Stephen Spender Essay, Research Paper
Stephen Spender’s Political Writings and View’s of the Twentieth Century
Stephen Spender was truly an influential writer of the twentieth century. The greatest part of Spender’s life was spent voicing his political opinions through his literary works. Stephen Spender’s political views have changed through out his life. During the time he was a young adult, Spender’s political opinions were radically liberal, however he gradually migrated his viewpoint to become more moderate in nature. Stephen Spender was labeled as a political writer and was credited with “bridging the gap of between pre-WWII modernism and all that came after”. (Sternlicht P.115) Much of Spender’s works took a personalistic approach as he documented his political ideas and theories.
Politics took center stage in many of Spender’s writings. Political views and events are illustrated in the following works. “Stephen Spender earned the reputation of a radical writer of concern, addressing the polically conscience-striken Left of his time (Sternlicht P.127). “In Forward From Liberalism, Stephen spender records the uncertainties in his attempt to find and support a position left of liberalism, the political creed he was born into” (Sternlicht P. 115). He also discusses his theories on political group dynamics with regards to the different political agendas existing in individual loyalty, which differentiates the dynamics groups. According to Sanford Sterlicht, a critic of the political writings of Steven Spender, Spender’s book The God That Failed was proclaimed to be one of the most
important books of the cold war. The novel describes the journey of six intellectuals into communism, and their return. The four gentleman were searching for a better humanity, however; what they found was personal agony, revulsion, and disillusionment, which affected their political view of communism. Stephen Spender was a witness to the two periods in the twentieth century, in the West, when capitalism was shaken. Throughout his life, his personal experiences helped to shape and develop his own political theories and ideals.
Stephen Spender developed a very personalistic approach to his political writings. During the process of documenting his political views into novels, Spender “learned that the personal sense of the social guilt that had caused him to take sides could not cause him to abandon his ideals of individualism and artistic freedom. To give up his individualism was to give up his soul” (Sternlicht P.117). This statement from Sanford Sternlich, embodies the true essence of Stephen Spenders writings and ideals. Spender was very idealistic, and a part of expressing those idealistic opinions was through his politics. He, as always, is totally truthful about himself. That candor remains a cause for admiration. In Citizens In War-and After Spender discusses what he had seen while working as a fireman in London during the war. Much of this essay was a tribute to the workers that gave their lives to help protect the survival of others. This writing is one example of Spender’s ability to take his personal experience and incorporate his political opinions into literary writings. Spender also was once a student radical, so when the western universities exploded into rebellion, he wrote a book defining the underlying causes. The Year of the
Young Rebel establishes the significance of the student rebellions. Spender brought out his personal views as he informed the world of the political changes taking place. Stephen Spender also wrote many journals documenting his opinions and theories based upon his experiences, which were developed during the twentieth century. Stephen Spender also used poetry to express his personal opinions with regards to politics. Although he is not held high regards, in literary standards as a poet, the works he produced were very visual to his experiences. Spender’s desire to express himself through poetry, is the strongest example of his ability to personalize his writings based upon his personal history.
Spender’s views on politics have changed through out the years. He has had his own personal and moral struggles with the sides that he has supported. Stephen Spender spent much of his times writing and documenting his thoughts in journals on a daily basis. The most familiar journals were compiled into a text titled, The Thirties and After. In this text, Spender admits that his political views changed over time, with direct relationship to what he has experienced. He was sensitive, to allow these changes to be very visual when reading these essays, rather than tampering them to contain his view of today. Although he may not always be proud of his opinions during certain decades, he believes his thought process needed to be documented to understand the totality of his political ideals. According to Sternlicht, Stephen Spender was “probably a full committed communist for about five weeks. He was proclaimed to be a tool of Stalin and an agent of the CIA.”
(Sternlicht, P.115) His liberal views in politics were voiced in his essay, I Joined the Communist Party, published in the Daily Worker, which documents his desire to express his belief in portraying “an attitude of people who really care for progress rather than reaction, aggression, government in the interests of the whole people, rather than fascism” (Spender, P. 80).
