Picks and Pans Review: Auden in Love

UPDATED 09/24/1984 at 01:00 AM EDT Originally published 09/24/1984 at 01:00 AM EDT

by Dorothy J. Farnan

Chester Kallman's father, a successful New York dentist, had a way with women. Chester himself had a way with men. Chester was editing a literary magazine at Brooklyn College when he interviewed the great British poet WH. Auden, then 32. Before their talk was over, Auden had—for the first time—fallen in love. He pursued the handsome young man with romantic intensity. "Unfortunately," writes Farnan, "the only person he [Auden] ever wanted to marry was Chester, and Chester was not the marrying kind. Auden always went back to Chester, for Chester, unfaithful and sexually cold to him, was the only one he loved." So Auden continued for the rest of his life to look after Kallman. Fifteen months after the poet died in Austria in 1973, Kallman died too. Farnan, a teacher who married Chester's father, loved and admired both the shaggy old poet and her handsome, difficult stepson. They included her in Auden's New York circle of friends when he lived there from the late 1930s until 1971. Auden in Love is distinguished by the candor of the author and her many sources. Auden's reputation is not tarnished by these revelations. On the contrary, he comes vividly alive with his eccentricities admiringly described, his weaknesses lovingly explained. The man who labeled our era the Age of Anxiety was capable of writing dirty limericks, too. The following is not in any of his published collections: "A queer friend, who is peripatetic/ Writes: 'Ireland, my dear, is magnetic/ The fairies and elves/ Simply offer themselves—/ Rather small, but most sympathetic' " (Simon and Schuster, $17.95)

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