Stephen Spender: A Life in Modernism

Stephen Spender: A Life in Modernism

by David Leeming

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The first critical biography of one of the twentieth century's towering literary figures.

Stephen Spender was a minor poet, but a major cultural influence during much of the century. Literary critic, journalist, art critic, social commentator, and friendend of the best-known cultural figures of the modernist and postmodernist periods (Yeats, Woolf, Sartre, Auden, Eliot, Isherwood, Hughes, Brodsky, Ginsberg-a "who's who" of contemporary literature). Spender's writing recorded and distilled the emotional turbulence of many of the century's defining moments: the Spanish Civil War; the rise and fall of Marxism and Nazism; World War II; the human rights struggle after the war; the Vietnam protest, the Cold War, and the 1960s sexual revolution; the rise of America as a cultural and political force. As David Leeming's fascinating biography demonstrates, Stephen Spender's life reflected the complexity and flux of the century in which he lived: his sexual ambivalence, his famous friends, the free-love days in Germany between the wars, the CIA-Encounter scandal. In David Leeming's capable hands, this comprehensive, unauthorized study of Spender is a meditation on modernity itself.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781429939744
Publisher: Holt, Henry & Company, Inc.
Publication date: 04/01/2011
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 320
File size: 1 MB

About the Author

David Leeming, a former professor of English and comparative literature at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, is the author of The World of Myth, Amazing Grace: A Life of Beauford Delaney, and James Baldwin: A Biography (Owl Books, 0-8050-3835-3). He lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Read an Excerpt

Stephen Spender
1CHILDHOOD AND HERITAGEStephen Harold Spender was born on February 28, 1909, at 47 Campden House Court in London. The Spenders were the epitome of the reasonably well-to-do, upper-middle-class late-Edwardian family with liberal-progressive views on politics and somewhat "low church" Victorian ones on morality and lifestyle. Stephen Spender would ultimately absorb the essence of the former and reject the latter.Spender's liberal social and political attitudes and his role as a public man of letters and a consummate insider were inevitably influenced by the presence and priorities of his strong father. Harold Spender was a reformist journalist with the London Daily News and a sometimes Liberal politician. He was a man who "knew everybody" in the Liberal Party during its last years of power, including the prime minister, David Lloyd George, whose authorized biographer he was.The outsider side of Stephen Spender's personality, the side characterized by shyness and awkwardness, can be attributed in part to his sense of being cornered by his father's Victorian values of duty, purity, and discipline in both the public and private spheres. From an early age Spender rejected and rebelled against his father's abstract principles andhis tendency to be rhetorical rather than personal. He reveled instead in the concrete and the physical and in the exploration of his inner self and by adolescence had developed a desire to experiment in activities of which his parents would have disapproved. He sensed that his father's world was a dying one, that his father was essentially a "failure" in spite of his rhetoric and his dominance in the family. The Spender household was one of "Puritan decadence" that led Stephen to a retreat into himself.If Spender's predilection for confessional poetry and self-searching autobiography was attributable in part to his rejection of his father, it was perhaps even more attributable to the personality of his mother, Violet Hilda Schuster, whom Harold had married in 1904. A poet and painter, and a chronic victim of heart problems and other ailments, Violet Spender was very much the sensitive, self-absorbed outsider. Spender always felt, too, that the sense of his Jewishness, inherited from his mother, contributed to his tendency toward self-deprecation--a "self-hatred and self-pity, an underlying perpetual mourning amounting at times to spiritual defeatism"--and, more positively, to a certain softness and inquisitiveness that contrasted with the "aloof, hard, external English" ways that he simultaneously envied, feared, and loved.1 In later years Oxford friend and fellow poet Louis MacNeice would tell Spender that he had always thought of him--even at Oxford--as being Jewish "because under everything there is an underlying quality of melancholy or sadness about your character," a characteristic MacNeice associated with Jews.2In his relationships with both of his parents, young Stephen felt dissatisfaction, then. Before his rebellion he longed especially for the approval of his exacting father, even deciding at a young age that he must strive to be prime minister one day in order to please him. Stephen always felt, however, that Harold much preferred his more athletic and academically successful older son, Michael, who had a great deal of that "aloof, hard, external English" aspect. Michael was able to tolerate Harold's impersonal and rhetorical approach to his children. Spender describes in World Within World how Harold Spender once visited Michael at school and was asked to read the lesson at the evening chapel service. The lesson was the parable of the Prodigal Son. Michael was the organist that day, seated, therefore, in the organ loft far away from where his father was standing. At a crucial point in the lesson, Harold Spender, "with a flourish," removed his glasses "and gazing up at my brother in the distance exclaimed in the voice of the father beholding his prodigal son: 'But when he was as yet a great way off, his father saw him ... .'"3Harold Spender was born to a family of successful and progressive physicians and writers. His maternal grandfather, Edward Headland, was known for his "modern" ideas about the education and the role of women in society. He married the daughter of a Spanish nobleman, who gave birth to Lily Headland in 1835. Lily would be educated far beyond the level of most women of her time. She became a linguist and a writer (under the name of Mrs. J. K. Spender). Her novel Parted Lives (1873) achieved some considerable success, as did several others after it. In 1858 she had married John Kent Spender, a prominent physician of progressive leanings, whose father was also a doctor who held similar views. The Bath Spenders were descended from an old Bradford-on-Avon family. John Kent Spender achieved fame for his medical writings, but it was Lily's publications that created the trust money that would provide their children and grandchildren with some financial security. Stephen Spender never knew his paternal grandparents, as they both died before he was born.Harold was the second son of Lily and John Kent. There were eight children in all, one of whom, Hugh, followed in his mother's footsteps by becoming a popular novelist. Throughout his life Harold stood in the shadow of his older brother, Alfred, who later went by the name J. A. Spender when he was chairman of the Liberal Federation, influential editor of the Westminster Gazette, and authorized biographer of his friend the prime minister H. H. Asquith, archrival in the Liberal Party of Harold Spender's hero, David Lloyd George. The rivalry between Asquith and Lloyd George was reflected in a certain coldness between the two brothers.All of the Spender children, male and female, were formally educated.Both Alfred and Harold excelled at the local Bath College--a progressive school, developed as an alternative to the great public boarding schools, and committed to the highest academic standards. Harold followed Alfred as head boy at the school before also following him to Oxford, but to University College rather than to Alfred's much more prestigious Balliol College. Both men did well at the university, Harold a bit better than Alfred, but it was Alfred who, on their arrival in London, quickly became the greater success in their chosen profession of journalism.Stephen's mother, Violet, was as difficult to please as her husband, but for different reasons, and young Stephen felt that she kept him at a distinct distance. Perhaps because of her chronically "delicate" state, she was self-absorbed and impatient with the noise of children. One of Spender's early memories of her places her with "a plaid rug over her knees, ... on a chaise longue, perpetually grieving over I know not what."4 Another time, when he was a small child, she appeared at the door of the nursery, "with a white face of Greek tragedy, and exclaimed like Medea: 'I now know the sorrow of having borne children.'"5 Although Stephen shared her sensitivity and love of things artistic, he sensed his mother's impatience with him, and rather than consider her an ally, he associated her with his father's Victorian emphasis on duty, purity, and discipline.Violet came from a family as formidable in its way as the Headlands and Spenders. Her grandfather Sir Herman Weber was a German Catholic whose mother had been partly Italian. After his migration from the Rhineland in Germany to England he became a prominent physician, was close to the great Liberal prime minister William Gladstone, and was knighted in 1899. He died on Armistice Day in 1918. Sir Herman's wife was a Danish Lutheran whose family name was Gruning. Among their children was Hilda Weber, who was artistic, interested in modern art and literature, liberal in her views, and always committed to "good causes." During the First World War, she would become a Quaker. In 1876 Hilda married Ernest Joseph Schuster, the son of a German Jewish banker-lawyer who had immigrated to Englandfrom Frankfurt am Main in the 1840s. Ernest's mother was also a German Jew, a strong woman who led her family in their conversion to a particularly devout Christianity. Ernest had been sent to Germany for his education as a lawyer, and there he obtained a doctor of law degree from the University of Munich. In 1869 he returned to England, became a British subject, and entered his father's firm, now Schuster, Son and Company.Ernest and Hilda's marriage produced four children: Edgar, a scientist and inventor, George (later Sir George Schuster), Alfred, who was killed during World War I, and Violet, Stephen Spender's mother. The Schusters lived a comfortable life until Ernest died in 1924, three years after his daughter Violet's death. At that point Hilda moved, in effect, to one room of her apartment in London and lived according to a somewhat extreme and eccentric frugality. Young Stephen became particularly attached to his grandmother after his grandfather's death and even more so after his father's, when she became, with J. A. Spender, the de facto guardian of Harold and Violet's children.It was the death of both his parents, Violet when Stephen was twelve, Harold when he was seventeen, that was, to the sensitive child, the ultimate act of desertion. "The death of both my parents, in the middle of their lives after operations," Spender would write, "gave me a sense of death as an almost voluntary act within a tragic family relationship."6 The Spenders left four children, all born before the First World War: Michael in 1906, Christine in 1907, Stephen in 1909, and Humphrey in 1910.Although somewhat ill at ease with his parents and constantly embarrassed by his awkwardness and his shyness, Stephen's was not an altogether unhappy childhood. Its positive aspects included a great deal of exposure to nature, to public events and people, and to poetry. If the Spenders were stiff and undemonstrative, they were at least intelligent and highly civilized.When Stephen was four, his mother's health took a turn for the worse and doctors recommended time in the country. For this reason the family moved from London to Sheringham in Norfolk. The Sheringham house, called the Bluff, was on a cliff overlooking the sea. This would be the Spender home until 1919.In World Within World Spender suggests, "My childhood was the nature I remember"--primarily the nature that surrounded him at Sheringham and that he encountered during stays in the Lake District.7 He always felt that it was these natural surroundings that led more than anything else to his interest in the romantics and to the lyrical aspect that differentiated his poetry from that of his modernist friends and contemporaries, including especially W. H. Auden.Spender, who always loved flowers, remembers a world in Sheringham of pansies, speedwells, scabious, hollyhocks, and cornflowers:Sometimes, stuck as though glued to the stem of a flower, just below the cup of the petals, there was a chalk-blue butterfly--milky blue its widespread wings: and pale russet chalky color the short under-wings, with small copper rings and spots as though stamped on to them by a minute hammer ... .The scent of a rose was a whole world, as though when I buried my nose in the petals the day was instantly canopied with a red sky. 
And in the fall and winter there was the wind off the sea. The boy 
started singing into the wind. Then I stopped singing, and I heard a very pure sound of choral voices answering me out of the blowing sky. It was the angels.8In trying through his prose to re-create the sense of his childhood, Spender reveals himself to have had the temperament of a lyric poet with clear romantic tendencies and to have been in many ways happy. The child he describes even enjoyed his usually pompous father's company as Harold took his children on romps along the coastal paths and told them stories of his past. While in Miss Harcourt's kindergarten in nearby East Runton he would long to get back to the flowers and fields. His childhood ambition "was to be a naturalist, an old man with a long white beard, like a photograph I had seen of Charles Darwin."9 Stephen's hobby was collecting furry caterpillars, a large number of which, atage seven, he "allowed to escape" in a Leeds hotel elevator, much to the consternation of fellow guests onto whose clothes the caterpillars attached themselves.It was in Wordsworth's Lake District, however, that the young Spender associated his love of nature with the possibility of poetry. In the summer of 1916, during a German zeppelin bomb attack on England, an explosive fell near the Sheringham house and led to Harold Spender's decision that a vacation in the less vulnerable north country would be wise.The Spenders rented Skelgill Farm, which still stands at the foot of Catbells Mountain near Derwent Water in the Lake District. Young Stephen loved the wildness of the lake scenery as much as he loved that of Sheringham. On rainy days his father would read Wordsworth aloud--the simple ballads, like "We are Seven" and "A Lesson to Fathers."The words of these poems dropped into my mind like cool pebbles, so shining and so pure, and they brought with them the atmosphere of rain and sunsets, and a sense of the sacred cloaked vocation of the poet.10And in the evening Stephen would overhear his father reading aloud to his mother the longer, more complex Wordsworth poems, the words of which he did not understand but the sound of which thrilled him.Many years later Spender would revisit Skelgill Farm and would remember the birth of his vocation in the last lines of a poem called "Worldsworth":Rhythms I knew called Wordsworth Spreading through mountains, vales, To fill, I thought, the world. 
