Finalist of the 2023 Pegasus Award for Poetry Criticism, sponsored by the Poetry Foundation.
Concentrating on W. H. Auden's work from the late 1930s, when he seeks to understand the poet's responsibility in the face of a triumphant fascism, to the late 1950s, when he discerns an irreconcilable "divorce" between poetry and history in light of industrialized murder, this startling new study reveals the intensity of the poet's struggles with the meanings of history. Through meticulous readings, significant archival findings, and critical reflection, Susannah Young-ah Gottlieb presents a new image and understanding of Auden's achievement and reveals how his version of modernism illuminates urgent contemporary issues and theoretical paradigms: from the meaning of marriage equality to the persistence of fascism; from critical theory to psychoanalysis; from precarity to postcolonial studies. "The muse does not like being forced to choose between Agit-prop and Mallarmé," Auden writes with characteristic lucidity, and this study elucidates the probity, humor, and technical skill with which his responses to historical reality in the mid-twentieth century illuminate our world today.
About the author
Susannah Young-ah Gottlieb is Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literary Studies, Northwestern University. She is the author of Regions of Sorrow: Anxiety and Messianism in Hannah Arendt and W.H. Auden (Stanford, 2003) and editor of Hannah Arendt: Reflections on Literature and Culture (Stanford, 2007).
"The beauty of Gottlieb's copiously productive engagement with Auden's 'marriage of inconvenience' between the poetic and the historic lies in her refusal to offer us any consolation in the turbulence of meanings or morals. In staying with Auden's anxiety of tone and temper, Gottlieb reveals her own integrity as an impeccable scholarly reader with a fine understanding of the give and take, the ebb and flow, of the performance of poetic justice."
—Homi K. Bhabha, Harvard University
"Auden and the Muse of History brings new depths to Auden studies, while bringing Auden's work into sharp and revelatory focus. Gottlieb shows how the poems speak forcefully to today's world, while also showing how deeply rooted they were in the world where they were written."
—Edward Mendelson, Columbia University
"Gottleib's excellent close readings of poems and his efforts to situate Auden within his cultural moment will be informative for a broad range of readers. The writing style is accessible, which further recommends the book as useful to nonspecialists. Highly recommended."
—J. W. Moffett, CHOICE