Stephen Spender born 28 February 1909 (d. 1995)
Sir Stephen Harold Spender CBE was an English poet, novelist and essayist who concentrated on themes of social injustice and the class struggle in his work.
Born in London to a journalist father, Spender went to University College, Oxford, where he met W H Auden. He did not finish his degree and went to Germany. Around this time he was also friends with Christopher Isherwood (who had also lived in Weimar Germany), and fellow Macspaunday members Louis MacNeice, and C Day Lewis. He would later come to know W B Yeats, Allen Ginsberg, Ted Hughes, Joseph Brodsky, Isaiah Berlin, Mary McCarthy, Roy Campbell, Raymond Chandler, Dylan Thomas, Jean-Paul Sartre and T S Eliot, as well as members of the Bloomsbury Group, in particular Virginia Woolf.
His early poetry, notably Poems (1933) was often inspired by social protest. His convictions found further expression in Vienna (1934], a long poem in praise of the 1934 uprising of Viennese socialists, and in Trial of a Judge (1938), an anti-Fascist drama in verse. His autobiography, World within World (1951), is a re-creation of much of the political and social atmosphere of the 1930s.
Spender began work on a novel in 1929, which was not published until 1988 under the title The Temple. The novel is about a young man who travels to Germany and finds a culture at once more open than England — particularly about relationships between men — and showing frightening anticipations of Nazism, which are confusingly related to the very openness the main character admires.
When the Spanish civil war began, he went to Spain with the International Brigades (who were fighting against Francisco Franco's fascist forces) to report and observe for the Communist Party of Great Britain.
A member of the political left wing during this early period, he was one of those who wrote of their disillusionment with communism. It is thought that one of the big areas of disappointment was the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact between Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia, which many leftists saw as a betrayal. Like fellow poets W H Auden, Christopher Isherwood and several other outspoken opponents of fascism in the 1930s, Spender did not see active military service in World War II. He was initially graded 'C' upon examination due to his earlier Colitis, poor eyesight, varicose veins and the long term effects of a tapeworm on 1934. However, he contrived by pulling strings to be re examined and was upgraded to 'B' which meant that he could serve in the London Auxiliary Fire Service.
Spender sued author David Leavitt for allegedly using his relationship with 'Jimmy Younger' in Leavitt's While England Sleeps in 1994. The case was settled out of court with Leavitt removing certain portions from his text.
Spender's sexuality has been the subject of debate. Spender's seemingly changing attitudes towards homosexuality and heterosexuality have caused him to be labelled bisexual, repressed, latently homophobic, or simply someone so complex as to resist easy labelling. Many of his friends in his earlier years were gay. Spender himself had many affairs with men in his earlier years, most notably with Tony Hyndman (who is called 'Jimmy Younger' in his memoir World Within World). Following his affair with Muriel Gardiner he shifted his focus to heterosexuality, though his relationship with Hyndman complicated both this relationship and his short-lived marriage to Inez Maria Pearn (1936-39). His marriage to concert pianist Natasha Litvin in 1941 seems to have marked the end of his romantic relationships with men. Subsequently, he toned down homosexual allusions in later editions of his poetry.
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