I think it is essential to deal with the fact that Gordon's tone changed as
she learned more. No one has yet suggested any reason why she would
have any animus or develop any prejudice. Scholarship, to be honest,
must go where evidence leads, and it seems to have led her to material
that changed her response. There is no reason at all to assume she
started with any prejudice, as your emphasis on the previous books shows.
She clearly did not. And there is no evidence that she had any reason to
develop one. 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. The purpose of citation, of
which she has massive amounts, is to make just that possible. The truth
or validity of any conclusion is not a function of whether one likes it or finds
it comfortable but whether the evidence for it is there.
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.
These constant general condemnations are only that. I think they should
be justified with pretty serious commentary, detail, and evidence before a
life of intensive research is just trashed.
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. Even an article can be a couple of years in researching, writing,
and getting reviewed and in print; a book can be much more.
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
> 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,
> 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.
> Ken Armstrong