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Ruined Boys: W. H. Auden in the 1930s

Chapter

Abstract

Ruin was fashionable in the 1930s. Cyril Connolly’s ‘Theory of Permanent Adolescence’, set out in Enemies of Promise in 1938, gave it a rationale which has become part of the mythology of the ‘Auden generation’:

It is the theory that the experiences undergone by boys at the great public schools, their glories and disappointments, are so intense as to dominate their lives and to arrest their development. From these it results that the greater part of the ruling class remains adolescent, school-minded, self-conscious, cowardly, sentimental, and in the last analysis, homosexual. Early laurels weigh like lead and of many of the boys whom I knew at Eton, I can say that their lives are over… now, in their early thirties, they are haunted ruins.1

Keywords

Great Retreat Prep School Paradise Lost British Poetry Fine Tradition 
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Notes

  1. 1.
    Cyril Connolly, Enemies of Promise (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1938; revised edition, London: Deutsch, 1988) p. 271.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    T. S. Eliot, The Use of Poetry and the Use of Criticism (London: Faber and Faber, 1933; this edition 1970) p. 69.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    C. Day Lewis, A Hope for Poetry (Oxford: Blackwell, 1934) p. 4.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    W. H. Auden, Poems (London: Faber and Faber, 1930; second edition 1933). Auden’s prefatory note to the second edition records that he has omitted some poems from the first edition and substituted others. All poems not subsequently tagged in the present essay can be found in these volumes.Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    W. H. Auden, ‘Honour’, in Graham Greene (ed.), The Old School: Essays by Divers Hands (London: Jonathan Cape, 1934) pp. 9–20.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Christopher Isherwood, Lions and Shadows (London: The Hogarth Press, 1938; this edition, London: Methuen, 1979) pp. 157–8.Google Scholar
  7. 7.
    W. H. Auden, ‘Paid on Both Sides: A Charade’, in Poems (1930); originally published in T. S. Eliot’s journal, Criterion, vol. ix, no. 35 (January 1930) pp. 268–90.Google Scholar
  8. 9.
    W. H. Auden, ‘Oxford’, Another Time (London: Faber and Faber, 1940); originally published in The Listener (9 February 1938).Google Scholar
  9. 10.
    W. H. Auden, Poems (1928), privately printed by Stephen Spender (n.p.: S. H. S., 1928) poem II.Google Scholar
  10. 11.
    Katherine Bucknell and Nicholas Jenkins (eds), W. H. Auden: ‘The Map of All My Youth’, Auden Studies I (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1990) p. 60.Google Scholar
  11. 12.
    W. H. Auden, ‘Letter to Lord Byron’, in W. H. Auden and Louis MacNeice, Letters from Iceland (London: Faber and Faber, 1937). The passages referred to can be found on pp. 205–8.Google Scholar
  12. 13.
    W. H. Auden, The Orators: An English Study (London: Faber and Faber, 1932; 2nd edition, 1934; 3rd edition, 1966); 1934 text, pp. 7, 112, 110, 103–9 passim. All Biblical references in the present essay are to The Holy Bible, containing the Old and New Testaments… appointed to be read in Churches: Authorised King James Version (London: Collins, 1953).Google Scholar
  13. 14.
    On Auden and the Larchfield School, Helensburgh, with some recollections by former pupils, see Stan Smith, ‘Loyalty and Interest: Auden, Modernism, and the Politics of Pedagogy’, in Textual Practice, vol. 4, no. 1 (Spring 1990) pp. 54–72.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. 16.
    W. H. Auden, Poems (1928), privately printed by Stephen Spender (n.p.: S. H. S., 1928) poem IV; reprinted in Poems (1930).Google Scholar
