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W.H.Auden: A Biography [Hardcover]

Humphrey Carpenter
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

29 Jun 1981
Few of W. H. Auden's friends adhered to his request to burn his letters after he died. Humphrey Carpenter's study quotes much of this correspondence for the first time, as well as drawing on other such rare material as Auden's unpublished verse, juvenilia, notebooks, and the journal the young poet kept during a stay in Berlin. This biography traces the artistic development of the most influential English poet of his generation, explaining the in-jokes in his early work, and the romantic crisis that inspired his last three long poems.
--This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


Product details

  • Hardcover: 460 pages
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers Ltd; 1st ed edition (29 Jun 1981)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0049280449
  • ISBN-13: 978-0049280441
  • Product Dimensions: 23.8 x 16.8 x 4.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 620,801 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

About the Author

Humphrey Carpenter was born and educated in Oxford, and attended the Dragon School and Keble College. He was a well-known biographer and children's writer, and worked previously as a producer at the BBC. He wrote biographies of J. R. R. Tolkien, W. H. Auden, Benjamin Britten, Ezra Pound, C. S. Lewis and Dennis Potter. Among his many books for children were the best-selling Mr Majeika series. He also wrote several plays for the theatre and radio. A keen musician, he was a member of a 1930s-style jazz band, Vile Bodies, which was resident at the Ritz Hotel in London for a number of years. He died in 2005.

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5.0 out of 5 stars great book 30 Mar 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Humphrey Carpenter is wonderful biagrapher,and this is a great and interesting read would recomend this book
to anyone interested in the life of Auden
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Amazon.com: 4.8 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Best Auden Bio 5 Feb 2011
By disco75 - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Having read Carpenter's bio after February House, Wystan and Chester, and The Berlin Years, I feel as though I came to know the man (rather than the celebrity) only with Carpenter's portrayal. This bio is written in a dignified, articulate manner that does not, as one might fear with the 1981 publication date, censor the sexuality that is central to who Auden was.

Although Auden was an amateur psychoanalyst, Carpenter does not theorize about the poet's formative experiences as much as he presents the events in a way that lets the reader thread them together. In this way, we can see that the marital relationship to Kallman was a reflection of the maternal attachment that also was reflected in Auden's spiritual development, his political leanings, and his writing goals. We watch as his life changes after Kallman was largely residing in other countries without a formal break, and can speculate how the marital relationship grounded his friendships, teaching style, and writing. We witness the heartbreaking effects of stimulant and alcohol addiction on his face, his socializing, his memory, and his residence. We can enjoy the sweep of history that Auden participated in and become fascinated by his cohort.

The book is detailed without being dense. The poetry is vital to the story but this is not a literary analysis, rather a full-blooded biography. Auden was often a comical character as well as intellectual, giving Carpenter many chances to have the reader laughing out loud.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "We must all love each other or die" 10 Oct 2010
By M. A Newman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I think that some of the reviews of Humphrey Carpenter's book on Auden have undervalued its contribution to a genuine understanding of both Auden the man and his work.

To begin with, no life of Auden could avoid the taint of being "gossipy." Auden led a completely messy life complete with all manner of free and easy sexual encounters. Auden not only led this kind of life, but documented it for the amusement of similarly inclined friends. No one who examines the primary source documents, letters, diaries and even poetry can do anything more than to write a gossipy life. When not only menages a trois, but menages a quatre are the norm, it is impossible to write any other kind of biography unless the naughty bits were rendered in Latin as they were formerly in Suetonius..

What I liked about the book is that Carpenter breaks Auden's inner life into three distinct phases. At Oxford he was under the spell of D.H. Lawrence and even Freud. During the hungry thirties, like most European intellectuals, it was Marx and Communism. It appears that time in Spain contributed to Auden's disillusionment with "the God that failed." His third intellectual period was more orthodox embracing the Anglicanism of his youth and Kirkegaard coincided with his the beginning of his years in New York City.

