cover image The Complete Works of W.H. Auden: Prose, Volume III, 1949–1955

The Complete Works of W.H. Auden: Prose, Volume III, 1949–1955

W. H. Auden, , edited by Edward Mendelson. . Princeton Univ., $49.50 (779pp) ISBN 978-0-691-13326-3

If Auden (1907–1973) had never written a line of verse, we would still remember him as a superb, entertaining, prolific critic, author of essays, reviews, whole books and stand-alone witticisms on poetry, fiction, Christian belief and history, classical music and opera. This third volume of his complete prose is the best yet: it covers years when he felt almost at home in America, writing comfortably and frequently for the New York Times, Partisan Review and other venues both middle- and high-brow, and branching away from the inward concerns of theology toward reviews and analyses of music and imaginative literature. Here is the ambitious set of lectures published as The Enchaféd Flood, about the Romantic hero and the sea, in Melville, Baudelaire and (taken with entire seriousness) Edward Lear. Here are the influential reviews of Tolkien and the introductions to first books by Adrienne Rich and John Ashbery. Here, too, are effective boosts for European and British prose (George Macdonald, Giovanni Verga); venturesome (only occasionally repetitive) generalizations about writing and reading poetry; comments on America in general (“a nation of amateurs”); and even an enthusiastic plan for a Yorkshire holiday. No major writer’s complete works are more fun to read. (Dec.)