[Preceding post sent by accident.]
"The PRUFROCK line obviously refers to a certain class/type of women only."
This is ahistorical nonsense. Consider the final reference to Mrs. Jellyby in Bleak House: One _could_ say that it referred to "certain class/type of women only," but to advance that as a "defense" of Dickens would not only be nonsense but in fact an insult to Dickens and a profound misinterpretation of a very great novel. That passage is in fact a terribly wrong attack on _all_ women, and to say otherwise is illiterate and shows a failure to understand history even in a rough way. Darwin was a racist: that does not affect the great significance of his theoretical work: it merely recognizes a fact. Eliot was _also_ racist, 'sexist,' and (perhaps) aggressively misogynous. (The last appears elsewhere than Prufrock; that is, I don't think Prufrock exhibits misogyny but it does exhibit serious contempt for women who pretend to be intellectuals. And the subject line for this thread _also_ is contemptible in and of itself; the subject of debate is Eliot's poetry: or at least that should be the subject but whoever coined this subject line let the cat out of the bag as it were: it was an attempt to poison the wells of discourse by shifting from the subject (Eliot’s poetry) to the character of the critic.
Bleak House is a great novel, Prufrock a fascinating poem: it is an insult to both to ignore their grounding in gender attitudes specific to their age. One honors a writer by attempting to understand his work: no reader will come close to understanding Eliot’s work by ignoring the fear of women, especially of women who dare to think, that winds through his work.
The line from Prufrock (quite aside from Eliot’s personal problems with women) echoes similar perspectives in James, Pound, Frost, Yeats, Faulkner, Ford, among many others. Women were to be Muses, not poets. (To see this in its most naked from, look up a best seller of the 1940s, Phillip Wylie, Generation of Vipers; also see an essay by two psychoanalysts, one a woman, included in the Norton edition of Wollstonecraft – I forget their names.)
I disagree with some of the points Kaveney raises, but to focus on her gender & quote Prufrock against her is simply contemptible.