A critical biography of the poet explores the Spanish Civil War, the rise and fall of Marxism and Nazism, World War II, Vietnam, the sexual revolution, and modern figures such as Yeats, Woolf, Sartre, and Eliot.
"Leeming, a discerning biographer, is drawn to seminal artists such as James Baldwin and, now, poet Spender, a "true cosmopolitan." Leeming's friendship with his subject began in 1970 and lasted until Spender's death in 1994, a relationship that, coupled with Spender's eloquent self-disclosure in his journals, autobiography, critical writings, and poetry, makes for an exceptionally fluent narrative. Leeming sees Spender as a key witness to and participant in the rise of modernism, and, indeed, Spender's life reads like a who's who of twentieth-century letters. An orphan when he enrolled at Oxford, where he forged deep friendships with fellow students Auden and Isherwood, Spender found substitute parents in T. S. Eliot and Virginia Woolf. Aesthetically astute, politically liberal, candid about his bisexuality, expressive, and self-depreciating, Spender was always in the thick of things, and the convoluted chronicle of the evolution of his writing, extensive travels, work as editor and teacher, stint as the first non-American poet laureate, and happiness as husband and father seems to reflect the complexity and mutability of his times. --Donna Seaman"
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Publisher's Weekly Review:
"Spender (1909-1995) was the longest-lived and certainly the most "clubbable" (to use a quaint English phrase) of the modernist English poets who made their names in the early 1930s by rebelling against the genteel Georgian school. His contemporaries included W.H. Auden, Christopher Isherwood, Louis MacNeice and C. Day Lewis. Spender was a considerable poet, though he lacked the range and brilliance of Auden; and, as this study makes clear, he was a consummate literary politician. Spender loved the company of those he called, in a famous line, the "truly great," and assiduously cultivated them throughout a long life. This made him a remarkable literary editor (at Encounter, which, unfortunately, turned out to be sponsored by the CIA); all he had to do for a star-studded table of contents was call his friends for contributions. He was also an industrious lecturer, an indifferent novelist and the author of one of the better intellectual memoirs, World Within World. This book caused a stir in the closing years of the poet's life when he sued David Leavitt for fictionalizing material from it about one of his many homosexual encounters. Bringing suit seemed an odd thing for this endlessly agreeable and accommodating man to have doneÄthough some (like Auden) suggested that the apparently dreamy, friendly Spender had a much tougher, more ruthless side than he cared to show. This is a perfectly adequate traversal of a life of some significance, but depending as it does entirely on letters and journals, with no interviews or secondary sources, it is rather colorless, its few anecdotes dutiful rather than sparkling. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved"
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved