Eliot made the statement about Prufrock as a man of forty and also himself
in an interview given in 1962. Southam refers to it, but he is not quite clear
because Eliot did not, in the interview, use the words "split personality."
Nonetheless, Eliot was looking back and describing what he meant at the
time, and at the time of the poem he would have been himself about 22 or
23 because the poem was completed in 1910-11. He says the "young man
carbuncular" is "twenty-one" in the facsimile where the description is longer
and has many more details. Also, the carbuncular young man is a "house
agent's" clerk, not a bank clerk--hardly likely to be a very good position and
one Eliot also seems to scorn, as he calls him "one of the low."
It also would seem that the "hyacinth girl" is young, and Tristan and Isolde
are young in the lines from the opera, and the "lovely woman" who "stoops
to folly" in _The Vicar of Wakefield_ is young, and Marvell's "coy mistress"
is told that she should do it now while she is young and beautiful, and, as
the city sections of a miserable man and wife in "A Game of Chess" seem
to be confessional images of Tom and Viv, those characters would likely be
in their late twenties or early thirties, and the cut sections of the city were
pretty certainly of them in their late twenties, and even Lil is "only thirty-
one" (if very early thirties is still "young") and Dido and Aeneas are also
young lovers when he dumps her, and I think it unlikely that Procne and
Philomel are very old, given when people married. In fact the poem is full of
young lovers and couples in their 20s and 30s. What these characters have
in common is physical youth, but most are not represented as--like
Prufrock--emotionally old. Of course this is only relevant if we think Eliot's
words and choices of allusion have anything to do with his words and
allusions. Everyone is, of course, always aging from the moment they are
born, but that does not seem to be the sole activity of all those "nymphs"
and loitering heirs who left their testimony of summer nights by the Thames.
Eliot is not necessarily a better interpreter of his work than other readers,
but he is more likely to know the ages of his characters when he gives
them explicitly, just as we know that Othello is not young and Desdemona
Date sent: Fri, 13 Jul 2001 18:12:11 -0400 (EDT)
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From: Rickard A Parker <[log in to unmask]>
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Subject: Re: Was his glass always half empty?
Rick Seddon wrote:
> I like Jill's better. It provides the basis for a new reading with
> many interesting undertones. Your reading is surprisingly traditional
> for you.
That's fine. It was just something that I thought of driving home
from work last night. If he were 21 and TSE was thinking of 21 in
1921 then it just seemed more likely that he was working during the
war than fighting it. I'm not sure of the WWI UK draft age but I
suspect that it was 18. He could have volunteered earlier but might
not have been the type. Maybe his brother got killed at Paschendael
and he liked the idea of a job at 16 instead of a grave.
I raised my idea up the flagpole to see if anyone would salute. You
cut the lines instead. I was more interested in a discussion anyway.
Thanks for coming through with some good stuff.
> Where do you come up with 21? Why not 24?
Nancy came up with the figures 0f 21 for the clerk and 40ish for
Prufrock. I couldn't peg the dates exactly but they seemed familiar. I
think Nancy got 21 for the young man from the drafts of TWL. Prufrock's
age may have come out of a TSE letter or something. I've read whatever it
was and think that Nancy was right.