----- Original Message -----From: [log in to unmask] href="mailto:[log in to unmask]">Diana ManisterSent: Thursday, August 31, 2006 1:21 PMSubject: Re: Eliot and Biography
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T.S. Eliot's Personal Waste Land by James E. Miller, Jr. explores many of the explicit and implicit references in the poem, such as the strong possibility that the dead Phoenician sailor represents Eliot's grief for his friend Jean Verdenal, to whom he dedicated his first volume of poems, Prufrock and Other Observations in 1917. (The 1925 edition included with the dedication the words "mort aux Dardanelles.")
The view that TWL express the the voice of a generation is not contradicted by its having been written by an author personally impacted by the events of WWI. An exploration of the evidence of those effects as found in Eliot's letters and other reliable sources would seem to be a legitimate scholarly pursuit. Diana
From: Nancy Gish <[log in to unmask]>
Reply-To: "T. S. Eliot Discussion forum." <[log in to unmask]>
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: Eliot and Biography
Date: Thu, 31 Aug 2006 15:11:01 -0400
I do not think anyone was likely to know that before the publication of
the Facsimile edition except perhaps some of Eliot's friends or perhaps
scholars who worked on biography or history. I learned it from the
facsimile, and I had been reading scholarship for a long time before.
I think every generation of readers will have their experience changed
by new knowledge. In fact it was Eliot who said that providing such
facts was one of the most useful things scholarship could do. (I'm
paraphrasing from memory). Knowing the history of Eliot's marriage and
the effects of WWI on both of them, reading his letters and his
previously unpublished poems reframes the whole canon of his work. It
is simply not possible, for example, to read TWL as strictly a symbolic
representation of the modern world based on Jesse Weston--though that
had some influence late in the composition. Interestingly, Paul Fussell
seemed to recognize the importance of all this very early, and Grover
>>> "Brian O'Sullivan" <[log in to unmask]> 8/31/2006 2:31 PM >>>
Thanks, Diana and Nancy, for some very interesting information (and, by
way, I think "interesting" is, in itself, an excellent reason to bring
point in a conversation about literature).
I'm curious how well Eliot's original audience would have known
books or would have known her as a notable figure. Is it likely that
real-world identity changed the meaning of Eliot's poem for
readers? (I'm not asking because I think this is the only important
when using biography in criticism, but because I think it is one
On 8/31/06 1:30 PM, "Nancy Gish" <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
> Diana's point is very important, and it takes on added significance
> according to Valerie Eliot, "in fact he had met the author (when and
> where is not known), and his description of the sledding, for
> was taken verbatim from a conversation he had with this neice and
> confidante of the Austrian Empress Elizabeth."
> When verbatim conversations of actual people and events are placed in
> poem, clearly biography is significant. Moreover, Eliot was in
> when WWI started, listened to tales of trench warfare from his
> brother-in-law Maurice, and wrote many many letters about the deeply
> disturbing impact of that War and the difficulties of the Home
> All of that plays into the world he sees in TWL. It also connects
> use of Hesse and his admiration for Hesse to his own experience.
>>>> Diana Manister <[log in to unmask]> 08/31/06 11:48 AM >>>
> Peter wrote:
> "It is interesting to know that Marie of TWL perhaps reflects an
> person, but what relevance is that to the poem as a whole, other
> perhaps, that other parts of the poem reflect related actual elements
> life. Interesting, but so what?"
> Peter, it is more than interesting that Marie is certainly Marie,
> Countess Larisch, and that her story illustrates not only the state
> the aristocracy in Europe during the war years but the migrations of
> refugees it caused, both themes in TWL In addition, Eliot quotes her
> speaking in her native language, not in translation. The sampling of
> untranslated languages in the poem is a somewhat separate issue, but
> this instance it brings home the Countess's refugee status in a
> More about her can be found at
> this excerpt does not suffice.
> "Marie's life took a turn for the worst in January 1889 when
> Rudolph, who was married to Princess Stephanie (the daughter of
> II of Belgium) was found dead at Mayerling, a hunting lodge not far
> Vienna. The body of the archduke, the heir to the Austrian Empire,
> found with the body of Marie (Mary) Vetsera, a baroness who was his
> mistress (see Mayerling below.) Even by her own accounts the
> had been serving as a go-between for Rudolph and Mary, although, in
> books, she wrote that she was at times duped and at other times her
> good-nature was taken advantage of. Despite this, when the affair
> to its bloody end she suffered the wrath of the imperial family and
> became the disgrace of Europe.
> During World War I the Countess underwent six months training and
> as a Red Cross supervisor in charge of hospital trains. Her son Otto
> called to service in the last year of the war until he was gassed
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