Dec 4, 2009

A Lot of Travail

Michael Wood reviews volume II of T.S. Eliot's letters.

Some would argue that Eliot never entirely threw off The Waste Land, and others that he did and to his cost, but either way it’s clear he wanted to work at getting beyond it. He had published the poem in October 1922 in the first issue of the Criterion, the quarterly journal he had just begun to edit – the first UK book publication was by the Hogarth Press in 1923 – and this is where we left him at the end of the first volume of the letters, now handsomely revised and reissued.* He had studied at Harvard and Oxford, completed his doctoral dissertation on F.H. Bradley, moved to London, abruptly married and turned his back on the academic career that calmly awaited him in America. As Lyndall Gordon nicely says, in her biography of Eliot, both he and Ezra Pound were ‘lapsed professors’. He was working full-time at Lloyds Bank, where he stayed until 1925, and editing the Criterion in the spare moments he didn’t have. This tale of time swallowed up, what Eliot calls ‘the prison-like limitation of my time’, is one of the two chief themes of the second volume of the Letters. The other is the competitive invalidism the Eliots have instead of a marriage.
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