Here is an interesting case in point, regarding Eliot and his mother Charlotte.
Charlotte was a devoted Unitarian and so took a strong and socially involved posture on morality.
cf Eliot's social writings. To what degree was Eliot himself formed, even as a young child by her values,
such that even after he abandoned the religion of his childhood and youth, he continued to
live those early inculcated values. In his 20s he bemoaned being still a virgin.
Charlote was a promising poet but her religious obligations didn't allow her really to pursue a career as a poet. She liked to write poems on saints and martyrs, and her major piece as was a verse drama
on Savonarola which Eliot eventually published for her.
Cf. Eliot's development of verse drama.
While her own poetic work had to be limited, Charlotte did anything and everything to foster
her son's talent. He was given a lot of time to himself to discover and develop his interests
and abilities in regard to literature. One might be tempted to think that she could have been trying
to pursue her own career through Eliot. Such parental pressure and expectations can have
a deliterious effect on the one who carries the pressure. Was that Eliot's case?
So to what degree is pursuing Eliot's childhood biography of interest in looking at his career?
For instance does his early published work have a Unitarian underlay to it, which even Eliot
might no have realised?
----- Original Message -----
From: [log in to unmask] href="mailto:[log in to unmask]">Terry Traynor
To: [log in to unmask] href="mailto:[log in to unmask]">[log in to unmask]
Sent: Tuesday, April 06, 2010 11:22 PM
Subject: Re: Biography

>As for the different reaction, if you did not know,
>Terry, that one was forged, would your reaction
>be different? (I'm not validating forgery, by the way.)

If I didn't know that a work was forged, I'd have the same reaction to it as if it were authentic. Only upon learning that it was a forgery would I react to it differently. Specifically, my estimation of the work would drop. This bothers me because it would mean that the work of art's perceptible qualities (the colors and brushwork good enough to pass as a recently discovered Rembrandt, the language and imagery good enough to pass as a recently discovered Eliot) would be dismissed in favor of knowledge about who made the work. The perversity of responding to and assessing a work based on who made it rather than on the qualities of the work itself is evident when people buy poorly designed products because they have "name" brands on them, and when no-talent celebrities get published while genuinely talented artists languish in obscurity. Avoiding such ad hominem perversity is one of the reasons that award competitions, scholarly journals, etc. call for "blind" submissions.

The problem posed by knowledge-about-authorship is one I extend to knowledge-about-author's-biography whenever I read a literary interpretation that is dependent on biographical knowledge. I say this hesitantly, because I know that sometimes biography is helpful or even unavoidable. As Carrol pointed out, "it is not wholly clear where to draw the line between legitimate and foolish appeals to biography."