Sunday, December 23, 2012

English innocence in Weimar Germany (Books - The Temple by Stephen Spender)

Oxford poets, Weimar Germany, you'd think that I would have enjoyed Stephen Spender's The Temple a little more.  Spender wrote it in 1929-1930 at the age of 21, so it has all of the enthusiasm of that tender age.  It was never published, I suppose, because it would have outed a few too many of his acquaintances and he feared action for libel.  Spender rewrote it in 1986, updating it with clunky self-conscious awareness of the impending war that deprives the narrator of what I suspect was too embarrassing a show of political naivete.  To my reading, this stripped what is already a work of patent juvenilia of most of its charm.  What remains pscyhologically astute and historically interesting is the certainty of the young characters that Germany was in a revolutionary time of enlightened openness, that there would never be another war, and among the most educated of the characters, many of whom were Jewish or homosexual, a conspicuous blindness to the threat of the rising Nazi party.  That observation and a good deal of decent descriptive writing kept me going. 

4 comments:

C.B. James said...

I wonder how much of the political niavete comes from being 21. Younger people would have a much different take, often a more apolitical one, than others. I think young people are either very political or not political at all.

Ted said...

That's an interesting question, CB. I think you're right in that many Germans old and young were naive regarding what was to come in 1930. Usually I like retrospective perspective, as Spender offers here, but as I read the book I kept wishing that he hadn't added his hindsight.

Thomas at My Porch said...

I just re-read this recently and kind of felt the same thing about the hindsight aspect you mention. I didn't notice any of this when I first read in 1989 when I was a naive 20 year old travelling in the UK for the first time.

Ted said...

Thomas, that's right! I learned about this from you - I'm terrible about remembering these things. You were 1st reading the book around the same age he wrote it - I wonder if our more 'mature' pov simply makes us better readers or whether we have less in common with the way he experiences the story's events.

I Hope your christmas was happy. We're in ohio now and are expecting a blizzard today.