"Worldsworth," I thought, this peace Of voices intermingling--"Worldsworth," to me, a vow.11If nature was the first theme of Stephen's early life, the quest for friendship was the second. He observed that despite their liberal politics, both parents strove to keep their children away from the "lower elements" of the world around them.My parents kept me from children who were rough And who threw words like stones and wore torn clothes ... . 
I feared the salt coarse pointing of those boys Who copied my lisp behind me on the road. 
They were lithe they sprang out behind hedges Like dogs to bark at my world. They threw mud While I looked another way, pretending to smile. I longed to forgive them but they never smiled.The somewhat hypocritical attitude of Stephen's parents was typical of middle-class Liberal reformers of the day. The politics of Gladstone, Asquith, Lloyd George, and people like the Spenders envisioned a reformed and caring society, but they did not envision a breakdown of the class system. The family's attitude on class mixing contrasted with young Stephen's thirst for friendship with those whom the social system rendered unreachable. But Stephen also made friends among his "own kind." At Miss Harcourt's kindergarten there was Penelope "with whom at the age of seven I was in love," and there was also Forbes, a boy he liked with whom, however, he fought from time to time. Once, when Stephen happened to be on top of Forbes in one of their struggles, he experienced something of the thrill of physical love, "a sensation like the taste of a strong sweet honey ... spreading wave upon wave, throughout my whole body."12The First World War days were by no means all nature and friendship. An early memory was of the visit to Sheringham of Stephen's uncle Alfred Schuster and of the word that came soon afterward of his death on the front. Words that remained with him all of his life were those of his mother on the night before the news of her brother's death. She suddenly stopped painting that night, sighed, and muttered, "This terriblewar."13 The Spenders and Schusters were attacked in certain right-wing and anti-Semitic elements of the press for both their German and Jewish backgrounds. When a Christian zealot confronted Stephen's grandfather, Ernest Schuster, with the "impertinence" of allowing his son, a German Jew, to serve in the Christian British Army, Schuster handed the man a copy of the telegram announcing his son's death and asked him to leave.At the age of nine Stephen entered a period of suffering that was brought on by his own request that he be allowed to join his older brother, Michael, as a boarder at Old School House Preparatory School, of Gresham's School, Holt. It is of interest to note that later, after Stephen had left the school, his future friend W. H. Auden would join Michael Spender in its upper grades.It was a desire to take on something of his brother's grown-up English ways that motivated Stephen's decision to attend Old School House. As soon as he arrived there, however, it was made clear that he was not to associate with his brother, who was in a higher grade. Once again he was faced with an impenetrable social system, and a period of painful homesickness began. Stephen's parents, in the interest of making their awkward son "a man," ignored his pleas to be taken back home. Spender would later capture the sense of his homesickness at Old School House and other schools in his novel The Backward Son (1940), in the memoir "Day Boy" (1934), and in his autobiography, World Within World. Bothered by unfair discipline administered by older boys and the headmaster, embarrassed by the public nakedness in cold showers, and intimidated by academic and social requirements, Spender withdrew into himself, finding support in the teaching of a Miss Bristowe about the romantic poets, who did not follow classical rules and who explored their inner beings. In the quiet of his dormitory bed at night he experienced the understanding that would one day lead to the title of his autobiography:Within each there is a world of his own soul as immense as the external universe, and equally with that, dwarfing the little stretch of coherent waking which calls itself "I."14Stephen and his younger brother, Humphrey, who joined his older brothers during Stephen's second year at Old School House, were particularly teased for their German ancestry. They were "Huns" among the English and sometimes "Jews."After one particularly bad day of hazing, Stephen broke down at the home of his music teacher, Mr. Greatorex, who put his arm around the boy's shoulder, coaxed the agony from him, and comforted him with words his pupil would remember and remind the teacher of in