Books: The Leader of the Gang

W.H. AUDEN: THE LIFE OF A POET by Charles Osborne Harcourt Brace Jovanovich; 336 pages; $17.95

Poet W.H. Auden despised invasions of privacy and public self-revelations. "Literary confessors," he once wrote, "are contemptible, like beggars who exhibit their sores for money, but not so contemptible as the public that buys their books." He argued repeatedly that a writer's private correspondence should stay that way and urged friends to destroy his letters to them. At the same time, employing his poetic license, he reveled in scandal, luxuriated in gossip. "Who," he asked BBC listeners during the 1930s, "would rather learn the facts of...

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