In the early 1930s, Stephen Spender (1909–1995) spent long periods of time in Berlin, in the company of Christopher Isherwood. He wrote about the city in several poems and memoirs.
Together with W. H. Auden and Christopher Isherwood, Stephen Spender is one of the English writers whose names are indelibly connected with the city. Spender was the last of this group to move to Berlin, in 1931, persuaded by Isherwood. Spender had spent the summer of 1929 in Hamburg – an experience which formed the basis for his autobiographical novel The Temple (1929–1931, publ. 1988). In an introduction to The Temple written in the 1980s, Spender described the conservative atmosphere of 1920s Britain that he was desperate to escape. He characterised the writing of that novel, which spoke openly about homosexuality, as part of a ‘joint war against censorship’ waged by him and his friends.
In Berlin, Spender settled in the district of Schöneberg, around the corner from Isherwood. The two spent a lot of time together, the more retiring Spender playing the disciple to Isherwood’s master. In his autobiography, World Within World (1951), Spender remembered the charged political atmosphere of those years. The experience of social inequality in Berlin made a deep impression on Spender, and brought him close to communism. Several of the poems dating from this period show his social commitment.
Spender had personal connections with various figures of the Bloomsbury group. From Berlin, he exchanged letters with Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson, with whom he discussed politics and literature among other things. Spender, who was keen to get to know German literature and culture, also entered into a correspondence with the noted German literary scholar Ernst Robert Curtius. In later life, he looked back to his time in Berlin in numerous writings and interviews. Stefano Evangelista
1—Stephen Spender, ‘Introduction’, in The Temple (London: Faber, 1989), p. xi.
Spender, Stephen, The Temple  (London: Faber, 1989)
Spender, Stephen, World Within World  (London: Faber, 1977)
Mayer, Sandra, ‘Chronicler and Eulogist of the “Gang”: Stephen Spender Writing the Berlin Myth’, in Happy in Berlin? English Writers in the City, The 1920s and Beyond, ed. Stefano Evangelista and Gesa Stedman (Göttingen: Wallstein Verlag, 2021), 171–92
Sutherland, John, Stephen Spender: The Authorized Biography (London: Penguin, 2005)
The Stephen Spender Trust was set up to celebrate Spender’s activity and promote literary translation: http://www.stephen-spender.org/
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