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By Richard Davenport-Hines

ISBN-10: 0749396482

ISBN-13: 9780749396480

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The goblins in MacDonald's story wage a fearsome campaign of mischief against the human beings above ground. ) There is however one way in which their attacks can be warded off: 'the chief defence against them was verse, for they hated verse of every kind, and some kinds they could not endure at all'. Curdie Peterson, a twelve-year-old miner's boy who is the novel's hero, is celebrated in his community as an ingenious extemporiser of rhymes, 'for although there were certain old rhymes which were very effectual, yet it l A typical little highbrow and difficult child' 19 was well known that a new rhyme, if of the right sort, was even more distasteful to them, and therefore more effectual in putting them to flight'.

Later in The Dog Beneath the Skin (1935) he and his collaborator Christopher Isherwood devised a deluded woman whose mad, vengeful love for her sons supposedly killed by German snipers is one of the ugliest features of the play. Her name Mildred Luce they derived from Mrs Auden's ancestress who had married the Revd Henry Birch and from the maiden name of Isherwood's paternal grandmother. It is Mildred who, in the final scene as revised by Auden, kills the hero Sir Francis Crewe when he challenges her delusions.

To several of us, including myself, he confided the first naughty stupendous breath-taking hints about the facts of sex.... With his hinted forbidden knowledge and stock of mispronounced scientific words, portentously uttered, he enjoyed among us, his semi-savage credulous schoolfellows, the status of a kind of witch-doctor. I see him drawing an indecent picture on the upper fourth form blackboard, his stumpy fingers, with their blunt bitten nails, covered in ink; I see him boxing, with his ferocious frown, against a boy twice his size; I see him frowning as he sings opposite me in the choir, surpliced, in an enormous Eton collar, above which his great redflapsof ears stand out, on either side of his narrow scowling pudden-white face.

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Auden by Richard Davenport-Hines


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