In a message dated 1/10/02 2:41:44 PM EST, [log in to unmask] writes:
> You sent in excerpts of Carole Seymour-Jones' "Painted Shadow: A Life
> of Vivienne Eliot." Okay, she says there that Eliot was a homosexual,
> but does she indicate why it is important? And if so, is it to help
> us understand Vivienne and her troubles or to understand Eliot's
> works? I'm thinking that perhaps she may skip over the second reason
> to allow a focus on the first.
I read the book, just once, over the Christmas break, so I'm not a "Painted
Shadow" expert. But, since you asked, I'll give you my opinion.
It is clear that Seymour-Jones thinks TSE's sexuality manifests itself in his
poetry. She has an entire chapter called "The Waste Land", and in addition
to discussing events surrounding publication of the poem she also offers a
partial reading of it. She has read and agrees with the John Peters article
("A New Interpretation of 'The Waste Land' ") and James Miller's book ("T.S.
Eliot's Personal Waste Land"). She finds Peters' article "convincing". She
agrees with Miller's comparison of "The Waste Land" to "In Memorium", that
is, she agrees with Miller that a major force behind TWL is TSE's desire to
write an elegy to Jean Verdenal. She directly states in the notes that the
'hyacinth girl' is an allusion to Verdenal.
However, "Painted Shadow" is not a book of poetry analysis. Seymour-Jones
does not look at TSE's work poem-by-poem examining homoerotic themes. In that
sense, she is NOT discussing TSE's sexuality in order to analyze his poetic
accomplishments, but rather to show how his sexuality influenced his life,
with the focus on how it affected his marriage to Vivienne.
It's clear that Seymour-Jones believes his sexuality played a key role in
their unhappy marriage. She thinks Vivienne's femininity itself turned him
off. As an example of his reaction to basic things, such as human smells, she
quotes a line from his French poem "Lune de Miel" ("Honeymoon"):
"et une forte odeur de chienne" ("and the strong odor of bitch")
The implication is that a heterosexual man on his honeymoon would not think
of using that type of phrasing, especially on that night.
The feeling I got (and I ain't no book critic or Eliot scholar) is that
Seymour-Jones is making the case that it's wholly unfair to present the
marriage as it has often been presented, namely, as one in which a great man
(TSE) is dragged to the depths of despair and misery by a physically
unhealthy, mentally hysterical woman, prone to promiscuous relationships with
people like Bertrand Russell. Seymour-Jones is trying to 'set the record
straight'. She is trying to show that TSE had non-heterosexual desires from a
time that predates their marriage, and that, in fact, TSE is not the
conventional, rather stodgy and stuffy Englishman-wannabe that fits his
public image. In "Painted Shadows", he has a temper, he drinks, he uses
cosmetics, he is impotent on his honeymoon, he keeps secret apartments that
Vivienne doesn't know about in which he is sexually active with men, he draws
erotic nude pictures of priests -- in short, according to this book, he is
full of intense passions and desires that drive him to write great poetry but
drive him away from his wife.
TSE told his estate executor that, upon his death, the job of the executor
would be to "suppress all that is suppressible". Statements like this lead
Seymour-Jones to believe that TSE was ashamed of the very desires that drove
him. And in a marriage with a partner like this, in a marriage in which the
partner is also a great author and the most powerful literary critic in the
world, Vivienne didn't stand a chance (if you agree with Seymour-Jones, that
The book paints an extremely sad picture of this "shadow". Seymour-Jones
notes that Vivienne had occasionally saved up large doses of the medications
she was being given for various maladies and had taken them all at once,
getting very sick. The implication is that her death at age 58 in the mental
asylum, supposedly a result of natural causes, is actually a suicide.
-- Steve --