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TSE  January 2002

TSE January 2002

Subject:

Re: Eliot biographies--why not, then, disprove?

From:

"Will Gray" <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Wed, 30 Jan 2002 21:38:24 -0500

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I've been out for a couple of days, but I wanted to respond one more time to the discussion. 
I too have appreciated the discussion on the biographies and Gordon as biographer, and especially the addition of Jewel Spears Brooker's essay. Thanks to Rick Seddon. I agree strongly with her point of view (and most of Gordon's, too): I think we gain from Gordon's extensive study the insight of a pattern to Eliot's work, but I would take some objection to her tone at times.
I want to try to answer some questions that Nancy brought up--I assume they are directed to me...

> I would like to ask again--though it just gets ignored--why 
> praise of Eliot as a person is uncritically taken as true?  As Raphael 
> pointed out, it too can be an agenda.  To admire that and disparage critique 
> is meaningless unless one goes back to the original sources and disproves 
> the conclusions.  I have not seen that done.  

Agreed. I too respect the writer who does his homework but is willing to be fair with the subject. I think Jewel is a good example.
 
> So could we be specific?  What does she say that is false?  What is a 
> better way of interpreting, as one example and not at all the worst, the fact 
> that two women spent years believing Eliot would marry them, and for 
> reasons he clearly gave them (most women, even far more sophisticated 
> and experienced than Emily Hale) would think 30 years of letters and many 
> visits and a past in which love was spoken meant more than a mild flirtation 
> to be dropped without a shared discussion; I would have thought so 
> myself), yet she was so astonished and devastated by learning of his 
> marriage that she had a breakdown.  Now these are facts shown by letters 
> and pictures and not disputed by anyone.  And the Eliot estate does not 
> bring libel actions, and one can be pretty sure they would at any falsehood. 
> Please tell he how this can be interpreted to his credit or what there is 
> about it that makes it appallingly wrong to find it faithless and cruel in > Eliot?  That seems to me a quite logical inference. 

I don't think this question was directed to me, but I didn't see who brought up the issue, so... I agree--that does seem a quite logical inference. Here is my question, though--how important is it for a critic or writer to develop an opinion of the writer as person? Is that essential to a study?

> I think the reason you are not seeing the latest book quoted is simply that 
> publication is so delayed for any book or article that citations seldom turn 
> up in any number for a couple of years at least.  Gordon's latest is 1998, so 
> work done since then is only about on the verge of being finished and 
> published.  

Thanks, Nancy. I didn't realize that publication took that long to catch up with new sources. I'm still on the early side of publication, so I wouldn't have known that.

Will Gray
> 
> Date sent:      	Sat, 26 Jan 2002 20:35:42 -0500
> Send reply to:  	[log in to unmask]
> From:           	"Your Name" <[log in to unmask]>
> To:             	[log in to unmask]
> Subject:        	Re: Eliot biographies
> 
> Hi. I just joined the list yesterday and was thrilled to see so much
> discussion going on. As per the discussion of biographies--I would be
> hesitant to recommend An Imperfect Life, even though Gordon synthesized
> much of her earlier material here. Her tone toward Eliot and his work is
> notably changed from her earlier books--I came across some comments to
> this effect in a recent book, Experiments against Reality (Roger Kimball).
> He says, "Gordon was never burdened with a gift for narrative, but in her
> original volumes she presented the paraphernalia of Eliot's life and
> career clearly and succinctly. The new book introduces a thick patina of
> animus. Gordon tells us that her aim was not to demystify Eliot but 'to
> follow the trials of a searcher whose flaws and doubts speak to all of us
> whose lives are imperfect.' In fact, she never misses an opportunity to
> highlight--often, to exaggerate--Eliot's failings." I have also noticed
> that many Eliot articles these days make use of Eliot's Early Years, even
> though Gordon's new book has been out for some time now. I have not seen
> this new one cited at all yet. The first book appears to be the standard;
> the newer book unproved at least. Hope these thoughts are helpful. I look
> forward to more discussion. Will Gray
> 
> > 
> > 
> > --On Saturday, January 26, 2002 4:03 PM +0100 INGELBIEN RAPHAEL 
> > <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
> > 
> > > I don't see why personal remembrances or memoirs should escape the
> > > suspicion of being informed by particular agendas.
> > 
> >   I don't either. I didn't say they did. I think they are. But I meant
> >   to 
> > imply that a wide mix of viewpoints might give a sense of the man less,
> > how to say it, dictated by a current mythos, as Gordon's view clearly
> > is. Grant her her scholarship; more's the pity that she is the one
> > interpreting it.
> > 
> > > As for the biographies, they may be biased, but one can hardly blame
> > > Ackroyd or Gordon for not having had direct access to the man himself
> > > (where would that leave, say, Keats or Tennyson biographers?).
> > > Moreover, Gordon in particular consulted and incorporated many
> > > personal sources in her own work, as any conscientious biographer
> > > would do.
> > 
> >   Again, no quarrel here with sources or their lack. To state it baldly,
> >   I 
> > don't think any amount of knowledge of materials or personal knowledge
> > of the poet could save Gordon from her prejudices. Ultimately the poetry
> > exposes the underpinnings of this sort of biography.
> > 
> >  Cheers,
> >  Ken Armstrong
> > 
> > 
> 
> 
> 

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