W.H. Auden centenary: muted celebrations

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He was a coward, a bully, a lecher and many other dreadful things, according to his critics. All of which may explain why the centenary of the birth of Wystan Hugh Auden passed yesterday without the fanfare that a giant of English literature perhaps deserves.

But the cocktail party and several small soirees which honoured his memory may mark the start of a fightback by enthusiasts for a man whose complications have led to a uniquely split reputation.

"Maybe he's too 'popularly popular' for the academic world," said John Rhodes, one of a group of Auden's university enthusiasts who will take the revival a step further on Saturday with a conference at York University on the poet's contribution to verse, drama, film and music. Scholars from Britain will be joined by academics from the United States, where Auden controversially spent the war -- adding "traitor" and "coward" to his enemies' vocabulary.

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