cover image Eliot After ‘The Waste Land’

Eliot After ‘The Waste Land’

Robert Crawford. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $35 (592p) ISBN 978-0-374-27946-2

The Nobel-winning poet and playwright Thomas Stearns Eliot (1888–1965) claws his way out of modernist despondency in this revelatory biography from Crawford (after Young Eliot). The author surveys the American-born Eliot’s life in London after the 1922 publication of The Waste Land, sharply dissecting the tensions between the public acclaim he received and his private turmoil and angst, with his political conservatism (and antisemitism), and in the moral certitudes of the Anglican Church, which he embraced in a religious turn that baffled other modernist literati. Eliot had a rough marriage with the mentally unstable Vivien Haigh-Wood; a passionate affair with Emily Hale (Crawford makes good use of their recently released letters), whom he refused to marry; and a brief but happy marriage to the much younger Esme Valerie Fletcher. Braiding piquant detail with rich analysis (“In his life, he worried about his hernia; in his poetry, he turned again to structuring an account of modern existence on an ancient fertility ritual... balanced between feverish action and strict control”), Crawford illuminates the contradictions that make Eliot such a fascinating symbol of his times. The result is a rewarding look at a key literary figure. Photos. Agent: David Godwin Assoc. (Aug.)