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Review: What WH Auden Can Do For You

Alexander McCall Smith on the profound ways Auden has influenced his life

By Elaine Showalter   November 2013

What WH Auden Can Do For You By Alexander McCall Smith (Princeton, £13.95)

Wystan Hugh Auden was a meticulous poet but a very messy man. Alexander McCall Smith recalls the only time he saw Auden reading at the University of Edinburgh. There was the great man, reciting his luminous lines from memory; and there was the “sartorial disaster, wearing a stained and ash-spattered suit and battered carpet slippers,” his fly-buttons conspicuously undone, shambolic but approachable and endearing.

For McCall Smith, writing about “the greatest literary discovery” of his life is a messy task too, involving not just commentary on his…

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