A House in St John’s Wood: In Search of My Parents
An intimate portrait of Stephen Spender’s extraordinary life written by Matthew Spender, shifting between memoir and biography, with new insights drawn from personal recollections and his father’s copious unpublished archives.
Stephen Spender’s life is a vivid snapshot of the twentieth century. Making friends with Auden and Isherwood while at Oxford, together they enjoyed adventures in Europe, becoming early opponents of the rise of fascism. Whilst pioneering modern poetry, Stephen later produced propaganda for the war effort – establishing an enduring reputation for mysterious activity. Despite marrying Natasha Litvin, an ambitious young concert pianist, Stephen was often entangled with young men and never able to reveal his secrets, leaving her to introspective questions, as the artistic world of London circled them. In this elegant memoir, his son Matthew offers an intimate portrait of a father, a marriage and an extraordinary life.
”'It’s hard to overstate how bravely honest Matthew Spender’s book is … brilliantly paced … the book also matters in its own right for its insight into how we are all shaped by the strangeness of the families we find ourselves inhabiting … a remarkable book” - Observer
”'This thoughtful and often astonishingly beautiful memoir … is exploratory, analytical, often critical, occasionally disloyal but ultimately a deeply moving work of filial pride, an attempt to try to work out not only the truth about his extraordinary parents but also himself” - Evening Standard
”'Painfully honest … With a son’s harsh condescension he spells out Stephen’s failings and blind spots, while not forgetting his generosity of spirit … He writes with such insight and intelligence that it feels wholly authentic. And by widening his field of vision beyond the family home to explore issues of culture, gender and politics then and now, he makes it our business, too” - Blake Morrison, Guardian
”'Eye-popping” - Daily Mail
‘An outstanding piece of writing, full of wonderfully sharp judgements… a memoir written in such a thoughtful, congenial, matter-of-fact style that it is only after putting it down that one begins to take in the full oddity of the Spenders' Craig Brown, Mail on Sunday -
”'A disarmingly eccentric book … which combines a memoir of his parents … with ruminations on the gilded world in which they disported” - Literary Review
”'Scrupulously even-handed … Matthew Spender is a far more accomplished and engaging prose writer than his father, with a distinct personal voice” - TLS
”'The first fully frank biography of his father” - Tatler
”'The heart of this book is filial and emotional. And very moving” - Financial Times
”'Told with extraordinary force and honest and is intensely interesting” - The Oldie
”'My God! What a childhood. What insight” - Stephen Frears