The Church of England:Auden’s Anglicanism

Sharpe, Tony (2013) The Church of England:Auden’s Anglicanism. In: W. H. Auden in Context. Cambridge University Press, pp. 79-88. ISBN 9780521196574

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A study of Auden and Christianity concludes that ‘American Auden is emphatically a Christian Auden’. Leaving England, he found religion; their seeming simultaneity suggests that each demonstrates the same radical severance. His expatriation and his Christianity have both been cited, by astonished critics, as reasons why his work grew worse; an opposite view argues that they brought about improvement; here, however, I want to consider the significance of the fact that, less emphatically, ‘American Auden’ was also an Anglican Auden. His was not a sudden conversion; its roots lay in the past, and the more he reflected on them later, the further back they went: if in 1956 he saw first portents in his discomfiture before the locked churches of Barcelona in 1937, by 1964 he included the experience that in 1933 had prompted ‘Summer Night’. Later stages involved his exposure to individual ‘sanctity’ on meeting Charles Williams and to collective loathsomeness, hearing the anti-Polish vociferation of German-Americans watching a Nazi propaganda newsreel. Mendelson has argued that he went to that Manhattan cinema precisely to be shocked (LA, pp. 89–90), which suggests the somewhat constructed nature of such episodes, both at the time and in retrospection. Although Auden recalled having drifted away from faith soon after confirmation, at thirteen, only two years later Robert Medley offended him by attacking the Church and so changed the subject to poetry; a letter to an Oxford friend on Good Friday 1927 noted lugubriously ‘Jesus died today’ (Juv, p. 187); Isherwood said he struggled to prevent Auden’s religiose tendencies from infiltrating their plays. To see all this is to appreciate what differentiated Auden’s ‘Americanness’ from his Christianity, particularly when both were chosen. Writing to his friend Professor E. R. Dodds in January 1940, he explained his expatriation as the attempt ‘to live deliberately without roots’ (AS I, p. 111) – the echo of Thoreau giving added point; but if his choice of nationality expressed severance, his religious choice had aspects of re-racination.

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28 Jul 2020 11:20
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15 Sep 2023 02:05