later years: "I can assure you that a time will come, perhaps when you are about to go to University, when you will begin to be happy. You will be happier than most people."15It was during a vacation from school, just after the war, that the nine-year-old Stephen accompanied his father to 10 Downing Street to see Lloyd George. This marked one of the few occasions in his life that Spender would miss an opportunity to make the most of a significant moment. Left in the taxi while his father went in to talk with the prime minister, the boy became overwhelmed by a desire to urinate, and after much inner debate relieved himself into the fog outside of the cab window. The taximan turned to the now humiliated Stephen and commented on the fact that the prime minister had just walked by. Stephen, huddled face down in the backseat, had missed him.By the time of the Lloyd George experience the Spenders had moved back to London, this time to 10 Frognal in Hampstead. Here Violet's condition steadily worsened and, after an emergency operation, she died on December 4, 1921, at the age of forty-four. To the twelve-year-old Stephen his mother's death seemed the inevitable result of her constant and very visible suffering; it was, in fact, "the lightening of a burden." If he felt anything at the time, it was "a stimulating excitement." His father's reaction was predictable, too. It was dramatic and rhetorical and it somehow isolated the children from him:I remember entering a room and seeing my father seated on a chair with his head in his hands. When he saw us he raised his arms, embraced us and exclaimed: "My little ones. You are all your old father has left."16The immediate effect of Harold Spender's grief was to attempt to keep all the children but Michael close to him at home. There was no question of any more emotional closeness than there had been before, however, so Stephen felt imprisoned but unfulfilled by his father's possessiveness.Still, there was a distinct advantage in not being sent back to boarding school. Instead, Stephen was enrolled as a day student in the prestigious Hall School of Hampstead and after two very successful terms there--his first happy school experience--he went on to University College School just up the road, also a prestigious institution, which would lead, it was hoped, to a place at Oxford. University College School was considered liberal and relatively progressive, yet academically demanding. Hazing was rare, corporal punishment was forbidden, and a general atmosphere of caring prevailed there. It was not unlike the Bath school that had prepared Harold for Oxford in his youth. Now on the verge of adolescence the thirteen-year-old Spender entered the fourth form (tenth grade) in the fall of 1922.At University College School Spender flourished. He disliked sports because his father had instilled in him the idea that sports were character-building activities rather than entertainment. But in spite of chronic health problems, which he would outgrow, he succeeded academically because he found courses and instructors he liked enough to make it possible for him to separate learning from his father's dictums on duty and discipline. He also became interested in political issues and joined clubs such as the Debating Society and the League of Nations Union. At debates, especially, he established a reputation for originality, humor, and enthusiasm, even announcing midway through one that he had been converted by his opponent's argument.Stephen read a great deal on his own, painted landscapes, took a special interest in the vegetable garden at 10 Frognal, wrote sonnets of the Miltonic sort for The Gower, the school publication, was elected to the student government, worked through the ranks of the Officer Training Corps, and grew into a tall young man who was considered to be exceptionally handsome, if still a bit awkward. In a 1925 journal he revealssomething of his poetic, intellectual, and philosophical interests. He is reading Shaw's Back to Methuselah and enjoys the portraits of Asquith and Lloyd George he finds there. He notes with appreciation the dynamics between his uncle Hugh and aunt Edith when they come for dinner. He especially appreciates Aunt Edith's famous elaborate headdress. He goes to church with his father and meditates on the nature of prayer and its "power." But organized religion is not something that particularly appeals to him. Yet he finds Christ's use of what he considers to be symbolic language of great interest: "This is my body" expresses an abstract idea concretely with great power. Actually eating Christ's body and blood would amount to something grotesque, but the symbolic idea behind the image contains great power. Young