"Personae" is not Eliot's word. In an interview in 1962 he said that
Prufrock was partly himself and partly someone else. It is a pretty
obscure text: a reference librarian tracked it down for me, and I have a
xerox somewhere, but I would have to go through a pile of papers to find
it right now. I learned about it first in Southam, however. But he does
not give the citation, possibly to avoid copyright problems, but I do
not know that. I did get the original interview, and my own view is
based on that.

B. C. Southam referred to the "you" without citation: "Eliot offered
different identifications. At some time in the 1950s, he answered an
inquirer that 'anything I say now must be somewhat conjectural, as it
was written so long ago that my memory may deceive me; but I am prepared
to assert that "you" in The Love Song is merely some friend or
companion, presumably of the male sex, whom the speaker is at the moment
addressing, and that it has no emotional content whatever'. [One person
he told this to was Kristian Smidt; there may have been others.] On the
other hand, in a 1962 interview, Eliot said that Prufrock was in part a
man of about forty and in part himself, and that he was employing the
notion of the split personality, a concept which was first studied and
widespread a few years earlier. On yet another occasion, he referred to
Prufrock as a 'young' man." (Southam, A Guide to The Selected Poems of
T. S. Eliot, 6th ed., Harcourt Brace, 1968), 48-9. Southam's statement
is put into an indirect quotation, and I am not sure how exact it is on
the phrase about "first studied and widespread." I would have to find
the interview. But "split personality" was not only very widespread, it
was much older. It is the idea Freud used in his first studies with
Breuer, and both Freud and Janet studied versions from Charcot. There
are much older descriptions of "split personalities," however, and they
are frequent in Scottish literature. I do not, myself, use the term
"split," as it presumes a prior unity, and I see no reason to assume
that; I use "multiple." That is a very different perception. See, for
example, Dr. Jekyll's own explanation of his relation to Mr. Hyde. And
it is important that Jekyll also says the separation may be moral, as in
his case, but need not be. 

I think I said before that Robert Lifton's is the most helpful book I
have read on how to think about multiplicity.

The reason I read Eliot's claim about "you" as "split personality" is
that he was at Harvard when Pierre Janet lectured there (though a
freshman and pretty certainly would not have heard the lecture) and
William James focused on that idea in The Principles of Human
Psychology; James used it to explain mysticism. Eliot did his doctoral
work in the philosophy department, where James taught, and he read
James. He later repudiated James, but it is clear he knew the
terminology well: I traced phrases and ideas from Janet, James, and
others through a long series of Eliot's own work, notably his claims
about Laforge.

I do not think he meant "personae" in any case. I think he meant what he
said, that it was partly himself and partly someone else, a double. His
poetry did come out of his own feelings and experiences. 

(And before there is a mass insistence on the absolute validity of his
"impersonality," I know the view that he transformed it into something
universal. But I do not find "universal" very convincing. Nor do I mean
that it was simply confessional in the way of, say, Sexton or Plath. I
mean the images and attitudes and feelings are Eliot's and often come
from his own life. That does not in any way reduce them.)

>>> DIana Manister 02/01/10 8:02 AM >>>
Dear Nancy,

Where Did Eliot discuss personae in Prufrock? I vaguely recall reading
his description of an older persona -- this is an important iteration of
the doubleness of the subject position in poetry. Thanks for mentioning


Sent from my iPod

On Jan 31, 2010, at 5:57 PM, Nancy Gish <ngish@UWell, Eliot said that Prufrock was both himself and someone else,
someone older (he wrote it when he was very young). But I do not see his
doubles (of which there are many) simply as personae, though, in the
sense that he presents himself as doubled in the form of various
narrators, I see them as many aspects of self which he experienced, and
in the case of Prufrock two aspects of himself--or, if you choose, the
"narrator" as dual.

As to the second question, no.

But I think the whole issue is very complex, and I would have to repeat
the essay to make it clear and convincing--which I think it is. So I can
only suggest you read it. The first or second note lists a series of
ways the "you and I" has been read with key scholars who did. It's
obviously selective: it has been a topic since the poem was published.

>>> DIana Manister 01/31/10 5:31 PM >>>
Nancy you say two selves or personae of the poet; I take that to mean
the poem's narrator, correct?

Do you see "talk of you and me" as referring to a third "you"?



Sent from my iPod

On Jan 31, 2010, at 4:07 PM, Nancy Gish <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

I think you're probably right, but I also think Eliot especially found
too much reality more than he could bear. His generalization assumes
that his own conception of "reality" is Truth. I think a great deal can
be borne if one sees it as a more complicated mixture of sensual and
emotional joy and beauty as well, clearly, as horror. And I don't,
obviously, mean his concept of a joy beyond sensual joy as the only
possibility. Ironically, his early poetry, full of yearning and desire
for just that, seems never to have been something of a world he
discovered until perhaps in his last few years.

>>> David Boyd 01/31/10 3:32 PM >>>
'('We') humankind cannot bear much reality' maybe illuminates the
personae involved here ??.



On Sun, Jan 31, 2010 at 1:36 AM, Nancy Gish <[log in to unmask]> wrote:

Dear Tom,

I've been out of town, so there are no doubt many responses to this
already. But Eliot himself gave different answers to the question. I've
written about it several times, but the most recent, and the one I stand
by because of all the research behind it, is the discussion in my
article in T. S. Eliot and Gender, Desire, and Sexuality (Cambridge,

It has been read in many, many ways, but I think it is two personae or
selves of the poet; in a 1962 interview Eliot says pretty much that.

>>> Tom Colket 01/24/10 11:53 AM >>>
In Eliot's "Prufrock" there are numerous places where the narrator
addresses or refers to another person, a "you" or a "we". My question
is: Is the narrator referring to one specific person (i.e., the same
person) in all these lines, or is more than one single individual
being referenced?

Here are the six references (among all Prufrock lines with "you/your"
or "we/us/our") that I'm particularly interested in:

1) "Let us go then, you and I . . . Let us go and make our visit."

2) "And indeed there will be time . . . Time for you and time for me"

3) "And the afternoon, the evening, sleeps so peacefully! . . .
Stretched on the floor, here beside you and me."

4) "And would it have been worth it, after all, . . . Among the
porcelain, among some talk of you and me,"

5) "Would it have been worth while,. . . To say, 'I am Lazarus, come
from the dead,/Come back to tell you all, I shall tell you all' "

6) "We have lingered in the chambers of the sea/By sea-girls wreathed
with seaweed red and brown/Till human voices wake us, and we drown."

-- Tom --

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