When facing a moral dilemma, Isabel Dalhousie--Edinburgh philosopher, amateur detective, and title character of a series of novels by best-selling author Alexander McCall Smith--often refers to the great twentieth-century poet W. H. Auden. This is no accident: McCall Smith has long been fascinated by Auden. Indeed, the novelist, best known for his No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, calls the poet not only the greatest literary discovery of his life but also the best of guides on how to live. In this book, McCall Smith has written a charming personal account about what Auden has done for him--and what he just might do for you.
Part self-portrait, part literary appreciation, the book tells how McCall Smith first came across the poet's work in the 1970s, while teaching law in Belfast, a violently divided city where Auden's "September 1, 1939," a poem about the outbreak of World War II, strongly resonated. McCall Smith goes on to reveal how his life has related to and been inspired by other Auden poems ever since. For example, he describes how he has found an invaluable reflection on life's transience in "As I Walked Out One Evening," while "The More Loving One" has provided an instructive meditation on unrequited love. McCall Smith shows how Auden can speak to us throughout life, suggesting how, despite difficulties and change, we can celebrate understanding, acceptance, and love for others.
An enchanting story about how art can help us live, this book will appeal to McCall Smith's fans and anyone curious about Auden.
"[T]he book comes alive when Smith connects his own moral and intellectual growth to his appreciation of the poet. . . . Anyone interested in the intellectual underpinnings of Smith's warm and humane novels should read this book, which would also make a good introduction to Auden for serious younger readers."--Regina Marler, New York Times Book Review
"Poets need readers who aren't poets, and it is delightful to see an established novelist answer the call."--Lachlan MacKinnon, Times Literary Supplement
"[McCall Smith's] little book, part of Princeton's Writers on Writers series, is a joy, start to finish."--Philadelphia Inquirer
"Mystery scribe Alexander McCall Smith explains to us What W.H. Auden Can Do For You, an appreciation of the poet that should appeal even to those only familiar with his work via 'Four Weddings and a Funeral.'"--Eugenia Williamson, Boston Globe
"Alexander McCall Smith plumbs the British poet's modern resonance in this charming, quirky, slim volume, a deft weave of biography, textual analysis and memoir. It's a must-read for Auden fans--even more for those who know his work only from a British rom-com. . . . That there's only kindness in the telling marks the moral generosity McCall Smith says the great poet has taught him. He's learned a bunch of other stuff as well. And if you read his quietly wise book, you'll learn it, too."--Anne Kingston, Maclean's
Table of Contents:
Author's Note vii
1. Love Illuminates Again . . . 1
2. Who Was He? 7
3. A Discovery of Auden 19
4. Choice and Quest 33
5. The Poet as Voyager 39
6. Politics and Sex 45
7. If I Could Tell You I Would Let You Know 55
8. What Freud Meant 65
9. A Vision of Agape 75
10. That We May Have Dreams and Visions 91
11. And Then There Is Nature 99
12. Auden as a Guide to the Living of One's Life 123