Spender feels closest to God when he is involved in the creation of poetry; his creation helps him to understand God's. When he is sent off to Officer Training Corps camp on Salisbury Plain in July, he is bored by the conversations of the other boys; they seem primarily interested in prurient matters. But a visit to Stonehenge is something else. The monument as a whole disappoints the young poet. But when he comes upon a particular set of three stones, he is reminded of the work of Epstein and of Greek art. What he sees before him is a suggestion of the meaning of the Trinity, and he remembers the visit of Tess to Stonehenge in Hardy's Tess of the D'Urbervilles.17Harold Spender continued to be overly possessive during Stephen's secondary school years, and increasingly the boy rebelled against his father's Victorian values, particularly those related to work, morality, and discipline: "Secretly I was fascinated by the worthless outcasts, the depraved, the lazy, the lost, and wanted to give them that love which they were denied by respectable people."18If Harold Spender was the epitome of respectability, he was excruciatingly embarrassing to his teenage son. His rhetorical pronouncements became increasingly absurd, and Stephen felt mortified when at the age of fourteen he was forced to participate in his father's unsuccessful run for the Bath seat in Parliament. He and Humphrey were made to ride around Bath in a donkey cart bearing the words "Vote for Daddy."19Stephen was encouraged in his rebellion and provided with some ideological ammunition for it by a history teacher who came to University College School during Stephen's sixth form (senior) year. Late in his life Spender would write in his journals about this teacher, whom he called Mr. Bunch and then Mr. Branch. Mr. Branch was, in fact, Geoffrey Thorp, a socialist who believed in revolution, in free love, and in "freedom for the masses."20 He encouraged Spender and several other sixth-formers to form a literary club in which radical politics and alternative values were discussed. Through Thorp, Ramsay MacDonald, the first Labour Party prime minister, began to replace Lloyd George as the model for admirable political ideology. By 1926 the young Spender considered his political and social views to be "modern," as opposed to his father's old-fashioned ones.It was in April of 1926 when, while Stephen was on a walking tour in Dartmoor (walking tours had been a part of the Spender lifestyle since the childhood of Harold and Alfred), Harold Spender died after a failed operation on his spleen. Spender was surprised by his lack of emotional response at first to his father's death. In fact, he felt a certain release, a sense of relief even. Harold Spender and everything he stood for--his middle-of the-road politics, his belief in discipline and good form, his emotional blandness and upper-middle-class respectability--stood in the way of everything young Stephen now had become. In fact, for some time he had felt isolated from his parents, who, he felt, had always wanted him to be something he was not. Later Spender would describe his feelings on his loss in a poem called "The Public Son of a Public Man." In that poem Spender remembers how he had been hurt by his father:My mind a top whipped by the lashes Of your rhetoric, windy of course.On his way back from the funeral Stephen's resentment and "contempt for your failure" gave way briefly to tears, but somewhat resentful tears, as he recognized the public man in himself:It was then I made my appointment With fame, beyond the gates of Death.The later Spender, recognizing his father's influence on his own quest for fame and "the Bitch Goddess called success," regrets a quieter life of inner reflection and anonymity:O father, to a grave of fame I faithfully follow Yet I love the glance of failure, tilted up, Like a gypsy's amber eyes that seem to swallow Sunset from the evening like a cup.At age seventeen, then, Stephen Spender was left an orphan. Michael remained away, now at Oxford; Humphrey was sent off to boarding school. Stephen, who was nearly finished at University College School, and Christine, who came home from her domestic science college, remained at 10 Frognal under the care of longtime servants Bertha and Ella, sisters always collectively called "Berthella" by the family. Orders to Berthella were given by the children's grandmother, Hilda Schuster, now their legal guardian, and sometimes by their formidable uncle J. A. Spender. A young woman, Caroline Alington, a niece of a close friend of Mrs. Schuster's, was hired to serve primarily as a companion for eighteen-year-old Christine.Both Stephen and Christine very quickly came "to like Caroline with