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Why Auden Married

In response to:

The Secret Auden from the March 20, 2014 issue

To the Editors:

In his fascinating essay Edward Mendelson gives examples of W.H. Auden’s “gifts of time, money, and sympathy” [“The Secret Auden,” NYR, March 20]. Although by its nature not entirely secret, then and since, in 1935 Auden gave himself in matrimony, to Erika, Thomas Mann’s daughter, to provide her with British nationality when the Nazis were about to revoke her German citizenship. In the following year he persuaded John Hampson to marry a friend of Erika, the actress Therese Giehse, who was also under threat for her anti-Nazi activities. Auden paid all the expenses involved. Hampson told a mutual friend who had tried to dissuade him: “Wystan says, ‘What are buggers for?’”

David Martin
Sheffield, England

Edward Mendelson replies:

David Martin’s letter is a welcome reminder of Auden’s generosity in his early years. Erika Mann first asked Christopher Isherwood if he would marry her so that she could get a British passport. He refused but said he would ask Auden, who cabled back “DELIGHTED,” and arranged a wedding party at the pub near the school where he was teaching, attended by his colleagues and pupils. After the war, she and Auden were seldom in touch, but they never divorced and she left him a small legacy in her will.

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