiny in the Nazi movement; some of the homosexual men marry. Schoner follows Bradshaw to Berlin; both have discovered that necessity occasionally forces them to enter the temple of lucre, though this costs them their unqualified worship of the body’s temple.