I would be a bit more emphatic than Nancy on this. There is no such thing as
"The Standards of A Period," since the "standards of any period are ALWAYS
contradictory. For example: At the time of the American War for
Independence that great conservative and royalist Samual Johnson opposed
giving independence to the U.S. (he was a "hawk" on the war). What was his
reason: a people who kept slaves did not desrve independence. So if we speak
of the "starndars" of thd 1780s, which man shall we pick to represent those
standards: Samuel Johnson or that slavedriver, George Washington?
Or should we think of that traitor Robeeert E. Lee or Frederick Douglas as
representing the standards of the 1860s?
Or the first showing of Birth of a Nation was in the White House, and that
historian by trade, Woodrow Wilson had it shown as presenting a true and
admirable image of U.S. history. (It is a great but vile film.) But some
years before Mark Twain had written his great essay, "The United States of
Lyncherdom." Who represents the standards of U.S. society in the early
20th-c: That war criminal and vile racist, Woodrow Wilson or that great
writer and anti-imperialist Mark Twain?
It is a serious mistake to base ANY argument on the mythical "standards of
I was around 20 when Eliot got his Nobel prize. I don't remember whether I
knew much about his anti-semitism, but I do know that even then I and most
of my friends were utterly contemptuous of anti-semitism.
I've got more to say on this, but no more time just now, so I'll send it and
pick up the topic in a later post.
Nancy Gish writes:
I think it a very unsound example of a writer whose statement could be read
that way because Orwell had no access to, for example, any of the poems in
IMH or to the TWL facsimile. One may agree or disagree (and it depends on
what one means by "anti-Semitism"), but as Eliot said, we know so much more
than writers in the past and they are what we know. Moreover, there was not
a single set of values "then." Many writers "then" deplored racist and
anti-Semitic and misogynist language, just as many do now. That it was more
common for such things to be said then is a different point. So there is,
unfortunately, not a logical relation between Orwell's statement and any
general way of reading the past.
>>> David Boyd 11/19/10 5:04 AM >>>
Sound reminder I think of the futility of trying to judge the past against
the standards of today..
Society, and its values, moves on / evolves.
In similar vein, in the UK there's an ever popular book, first published
over 150 years ago and AFAIK always immensely popular since called 'Mrs
Beeton's Book of Household Management' - as the name suggests, a guide and
handbook for middle-class wives on how to run their households; deal with
the servants; plan their meals etc etc
Much of it comprises contemporary recipes and overviews of their various
I was extremely startled, in the chapter discussing 'Pork' some (to me)
outrageously offensive passing comments about the refusal of Jews to eat
pork, and how beneath contempt they all were as a race, what with all their
grasping avarice etc etc - in an exceedingly genteel cookbook, one just
doesn't expect such nastiness and prejudice and unpleasantness, but the very
fact that Mrs Beeton must have thought it perfectly OK to print such a
diatribe I think further illustrates the dichotomy between values then and
On 19 November 2010 08:28, Peter Montgomery <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
It is nonsense ... about Eliot being antisemitic. Of course you can find
what would now  be called antisemitic remarks in his early work,
but who didn't say such things at that time? ... [D]isliking Jews isn't
intrinsically worse than disliking Negroes or Americans or any other
block of people. In the early twenties, Eliot's antisemitic remarks were
about on a par with the automatic sneer one casts at Anglo-Indian colonels
in boarding houses .... Some people go around smelling after antisemitism
all the time.
(George Orwell, Collected Essays, Kirk, 176)