Auden by Richard Davenport-Hines

By Richard Davenport-Hines

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He used these ideas poetically. In The Witnesses' (1932) he ended a list of ominous forces with the phrase 'the women in dark glasses, the humped-back surgeons and the scissors man'. A decade later, in 'The Sea and the Mirror', he alluded to the idea of vagina den ta ta: In their Royal Zoos the Shark and the octopus are tactfully Omitted. We cannot know the exact association in Auden's mind between late circumcision and castrating women, but we can suspect that he made such an association, and that it was integral to a disagreeable circle of fear, resentment and guilt.

He knew this himself, though he sometimes expressed it negatively. 'It is impossible to understand modern English literature unless one realizes that most English writers are rebels against the way they were educated, and it is impossible to understand the strength of the English ruling class until one realizes where it comes from,' Auden wrote in 1939 while reviewing Cyril Connolly for Americans. ' In his case rebellion started after he was sent away, in the autumn of 1915, to board at St Edmund's School at Hindhead in Surrey, a preparatory school with some fifty pupils, including his brother John.

For Auden the crucial moment of his day of diagnosis was spent with Medley. He still intended to be a mining engineer, and his most recent 'crazes' had been 'for motor-bikes, photography, and whales'. But in the spring of 1922, on a walk together, Medley made some irreligious remarks and was then startled to find Auden flushed with annoyance (despite his professed dislike of Howson's Christianity). To cover their discomfiture Medley changed the subject. ' I never had, and said so, but I knew That very moment what I wished to do.

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