Stephen Spender, The Authorised Biography

By John Sutherland

Abridged by Polly Coles.

Stephen Spender's fascinating life begins here in the first extract from John Sutherland's new biography.

Read by Stephen Boxer.

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01Childhood And Harold20040614

By John Sutherland

Abridged by Polly Coles.

Stephen Spender's fascinating life begins here in the first extract from John Sutherland's new biography.

Read by Stephen Boxer.Long after he had been orphaned, Stephen Spender viewed himself in direct relation to his dynamic, but essentially unfulfilled father, Harold.

Stephen was, as his titles put it, a 'backward son' an 'ambitious son', the 'public son of a public man'.

Harold Spender dominated his four children's lives, in death as in life.

None more so than Stephen, for whom his father was the epitome of 'failure'.

02Auden's Gang20040615

At Oxford, Stephen Spender achieved notoriety and success as a poet, despite failing his degree.

More importantly, he became part of 'Auden's gang' which set him on a path to fame and ensured his place in British Literature.

"Auden, MacNeice and myself, we were all children of professional people and we represented a definite lowering of social standards..".

03Berlin And Isherwood20040616

Spender is now 21 and living in Berlin.

Like his friends Auden and Isherwood, he went to Germany in search of intellectual, artistic and sexual freedom, rejecting England and all it stood for.

But Berlin was enjoying its last days of freedom and their time there was haunted by the relentless rise of Nazism.

04Spain And Women20040617

Spender, "Poet of the Thirties", continues to move back and forth across Europe.

Against a backdrop of political unrest in Vienna and Spain, he moves from homosexuality to heterosexuality and enters a disastrous first marriage.

He becomes a Communist but is soon deeply disillusioned by party politics and the Spanish Civil War.

05 LASTWar And A New Beginning2004061820040625

After a combination of shattering personal and historical break-ups: divorce, world war, the departure of Auden and Isherwood to the States, and ideological disillusionment, Spender assembled a new self, a new career, a new life.

His marriage to Natasha Litvin would be lifelong.

After 1941 Spender was, among his many parts, a family man: husband, father, provider.

He was also, for much of the war, a fireman.