'Hankow', W H Auden's early drafts for Journey to a War


This manuscript journal, entitled ‘Hankow’, was written by W H Auden during his visit to China with Christopher Isherwood in 1938. The impressions that Auden recorded in his journal were later reworked into the travel book Journey to a War, which Isherwood and Auden wrote jointly in the same year. A hybrid book written in prose and verse, Journey to a War remains one of the most interesting examples of travel narratives in the interwar period.

Auden and Isherwood in China

Random House had commissioned Auden and Isherwood to write a travel book about the East in the summer of 1937. In January 1938 they both embarked on a trip to China, which was then in the second year of the Second Sino-Japanese war (1937–1945). They visited several cities, including Hankow (part of present-day Wuhan), where they pitched their camp-beds in a room at the British Consulate.

Auden and Isherwood met a number of Chinese intellectuals and political leaders, including the General Feng Yuxian, although the fact that neither Auden nor Isherwood knew Chinese often limited their interactions. In Hankow they also met the renowned travel writer Peter Fleming, who was covering the war for the Times, and his wife the actress Celia Johnson. Auden’s narration combines ironic descriptions of cultural clash with sobering passages about the war, including witnessing a Japanese bombing raid, described in the entry written on 29 April.

Full title:
W. H. AUDEN: 'Hankow', a work in two parts; circa 1938-1939
c. 1938–39
Manuscript / Draft
W H Auden
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© Copyright by the Estate of W. H. Auden. You may not use the material for commercial purposes. Please credit the copyright holder when reusing this work.

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British Library
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