ELIOT'S EARLY YEARS by Lyndall Gordon


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This somber little book will sadden you if anything will. A spiritual biography of the poet of ""The Waste Land"" could do no less. But this one, so relentlessly serious in tone, melancholy in theme, and evocative in prose, enfolds T. S. Eliot's passage through mortal despair toward the church in an atmosphere of dreadful actuality. Gordon's sole intent is to show that Eliot's life and work to the time of his conversion at age 38 were driven by a morally severe ""impulse of perfection"" inherited from his Puritan family. This impulse repeatedly clashed with realities--sensuality, inhibition, vulgarity, ignorance, boredom, squalor--and the conflict aroused in Eliot an anguished sense of desolation, guilt, and self-contempt. He sought to save himself by many means--a poetic and philosophic search for the ""Absolute,"" the disastrous misalliance of his first marriage, and finally a thoroughgoing conversion to Anglicanism. This single-minded, critically sensible version of Eliot's spiritual progress has the virtue of turning up the latent religiosity in Eliot's most famous poems and the psychological debilities that underlay them, although it has the fault of providing only a glimpse of Eliot's life. One can only wish the title conveyed the limits of Gordon's theme to prepare readers for the experience that awaits them.

Pub Date: Jan. 6th, 1976
Publisher: Oxford Univ. Press