Sunday, 2 June 2013

T.S. Eliot

The question of Eliot’s own sexuality is moot.  The biographer of his first wife, Vivienne, uses circumstantial evidence to suggest he was homosexual, but does so to use it against him as but one more facet to the misogyny which had the effect of victimising Vivienne.  We might use the same evidence to make the same inference about his sexuality, yet then draw quite different conclusions from it.  In this alternative scenario, the suppression of his homosexual feelings—feelings which most famously found some kind of expression, not necessarily physical, in his love for the young Frenchman Jean Verdenal—would have to be read as symptomatic of the victimisation of Eliot himself by a homophobic culture, which then had its knock-on effect on the state of his marriage.  Indeed, the suppression not only of any sign of affection for members of his own sex, but of emotion itself, so central to the tone of all his major poetry, but especially to that of The Waste Land, could arguably have its origins in the same source: the fear of what was homosexual in himself.  Eliot’s emotional dryness makes one regret not having been present to hear the exchanges that took place in Paris from the autumn of 1910, when he went for French conversation lessons with Alain-Fournier, author of that splendidly love-ridden and sentimental novel Le Grand Meaulnes (1913).

[Source: Carole Seymour-Jones, Painted Shadow: A Life of Vivienne Eliot (London: Constable, 2001).  In a review of this biography, Francis King writes: ‘The gay novelist C.H.B. Kitchin once described to me how T.S. Eliot, having recently severed all contact with his wife Vivienne, took up residence, in 1933, in the flat that Kitchin shared with two other gay men.  Each evening, Eliot would go out wearing “a bit of slap”, usually to return home after the rest of the occupants were in bed.  He clammed up when Kitchin tentatively probed him on the subject of his sexuality; but Kitchin was in little doubt of its nature’—Francis King, ‘Broken Butterfly’, Gay Times 281 (February 2002), p.78.]

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