From: Nancy Gish [mailto:[log in to unmask]]
His late poetry and his plays are full of images of guilt and fantasies of
killed or dead women. But I think he assumed that feeling the guilt was
what defined repentance. That does not help the one you harm. I am
referring here to specific lines in Little Gidding and in plays, for
I guess I half way agree, Nancy. Except what could he have done
for the woman? As I remember he pretty much let it all hang out,
in ways one might think contradicted the principle of de-
personalisation in THE FAMILY REUNION. Was he not chided for
wearing his heart on his sleeve therein? At least that's as far as
Viv goes. As for Emily Hale, I just don't know enough. Did
he really lead her on to believe that he would marry her,
or did she do that to herself? I realise it's ignorance
on my part. I just haven't followed the issue. He was obviously
quite happy with Valerie. If he was a man of pained
conscience, it's hard to see how that could have been.
Then of course there are the figures of the Erinyes that
are alluded to even in Sweeney Ag. and that appear in
one form or another in the other plays. Was he looking at the
universal dimensions of conscience and obsessive guilt,
or just his own? Was his own simply a jumping off point
to get at the core of the whole thing?
He may have been a patronising slummer in his early
days, but it sure seems like he was trying to make
his own class take a long hard look at itself in the
later work. If he used his own experience transformed
to do that, what's to be criticised there? Joyce did
something similar with Stephen Daedalus.
Bottom line, I don't think one can read the plays
simply in terms of Eliot's own guilt and repentance, or
working out his feelings about it for his own sake.
I think he was trying to make a much more serious
contribution in line with his thoughts on the social
function of poetry. There was a maturation process.
As for judging how he lived his life and whether one
likes it or not, well I'm not going to throw the first
stone. I owe him far too much.