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This review is taken from PN Review 122, Volume 24 Number 6, July - August 1998.

CAMPING WITH UNCLE WIZ W.H.AUDEN, Prose 1926-1938. Edited by Edward Mendelson (Faber) £40

This necessary but immensely cumbersome book isn't quite what it seems to be: it doesn't consist entirely of prose (the 'Letter to Lord Byron' and other verse components of the travel books are included) nor is it wholly by Auden (Letters from Iceland and Journey to a War are substantially the work of MacNeice and Isherwood respectively); conversely, The Orators, which is mostly prose and entirely by Auden, is omitted. Its awkwardly overlapping relationship with The English Auden (1977), which was subtitled 'Poems, Essays and Dramatic Writings 1927-1939', is aptly symbolised by Faber's use of an identical cover image: a 1928 photograph of Auden lighting a cigarette which, confidently upright twenty years ago, has now been tilted backwards as if buffeted by a strong head-wind. While The English Auden restored to circulation some generally acknowledged masterpieces which had been crankily banished by their author during his lifetime, Prose 1926-1938 is a larger book with a narrower scope; within its limits it is bound to be more comprehensive but also more uneven.

When Graham Greene reviewed Auden's The Orators for the Oxford Magazine in 1932, he memorably detected 'a slight smell of school changing-rooms, a touch of "Stalky"': Greene, whose father was Headmaster of Berkhamsted and who was shortly to edit an anthology of reminiscences called The Old School (with Auden among his distinguished contributors), would have been well-placed to know. All the same, it's a perceptive and gently mischievous remark, for something of that sort permeates the ...


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