Stephen Spender: A Literary Life
“I'm struggling at the end to get out of the valley of hectoring youth, journalistic middle age, imposture, moneymaking, public relations, bad writing, mental confusion.” ― Stephen Spender
"But do you really think I'm any good?" a nervous Stephen Spender asked W. H. Auden, some six weeks after they'd met. "Of course," Auden said. "Because you are so infinitely capable of being humiliated." Humiliation was Spender's lifetime companion. Few poets have been more savagely reviewed. And none has nurtured a greater sense of inadequacy. This is the man who, having dismissed John Lehmann as a potential lover because he was a "failed version of myself", adds: "but I also regarded myself as a failed version of myself." With Spender, self-deprecation reaches comic extremes of self-abasement.
Enjoying his poetry is only part of the wonder encountered in John Sutherland's recent biographical portrait, Stephen Spender. From his privileged upbringing to his adult life filled with self-abnegation this biography is a literary goldmine. His marriages, travels, relationships with men, and more are part of this comprehensive tome. It truly was a "Literary Life". I enjoyed reading this book as it drew me into hie wonderful world of literary friendships with Auden and others with his time in Berlin fascinating as an account of the early journey of the young poet.
Sutherland convincingly shares a description of Spender as a "fine" or even "great" poet. That is the poet I know when I read him and like Stephen Spender, "I think of those who were truly great", and in doing so cherish the transcendent geniuses of the past. Spender's poetry is only part of his superb literary output.
Stephen Spender: A Literary Life by John Sutherland. Oxford University Press, 2005