What W. H. Auden Can Do for You

What W. H. Auden Can Do for You

by Alexander McCall Smith


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Bestselling novelist Alexander McCall Smith's charming account of how the poet W. H. Auden has helped guide his life—and how he might guide yours too

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.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780691144733
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication date: 09/29/2013
Series: Writers on Writers , #5
Pages: 152
Product dimensions: 4.40(w) x 7.40(h) x 0.80(d)

About the Author

Alexander McCall Smith is the internationally bestselling author of numerous novels, including the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, the Isabel Dalhousie series, the Portuguese Irregular Verbs series, and the 44 Scotland Street series. His books have been translated into forty-six languages. Formerly a professor of medical law, he now devotes himself to writing. He lives in Scotland.


Edinburgh, Scotland

Date of Birth:

August 24, 1948

Place of Birth:


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

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

"The attraction of this charming book lies in its author as much as its subject. It will appeal both to readers interested in the novelist Alexander McCall Smith and to anyone who wants an introduction to the poet W. H. Auden. McCall Smith gives a vivid portrait of his personal encounters with Auden's poetry and, in the process, illuminates some of its key themes and traits."—Alan Jacobs, author of The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction

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