For me, Carpenter's book filled in a number of blanks for me, mainly concerning Auden's emigration. Knowing more of the work than the man, I was under the impression that Auden decided to take up residence in America at the beginning of World War II rather than nearly a year before. His return to Oxford and Britain coincided with failing health and desire to return to his native land (though still an American citizen).

Another aspect of the work that I noticed was a shift in Auden's work in his later years. Critics have, I think unfairly, blamed the decline in quality of the poems on residence in America. What I think Carpenter demonstrates is that while Auden's poetry lost some of its edge, Auden was becoming more settled, more domestic in his later years and perhaps for this reason the themes involved more commonplace topics. Perhaps in reaction to these critiques, Auden tended to disown some of his more important poems, including the famous "September 1 1939", with its indictment of the thirties as "a low dishonest decade" (a poem that had particular resonance for me after the financial crash of 2008).

The picture that Carpenter paints of Auden is a person who probably would be better read than lived with. He was in a constant state of dishevelment and his living quarters were always characterized by visitors for the profound state of untidiness. Still Auden did write some of the best verse of the 20th century and even branched out less successfully into the fields of opera (Stravinsky's "Rake's Progress) and even the theatre (the work here seems to be dreadful, proving no one can be good at everything). As a teacher, his methods appear to be original and oriented more toward making students think about what they were reading (a sample exam on Elizabethan literature, "explain why the devil is both sad and honest.").

I think that Carpenter does an admirable job in this life of Auden. I think that other than a thorough read of Auden's collected works (and there is yet to be published a single good collection), this is probably as good a work on Auden as one is likely to find.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Concise - Complex - Complete - Clean 24 Oct 2013
By propertius - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Considering that W. H. Auden was a marvelously accomplished enfant terrible while fresh from Oxford, and continued to produce talented works for 50 years, I would have to say that Humphrey Carpenter has given us a remarkable biography spanning the poet's entire life. There is little in this poet's life that is not touched upon whether it reflects on the man or the artist and the reader will have few questions left unanswered even though at time it borders on the tedious, but Mr. Carpenter knows his stuff and never falls over that precipice.

The Auden that we meet as a child and leave as he is interred, is as fascinating to us as such diverse elements in his life were to him.(lead mines in northern England, Icelandic Sagas, Opera, Screen Writing, Psychoanalysis, Religion and oh yes, poetry) The key to Auden, which is the major thesis of the book, is that Auden never stopped developing as a poet and the great controversy about whether his immigration to America is really a misunderstanding of his growth. What the twenty year old poet wrote is not the same as the fifty year old poet but there is a uninterrupted developmental line.

Readers may be surprised at the amount of space devoted to his involvement with screenplays, musical scores (he was once considered for writing the words to the music of "Man of la Mancha") translating but Auden had a burning desire to use the word in as many and varied ways as possible. And if you think that you are buying a glorified version of Cliff Notes for individual poems, you will be sorely disappointed. As a matted of personal interest, I found the relationship of Auden and T.S. Eliot intriguing to say the least and it is priceless to learn that even though Eliot published Auden's early works, he found many of the literary and historical allusions of Auden "obscure." (This from the author whose poetry has tormented many a college sophomore)

Finally, Mr. Carpenter handles Auden's personal life and life style in a balanced and some may say clinical or nonjudgmental manner and only as it pertains to his work or personal torments. This is not a lurid expose'. My mind goes back to Carlos Baker's biography of Ernest Hemingway's life to recall a biographer who has such a deft and sensitivity in dealing with tragic circumstances.

All in all, a biography that should be read before all others.
5.0 out of 5 stars THE Authoritative Biography on Auden 31 July 2014
By David R. Altman - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
A powerful and detailed look at Auden the person--and how his life influenced his poetry at an early age. This writing makes you feel that you are traveling with Auden on his many journeys, both literally and figuratively. You begin to predict what he will say, how he would react to what was being said and to appreciate the complexities of both his style and his thinking. Carpenters book, rich with detail and at times frightening in its insight, leaves us with a biographical classic--one that could be taught not only in freshman poetry but in graduate level psychology classes. Auden was the greatest poet--and one of the great thinkers--of the 20th century--and this biography supports that conclusion.
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