An intimate portrait of Stephen Spender's extraordinary life written by Matthew Spender, shifting between memoir and biography, with new insights drawn from personal recollections, and his father's copious unpublished archives.
Stephen Spender's life was a vivid prism on the 20th century. Having met Auden and Isherwood at Oxford, he joined the early vocal critics of Hitler and participated in the Spanish Civil War. His efforts there became distracted by the need to save his lover from being shot as a deserter, and by the outbreak of the Second World War he was judged unfit to fight.
He served instead as a fireman, and later produced propaganda for the war effort - establishing a mysterious connection with the Foreign Office, which has generated much speculation until now.
Examining the growth of Spender's literary reputation, and his later encounters with the CIA, this book sheds new light on his career. Always susceptible to the allure of young men, Spender remained married to his second wife, Natasha Litvin, but continued to believe in male relationships as an essential creative inspiration.
In tension with Natasha's career as a musician after the birth of their two children, a considerable creative tension developed in the household. Stoical in her suffering, Natasha began to agonise over their marriage during her close friendship with Raymond Chandler.
Insightful and revelatory, A House in St John's Wood is the portrait of a marriage, a movement and a father whose complex brilliance continues to be felt widely - and among those closest to him.
"My God! What a childhood. What insight." (Stephen Frears)
"This is an utterly fascinating book, a portrait of a marriage contract unevenly negotiated and a tour d'horizon of the deadly serious, but often farcical intellectual wranglings of the Cold War. Matthew Spender writes and thinks beautifully, chipping into the negative spaces of his enviably rich primary material like a sculpture." (Frances Stonor Saunders, author of Who Paid the Piper?: The CIA and the Cultural Cold War)
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