These two quotes from Sanford Sternlicht and Stephen Spender, himself, demonstrates the changes in Spender’s political views and opinions. Later in his literary works Spender discusses his views in a more mild form of liberal context. According to Sanford Sternlicht, in his novel Stephen Spender, when “the modernists envisioned a spiritual technology, they failed to make their revolution, and communism failed them. Spender abandoned the cause, drifted to the right, and recoiled into himself” (Sternlicht P.127). This was a critical point in Stephen Spender life, which altered his viewpoints, flexing between his extreme and moderate liberalism. “He searched for a rational system of belief. He wanted to understand existence, to deny the death wish in the world and in himself, and to find harmony” (Sternlicht P.128). Stephen Spender was attempting to define his ideals within the liberal spectrum of politics. His struggle to understand his own beliefs was the source of his journals and essays, which also proves his changing ideals. Spender himself stated, “I think the essays in the first section of this book illustrates both my convictions and hesitations.
The essay in which I announce my joining the Communists Party is rather abject and I am thoroughly ashamed of it. I persuaded myself to print it here
against my strong wish not even to reread it- far less publish it- on the grounds that if I am to offer the first part of this book as a showcase of my particular thirties exhibits, I must put in the more embarrassing one” (Spender P.27). In this quote Stephen Spender was again addressing the changes in his political views. Although his view points have changed, Spender continues to write about the ideals which should be part of the liberal mind.
Stephen Spender’s writings has influenced many people during the twentieth century. One of his most noted prot?g?’s was, Jimmy Younger. It is also important to note; Stephen Spender was also influenced by many political authors of history. According to Sternlicht, much of Stephen Spender’s works were influenced by Walpole and Woolf. Spender, himself sites other authors such as Auden, Cunningham, Boleyn, and Victor, as influential writers, which he has used to framed his political opinions and ideals. Stephen Spender used these influences in his literary writings, but also engaged newspapers to spread his essays and journals. He primarily wrote for the Daily Herald, New Statesman, the Daily Worker, and the Nation, in addition to publishing his books. As a result of Spender’s decision to work closely with these media avenues, his critics used much of his personal choices and preferences to taint the context of his writings. Stephen Spender, had many desires to surround himself with those who lead the rich and famous lifestyle. He had extensive relationships with both men and women alike. It is ironic how his true pleasures in life were also his demise.
Stephen Spender had been credited as one of the most influential liberal writers of the twentieth century. Although much of his work was overlooked due to his extensive social meanderings and his blatant homosexuality, he is still highly regarded in his field. Spender has used a wide variety of literary platforms to express his political opinions and ideals. He has written journals, essays, short novels, poems, and articles to express his personal and political opinions, which generally were interchangeable. Stephen Spender spent much of his time formulating, challenging, and changing his political opinions as well as his moral ideals. Stephen Spender was slated as a writer who transitioned political literature from the War World II modernism era to what has come later in the twentieth century. Stephen Spender used a personalistic approach to his literal writings, his peom’s especially, placed extraordinary emphasis on his moral development within the context of politics. It is quite evident within his writings that he wove both the political content of the liberal regime with his personal idealistic content. While reviewing Stephen Spender’s writings, it was evident that he was growing and maturing with time. His view points changes from radically idealistic and communistic connotation to a much more mild and understanding liberal view. His growing maturity and changing political content has paved the way for others to follow in his footsteps and lead the charges for political content in literature. What once was a field that was seen in a negative context, Spender has provided the means to blend the two opposing forces of politics and creative literature. Stephen Spender will remain noted for his high profile lifestyle and his highly recognized political theories and ideals.
Stephen Spender. The Thirties and After. London: The MacMillan Press LTD., 1978
Stephen Spender. Stephen Spender and The Thirties. London: Associated Press, Inc.,
Stephen Spender. Twayne’s English Authors Series. Great Britian: William
Heinemann LTD., 1992.
Stephen Spender. Journals 1939-1983. London: Faber and Faber, 1985.
Sanford Sternlicht, Stephen Spender. New York: Twayne Publishers, 1992.