Young Eliot: From St Louis to The Waste Land

Perry_02_15Seamus Perry at Literary Review:

Biographers of T S Eliot face a number of challenges, not least the marked disinclination of their subject to having his biography written at all. When, in the early 1960s, a scholar wrote an account relating the poetry to his early life, Eliot went through the typescript striking out unwarranted speculations. 'This is just silly', he wrote in the margin at one point, responding to the perfectly mild suggestion that an interest in Arthurian myth might have been partly prompted by the paintings in Boston Public Library. His manner with admirers' enquiries was celebrated for its unforthcoming deadpan: he was a master of disavowal and deflection. The comparison with Joyce, always happy to expand upon the ambitions and strategies of his genius for the edification of generations to come, is very striking. 'Possum', Ezra Pound's nickname for Eliot, referred to an animal that played dead to deflect predators. One manifestation of the Possum spirit was Eliot's destruction of much of his correspondence, so as to spoil the chances of his hunters.

He was an intensely private man and his greatest works revolve with a sometimes appalled fascination around the impenetrable secrecy that shrouds the innermost self, both others' and one's own. But his opposition to biographical speculation was down to more than the desire not to have his privacy violated. Eliot repeatedly expressed scepticism towards the view that knowing about a life brought anything important to an understanding of the poetry that emerged from it.

more here.