Edward Mendelson is in a particularly privileged position. He is Auden's literary executor, he knew Auden personally if somewhat distantly, and he has access to many of Auden's still-unpublished documents, papers, and letters. He draws on all these advantages, as well as his own formidable critical skill, to unpack Auden's often obscure poetry. Auden is an easy poet to misunderstand, and Mendelson does invaluable work in correcting many previous misreadings of Auden. Mendelson is well aware of important influences on Auden's thought, and he ably traces many subtle shifts in Auden's philosophical, theological, and political opinions, firmly but gently reproving sundry critics' oversimplifications of Auden's development as a poet. Mendelson's work is especially valuable in its consistently insightful explanations of Auden's obscure references and particularized language. Auden frequently uses seemingly common terms in very particular ways, and Mendelson's readings of the poems are always helpful in untangling Auden's thoughts and intentions.
Be warned though that this is a long book, and necessarily so, since it is a nuanced argument. The book is written to be read cover-to-cover, though it can serve as a good reference book for any reader who is already familiar with Auden's work. As literary criticism goes, Mendelson is clear and readable, partly because his interpretation is not controlled by any preconceived literary theory. Some readers may find that the lack of theoretical commitment bothersome, and others may be irritated by Mendelson's frequent focus on a largely biographical reading of Auden's work. But Mendelson's criticism goes a long way toward proving that, in Auden's case at least, interpretation must take biography into account. (Auden once claimed that a poet's biography is of no help in understanding his poetry, but Mendelson shows that this claim is quite untrue as it applies to Auden's own work.) This books is, obviously, a continuation of Mendelson's _Early Auden_, which should be read in conjunction with this book. These two volumes are the definitive works of Auden criticism so far, and along with John Fuller's _W. H. Auden: A Commentary_, they are the best available criticism of Auden's work.
- Publisher: Farrar Straus & Giroux (1 May 2000)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0374526990
- ISBN-13: 978-0374526993
- Product Dimensions: 16.2 x 3.8 x 21 cm
- Boxed-product Weight: 658 g
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