Memoirs are helpful and Tate has very good bits, but memoirs are not
biographies. They are not extensively researched examinations of a life but
the memories of a friend seen through that lens. If one wants to know more
than a friend's responses, Gordon is the best source. Sencourt, et. al., are
useful extra reading but even that is limited by the times in which they were
written, when much now known and published was not even available.
Sencourt, for example, is 1971, and Tate's collection 1962. Sencourt notes
in his acknowledgements that the relationship of Bertrand Russell and the
Eliot's is "obscure." Clearly these are not current sources or reliable on
facts beyond a small range. While it is true that Eliot's papers are
suppressed, it is also true that since these early memoirs at least one
volume of letters is available, and the memories and documents and letters
of massive sources are on a quite different status from the memoirs of
anyone. There is nothing absolute or sacrosanct about the opinion of the
writer of the Cambridge Companion. Nancy
Date sent: Fri, 25 Jan 2002 15:39:40 EST
Send reply to: [log in to unmask]
From: [log in to unmask]
To: [log in to unmask], [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: Eliot biographies
The observation <The Cambridge Companion to TSE says that the
that exist range from partisan to abusive; none are satisfactory, for no
biographer has had access to Eliot's papers"> is doubtless generally
accurate. Bearing it in mind, perhaps the best introduction to Eliot's
life, although somewhat conventional in its reading of the poetry & plays,
is the memoir by Eliot's long & good friend, Robert (George) Sencourt: "T.
S. Eliot: A Memoir," Donald Adamson, ed. (NY: Dodd, Mead, 1971).
Something of its manner may be suggested by the poem about Eliot by
Day Lewis ("At East Coker") with which it opens: "A presence, playful yet
Several older anthologies of remembrances (like that edited by Tate) are
also particularly good, and one often finds interesting if brief &
incidental highlights in the lives and letter of others, like, e.g., the
correspondence of Lawrence Durrell & Henry Miller, for whom the discovery
of "possum" is a new thing, and hence is obviously "recent" (a 1950
sample, re: "The Cocktail Party," Durrell to Miller: ". . . really a
little masterpiece; effortless and wry and beautifully put together, with
every symbol working overtime . . . . To be profound playfully is new for
him [sic]: he's become a Chinaman. And I can't tell you how sweet as a
human being -- vastly unlike the grave and composed man we met in our flat
in 1938. His gentleness and humour and lovability have come to the fore .
.. . ," plus the related letters).
Similarly, though generally less strictly "biographical," many interesting
things may be found in the various homages presented in the 1938 "The
Harvard Advocate" (vol. 124, no. 3) devoted to Eliot.
Guy Story Brown
[log in to unmask]