Stephen Spender: New Selected Journals 1939-1995

Lara Feigel (ed.), John Sutherland (ed.)

Stephen Spender: New Selected Journals 1939-1995

Stephen Spender wrote almost a million words of journal entries between his September Journal in 1939 and his death in 1995. In choosing from these voluminous journals for the new edition, the editors have tried to provide a picture of the various lives Spender brought together in autobiographical form. The earlier 1985 edition of the Journals was overseen by the author, and it privileged his thoughts about poetry - his own and other people's. The new edition includes the final ten years of Spender's life and provides access to the more intimate thoughts and feelings of the private man, but equally documents his life as a public intellectual who played a part in shaping the European literary and intellectual culture of his age. As we look back on the dramatic events of the twentieth century, we find that Spender was involved in many of them: the reconstruction of Germany and the construction of Europe (as Unesco's first Literary Councillor), the development of the cultural Cold War (as editor of Encounter), the founding of Israel, the anti-Vietnam movement in America. The Journals provide a personal version of sixty turbulent years of the twentieth century, hovering between diary, autobiography and history. 3.7 out of 5 based on 7 reviews
Stephen Spender: New Selected Journals 1939-1995

Omniscore:

Classification Non-fiction
Genre Biography, Essays, Journals & Letters, Literary Studies & Criticism
Format Hardback
Pages 816
RRP
Date of Publication July 2012
ISBN 978-0571237579
Publisher Faber & Faber
 

Stephen Spender wrote almost a million words of journal entries between his September Journal in 1939 and his death in 1995. In choosing from these voluminous journals for the new edition, the editors have tried to provide a picture of the various lives Spender brought together in autobiographical form. The earlier 1985 edition of the Journals was overseen by the author, and it privileged his thoughts about poetry - his own and other people's. The new edition includes the final ten years of Spender's life and provides access to the more intimate thoughts and feelings of the private man, but equally documents his life as a public intellectual who played a part in shaping the European literary and intellectual culture of his age. As we look back on the dramatic events of the twentieth century, we find that Spender was involved in many of them: the reconstruction of Germany and the construction of Europe (as Unesco's first Literary Councillor), the development of the cultural Cold War (as editor of Encounter), the founding of Israel, the anti-Vietnam movement in America. The Journals provide a personal version of sixty turbulent years of the twentieth century, hovering between diary, autobiography and history.

John Crace's Digested Read | Guardian

Reviews

The Evening Standard

David Sexton

The most revealing additions are those describing Spender’s late-life affair with an American biology student, Bryan Obst — “I am 70 and he is 22” — for Spender was never honest about his sexuality during his lifetime ... As before, Spender’s life is a round of parties, luncheons, speeches and conferences, and he meets many famous and interesting people — Morandi, Stravinsky — but he simply is not a good enough writer or sufficiently sharp observer of others to make these encounters rewarding.

12/07/2012

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The Literary Review

Jeremy Lewis

An exceptionally self-conscious writer and public figure, Spender was all too aware of how he was regarded — or disregarded — by the world at large. ‘Secretly I do not believe that anyone has read anything (apart from a few anthologized poems) I have written,’ he admitted in one of the spasms of self-doubt that pepper his journals. He was probably right about his poetry, but his autobiographical writings deserve to be better known. They interlace literary gossip with an insider’s view of the cultural and political trends of the time; what makes them sympathetic as well as entertaining is Spender’s awareness of his own literary and intellectual shortcomings, and the comfort he draws from, in particular, his wife and children.

01/07/2012

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The Spectator

Cressida Connolly

Friends were very important to Spender and he had a great many of them. He was not a writer who craved seclusion. In these pages we encounter Isaiah Berlin, Stuart Hampshire, Igor Stravinsky, Alfred Brendel, Iris Murdoch, Edith Sitwell, Harold Pinter, Henry Moore, Mary McCarthy, Susan Sontag, Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon and countless others ... Of course I am biased, but it seems to me that my father Cyril Connolly is the most brilliant and touching and flawed and funny — the most human — of Spender’s friends. He animates the pages on which he appears, a sort of Falstaff to Spender’s John of Gaunt.

14/07/2012

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The Sunday Telegraph

Peter Parker

While the selection is nicely balanced between the public and the private, there are some curious gaps. Readers will be disappointed to find no entries between December 1965 and June 1972, a period which includes the still controversial episode in which allegations that Encounter was indirectly sponsored by the CIA led to Spender’s resignation from the magazine. If, as seems unlikely, Spender kept no journal during this period, the editors neglect to say so … He may have enjoyed the high life with such friends as the Rothschilds, but as these absorbing, generous and funny journals show, he observed it all with an amused and not uncritical fascination that if anything only increased with age.

13/07/2012

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The Independent

Richard Canning

Scrupulously edited and footnoted, the Journals prove among Spender's finest publications. Other titles, such as his account of the foundation of Israel, Learning Laughter (1952), deserve greater recognition. Moreover, he can legitimately be said to have mastered all literary genres. One reservation: Faber's pricing policy may put off curious readers who shy away from digital formats. These writings by a bibliophile are, suitably, beautifully produced — but priced either towards the wealthy or already committed.

28/07/2012

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The Observer

Adam Mars-Jones

It has to be said that Spender's journals aren't as entertaining as Isherwood's diaries … Isherwood had the advantage of prose being his primary product, so that a diary could double as a workshop. When Spender reports a conversation about the candidness of his journals he refers to "one or two things in my life I would not write about because I did not understand them myself". This category includes "experiences of falling in love which seemed almost hallucinatory". Isherwood would have been baffled by this impulse to retreat rather than examine, and to ban the richest samples from the laboratory. Still, keeping a diary is a sort of yoga, a stretching exercise almost guaranteed to promote suppleness of mind, and Spender's sensibility opens up unpredictably. He becomes better company as the book goes on.

29/07/2012

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The Financial Times

Benjamin Eastham

If we agree with Spender that these journals are valuable as items of public record, as minutes of one plainly decent man’s interaction with the great and the good of 20th-century culture, then there is much here to enjoy. Those of us, however, who revere writers because they seem more perfectly attuned to what Woolf called the “acute life”, and who read their journals because they promise the freest expression of it, must remain unsatisfied.

01/01/1900

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