  15. 18.
    W. H. Auden, Look, Stranger! (London: Faber and Faber, 1936).Google Scholar
  16. 19.
    Christopher Caudwell, Illusion and Reality (London: Macmillan, 1937; new edn, London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1946) p. 257 ff. For a further discussion of this issue, see Stan Smith, W. H. Auden (Oxford: Blackwell, 1985) pp. 49–50. As I suggest there, the words ‘conversion’ and ‘capital’ in the poem ‘Who will endure’ are both polyvalent. I have developed this argument in Stan Smith, ‘The Dating of Auden’s “Who will endure” and the Politics of 1931’, in Review of English Studies, vol. XLI, no. 163 (August 1990).Google Scholar
  17. Christopher Caudwell, Illusion and Reality (London: Macmillan, 1937; new edn, London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1946) p. 257 ff. For a further discussion of this issue, see Stan Smith, W. H. Auden (Oxford: Blackwell, 1985) pp. 49–50. As I suggest there, the words ‘conversion’ and ‘capital’ in the poem ‘Who will endure’ are both polyvalent. I have developed this argument in Stan Smith, ‘The Dating of Auden’s “Who will endure” and the Politics of 1931’, in Review of English Studies, vol. XLI, no. 163 (August 1990).Google Scholar
  18. Christopher Caudwell, Illusion and Reality (London: Macmillan, 1937; new edn, London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1946) p. 257 ff. For a further discussion of this issue, see Stan Smith, W. H. Auden (Oxford: Blackwell, 1985) pp. 49–50. As I suggest there, the words ‘conversion’ and ‘capital’ in the poem ‘Who will endure’ are both polyvalent. I have developed this argument in Stan Smith, ‘The Dating of Auden’s “Who will endure” and the Politics of 1931’, in Review of English Studies, vol. XLI, no. 163 (August 1990).Google Scholar
  19. 20.
    W. H. Auden, ‘In Time of War’, in W. H. Auden and Christopher Isherwood, Journey to a War (London: Faber and Faber, 1939) pp. 259–301.Google Scholar
  20. 21.
    W. H. Auden, review of G. B. Dibblee, Instinct and Intuition: A Study in Mental Duality, Criterion, vol. IX, no. 36 (April 1930) pp. 567–9.Google Scholar
  21. 22.
    W. H. Auden, ‘Psychology and Art To-day’, in Geoffrey Grigson (ed.), The Arts To-day (London: Bodley Head, 1935) pp. 1–21.Google Scholar
  22. 23.
    W. H. Auden, ‘In Memory of Sigmund Freud’, Another Time (London: Faber and Faber, 1940).Google Scholar
  23. 24.
    W. H. Auden, ‘The Good Life’, in John Lewis (ed.), Christianity and the Social Revolution (London: Victor Gollancz, 1935) pp. 31–50.Google Scholar
  24. 25.
    W. H. Auden, ‘Letter to Lord Byron’, in W. H. Auden and Louis MacNeice, Letters from Iceland (London: Faber and Faber, 1937). The passages referred to can be found on pp. 206 and 234.Google Scholar
  25. 26.
    See W. H. Auden, ‘The Wandering Jew’, New Republic, vol. CIV, no. 1367 (10 February 1941) p. 186; ‘Democracy is Hard’, The Nation, vol. CXLIX, no. 15 (7 October 1939) pp. 386 and 388.Google Scholar
  26. 27.
    W. H. Auden, ‘A Thanksgiving’ Thank You, Fog (London: Faber and Faber, 1974).Google Scholar
  27. 28.
    W. H. Auden, review of B. H. L. Hart, T. E. Lawrence, in Now and Then, vol. 47 (Spring 1934) pp. 30 and 33; reprinted in Then and Now: A Selection… (London: Jonathan Cape, 1935).Google Scholar
  28. 29.
    W. H. Auden, Five Poems, New Verse, no. 5 (October 1933) pp. 14–71.Google Scholar
  29. 30.
    W. H. Auden, Another Time (London: Faber and Faber, 1940).Google Scholar
  30. 31.
    W. H. Auden, ‘Not as that dream Napoleon’ ibid.; subsequently entitled ‘Like a Vocation’, in Collected Shorter Poems1930–1944 (London: Faber and Faber, 1950).Google Scholar

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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1995

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