an intensity which was perhaps rather dangerous." Caroline was independent and had an "amoral attitude on sexual subjects" and a distinctly un-Victorian modern approach to morality. She was the first woman with whom Spender was able to speak freely about love and sex and relationships and he "simply fell in love with her."21 It seems, too, that Caroline genuinely loved Stephen but in a more sisterly or even maternal way. Inevitably the relationship remained platonic. But near the end of his life Spender began outlining a novel based in part on fantasies he had had of its being otherwise.The other great female influence of Stephen's middle and late teenswas his grandmother, Hilda Schuster. Perhaps surprisingly, Mrs. Schuster was not unsupportive of the "modern" morality espoused by Caroline and now her grandson. "Dear Stephen, say something quickly to shock me," she would sometimes say, and they discussed "everything, including art, religion and sex."22 And although she would often have doubts about the propriety of such talk and even apologize for it to Stephen's stern uncle, she genuinely encouraged Stephen in his interest in things "modern." They went to galleries and the theater together and shared books. Perhaps more than anyone, Mrs. Schuster's open-mindedness and love helped Stephen to overcome whatever sense he might have been expected to feel over the loss of his parents. Her defense of modernism and of Stephen's interest in writing poetry was particularly surprising and even rebellious in light of the well-known disapproval of both Harold and J. A. Spender of "modern art" of any kind, and their belief in the frivolity of any ambition that included writing poetry.But the situation for the now seventeen-year-old Spender after his father's death was finally difficult. As much as he loved Caroline, she was unattainable, and to live in a household directed by two female servants and a woman in her late twenties was not easy for an adolescent anxious to experience "life." Furthermore, Mrs. Schuster became understandably more possessive and watchful and less "modern" upon becoming Stephen's guardian after Harold's death. To do them credit, Berthella, Caroline, and Mrs. Schuster realized that something needed to be done about Stephen's restlessness and it was decided that he should take a trip abroad before going up to Oxford.The question of the trip brought up a France-versus-Germany argument that would remain a part of Spender's cultural makeup for many years to come. The Schusters were German and Mrs. Schuster, who considered the French to be immoral, wanted Stephen to discover his roots in Germany. Caroline, however, was part French and strongly encouraged Stephen in his need for experience that had nothing to do with his roots. Stephen found Caroline's advice more appealing and begged to be sent to France. Mrs. Schuster relented and arranged through some French Quaker connections for her grandson to stay with a Protestant clergyman in Nantes--sufficiently far away from corruptParis. Stephen had a miserably lonely and uneventful time in Nantes and missed Caroline. He asked to be sent elsewhere and, following Caroline's recommendation, his grandmother approved of a move to Lausanne. There he fell in love with an English boy of great "beauty" with whom he had an intense but unfulfilled relationship--it "remained at a stage of mutual frustration and irritation because we were both afraid"--which was a mixture of "attraction and repulsion."23 Stephen was sufficiently infatuated, however, to postpone his trip back to England in spite of Caroline's sudden illness (from which she recovered).It was in the midst of the Lausanne infatuation that Stephen wrote in pencil in a small notebook an autobiographical novella he called "Torso," which describes the "affair" in some detail. What the writer concentrates on is the psychological effect of the situation on Charles Baldock, the Spender figure, and the strangely erotic innocence of the boy, Donald. In a dramatic scene Charles describes sexual experimentation with a rough boy in his boarding school and eventually he reveals that he feels able to love Donald in the way others love women. "Torso" became "By the Lake" in a later collection called The Burning Cactus (1936).When Spender finally did leave Lausanne to make his way to London and then to a new life at Oxford, he did so in what had been, and would be for some time, a characteristic state of mind. It was one in which mingled self-consciousness, guilt, political and aesthetic idealism, a desire for something forbidden, and an almost overwhelming desire for deep friendship.Copyright © 1999 by David Leeming

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