Daily Archives: May 21, 2015

Young Eliot: From St Louis to the Waste Land by Robert Crawford – review

Young_EliotA strait-laced upbringing and a disastrous marriage taught the young T. S. Eliot to camouflage his emotions.

When T.S. Eliot died, 50 years ago last month [February, 2015], the New York Times called him that “quiet, gray figure who gave new meaning to English-language poetry”. This June marks the centenary of the publication of “The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock”, which, along with a few other early works including “Gerontion”, “Portrait of a Lady” and “Sweeney Among the Nightingales”, helped Eliot crack open modern poetry. Between 1915 and 1920, while rationing out a handful of radically innovative poems, Eliot published heaps of magisterially conservative literary criticism. Even before The Waste Land, he was famous enough to be parodied by Louis Untermeyer, who imagined “Einstein Among the Coffee Cups” in high Prufrockian style: “The night contracts. A warp in space / Has rumors of Correggio.” In late 1922 Eliot released The Waste Land into a world that seemed to be waiting, if not ready, for it. Joyce had published Ulysses that February; a few months later, Proust was finally translated into English, “so that even the French might read him”, quipped one American critic. “Modernism,” complained another, “they say, is in the air. So is the flu.”The Waste Land was heralded even before its publication as the poem that would epitomise this literary movement, the artistic source from which modernism could endlessly renew itself. Robert Crawford’s new biography, Young Eliot, takes its subject only as far as this momentous publication, ending with some sketchy gestures toward its initial reception.

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