Pound died in 1972; Auden, who was 22 years younger, in 1973. Both writers underwent the usual posthumous dip in attention and reputation. This familar dégringolade is a mysterious process, and one which seems much more arbitrary than the longer critical haul of a century or two. For instance, shares in Elizabeth Bishop (d. 1979) are at an all-time high, helped by the timely publication of her letters; while shares in Philip Larkin (d. 1985) are at an all-time low, helped by the untimely publication of his ditto. Graham Greenes (d. 1991) are on the way down, Robert Lowells (d. 1977, with the Collected Poems coming next year) are a good buy; stock in Anthony Burgess (d. 1993) should probably be held for a year or two; Borgeses (d. 1986) will surge once the editing and republishing are sorted out; James Merrills (d. 1995) should be sold now and rebought later; Becketts (d. 1989) look a little iffy (though would-be insider-dealers should keep an eye on that biographer chap in Reading). The only reliable way for a writer to avoid this post-mortem critical lull is to die prematurely. In British university English departments there are currently more theses being written about Angela Carter (d. 1991) than about the 18th century.
LRB 16 November 1995 | PDF Download