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Michael R. Stevens


The Bones in Mr. Eliot's Closet

Rediscovering the patron saint of all the flawed and haunted seekers of modernity.

T. S. Eliot has probably been given as much media attention in the past five years as he was given in his entire lifetime. But fame, as we all know, is not necessarily a good thing. For admirers of Eliot, the most recent wave has been decidedly bittersweet. His prestige is still apparent, most prominently in his selection by Time magazine as "the poet of the century." But a dark cloud has settled firmly over his reputation. Though Eliot has no apparent skeleton in his closet—such as the pro-Nazi articles which the late "Father of Deconstructionism," Paul de Man, wrote as a young Belgian journalist during World War II—he does have a motley pile of bones, which several recent critics have attempted to reconstruct into various forms.

Unlike de Man, Eliot has long been a thorn in the side of the liberal intellectual establishment. That Eliot was a conservative in almost every aspect of life he himself admitted in the famous preface to his 1928 book of essays For Lancelot Andrewes: "Meanwhile, I have made bold to unite these occasional essays merely as an indication of what may be expected, and to refute any accusation of playing 'possum. The general point of view may be described as classicist in literature, a royalist in politics, and anglo-catholic in religion." Such an agenda, dismissed by many of Eliot's contemporaries as merely anachronistic, is taken by our own contemporaries as utterly damning.

Among the most provocative and widely discussed indictments of Eliot is Anthony Julius's book T.S. Eliot, Anti-Semitism and Literary Form. In an irony that Eliot perhaps would have appreciated, it was a trick of pop culture that brought Julius's dissertation work, published by Cambridge in 1995, into prominence. In his day-job, Julius was the attorney who represented Princess Diana in her divorce suit with Prince Charles. If the massive settlement he effected for Diana is any indication, he is a good lawyer (and perhaps the wealthiest literature Ph.D. in the world!). If the ...

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