> The 'Prufrock' speaker also finds teenage acne to be an indication of
> inferiority, otherwise why mention it?
I think Eliot's "young man carbuncular" is an allusion to Ovid's Narcissus in Metamorphoses. This has been written about before, but perhaps it is worth re-stating. I have copied some lines below from a translation posted by MIT, along with some comments of my own that I believe tie Narcissus to the young man carbuncular.
-- Tom --
Translation excerpts provided by The Internet Classics Archive.
See bottom for copyright. Available online at
Translated by Sir Samuel Garth, John Dryden, et al
(from "The Transformation of Echo")
1) Narcissus' mother consults Tiresias about her infant son:
The tender dame, sollicitous to know
Whether her child should reach old age or no,
Consults the sage Tiresias, who replies,
"If e'er he knows himself he surely dies."
Long liv'd the dubious mother in suspence,
'Till time unriddled all the prophet's sense.
2) Narcissus loves himself and his own beauty; girls love him "in vain":
Narcissus now his sixteenth year began,
Just turn'd of boy, and on the verge of man;
Many a friend the blooming youth caress'd,
Many a love-sick maid her flame confess'd:
Such was his pride, in vain the friend caress'd,
The love-sick maid in vain her flame confess'd.
. . . .
(From "The Story of Narcissus")
3) Narcissus is described as having a "purple youthfulness of face", that is, a blush that beautifully colors his youthful face:
For as his own bright image he survey'd,
He fell in love with the fantastick shade;
And o'er the fair resemblance hung unmov'd,
Nor knew, fond youth! it was himself he lov'd.
The well-turn'd neck and shoulders he descries,
The spacious forehead, and the sparkling eyes;
The hands that Bacchus might not scorn to show,
And hair that round Apollo's head might flow;
With all the purple youthfulness of face,
That gently blushes in the wat'ry glass.
Compare the Ovid passages to Eliot's passages in TWL:
I Tiresias, old man with wrinkled dugs
Perceived the scene, and foretold the rest-
I too awaited the expected guest.
He, the young man carbuncular, arrives,
A small house agent's clerk, with one bold stare,
One of the low on whom assurance sits
As a silk hat on a Bradford millionaire.
The time is now propitious, as he guesses,
The meal is ended, she is bored and tired,
Endeavours to engage her in caresses
Which still are unreproved, if undesired.
Flushed and decided, he assaults at once;
Exploring hands encounter no defence;
His vanity requires no response,
And makes a welcome of indifference.
In other words:
1) Tiresias appears in both passages and prophesizes (In Eliot: "Perceived the scene, and foretold the rest").
2) Eliot turns the plot of Narcissus loving only himself and his own beauty into "His vanity requires no response,/And makes a welcome of indifference".
3) Eliot turns the "purple youthfulness of face" that Ovid uses to describe a beautiful youthful blush into "the young man carbuncular", that is, a face full of purple pimples, not the beautiful blush of Narcissus.