W. H. Auden Collection

Scope and Content

The W. H. Auden material is a small collection formed by gift and purchase over the years, serving as a complement to the Auden collection of around 750 printed items purchased from Auden's bibliographer, B.C.Bloomfield in 1982, and augmented by gift by him and purchase since then. The W. H. Auden material consists of an autograph essay, typescripts, and miscellaneous notes. There is correspondence in the form of postcards, and typed and hand-written letters. Most of the Bloomfield Auden collection of printed items has yet to be catalogued. In addition, in the Papers of Professor Archibald H. Campbell, not yet catalogued, there is a box containing press cuttings and letters concerning Auden and Stephen Spender, Spender letters, and some items from Auden to Campbell.

Administrative / Biographical History

Wystan Hugh Auden, poet, playwright, librettist, critic, editor, translator, and hero of the Left during the Depression, was born on 21 February 1907 in York. The family moved to Birmingham in 1908. At the age of eight he was sent to St. Edmund's preparatory school in Surrey, and then attended Gresham's School, Holt, in Norfolk. The young Auden was interested in science and biology, and intended to become a mining engineer, but by 1922 he had discovered poetry. In 1925 he entered Christ Church, Oxford, where he established himself as a poet. After graduating in 1928, he spent a year abroad, in Berlin. Between 1930 and 1935, Auden was a schoolmaster at Larchfield Academy, Helensburgh, Scotland, and at Downs School, Colwall, near Malvern, England. He married Erika Mann, writer, and daughter of Thomas Mann, in 1935, in order to provide her with a British passport. They would later divorce. With others, Auden founded the Group Theatre, 1932. He worked with the GPO film unit in 1935 and collaborated on films such as Night Mail and Coal-face. He travelled to Iceland in 1936 and in 1937 served as a stretcher-bearer for Loyalists during the Spanish Civil War. In 1938 he travelled to China with Christopher Isherwood. With Isherwood, Auden went to the USA in 1939, teaching there and becoming an American citizen in April 1946. He was Associate Professor of English Literature, Ann Arbor University, Michigan, and held a Guggenheim Research Fellowship, 1942. Between 1956 and 1961 he was Professor of Poetry, University of Oxford, and Honorary Student of Christ Church, Oxford, 1962. Auden received King George's Gold Medal for poetry, 1937; the Pulitzer Prize, 1948; the Bollingen Prize, 1953; the National Book Award, 1956; the Feltrinelli Prize, 1957; and, the National Medal for Literature, USA, 1954. For more than 20 years, Auden lived with Chester Kallman, an American poet and close friend. Auden's first book of poetry Poems (1934) was printed privately by Stephen Spender. His early work was a fusion of material from Icelandic sagas, Old English poetry, Marx, Freud, and school stories and humour. It was material produced between 1933 and 1938, warning of the bad side of capitalism and the rise of totalitarianism, that made him the hero of the Left, an example being Look, stranger! (1936). On disillusionment with the Left and having settled in the USA, Auden underwent deep change and edged towards Christian commitment in New Year letter (1941). From 1948, Auden established a pattern of leaving New York every year to spend the summer in Europe, mainly on the island of Ischia, Italy, but latterly in Kirchstetten, Austria. The shield of Achilles (1955) and other sequences of poems were published during this period. With Kallman, Auden collaborated on The rake's progress (1951) for Igor Stravinsky. Auden died in Vienna, 28 September 1973.

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Other Finding Aids

Handlist, H45