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T.S. Eliot: An Imperfect Life

3.7 of 5 stars 3.70  ·  rating details  ·  102 ratings  ·  19 reviews
In this "nuanced, discerning account of a life famously flawed in its search for perfection" (The New Yorker), Gordon captures Eliot's "complex spiritual and artistic history . . . with tact, diligence, and subtlety" (Boston Globe). Drawing on recently discovered letters, she addresses in full the issue of Eliot's anti-Semitism as well as the less-noted issue of his misogy ...more
Paperback, 752 pages
Published November 17th 2000 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published 1998)
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Paul Bryant

The 6 foot 4 Eliot, confident of victory, gazes down at his 5 foot 2 and grotesquely obese opponent and begins by sneering and quoting Jew-hating Early Church Fathers like Origen, Eusebius and John Chrysostotum. Dworkin kicks his feet away, he crumples like a flimsy argument, she smashes him in the mouth and stomps on his head, putting an end to his repulsiveness within 25 seconds. Man, that was quick. A huge fight breaks out in the crow
The beauty of this biography is how deftly Gordon weaves genesis and analysis of the poetry and plays into the narration of Eliot's life. There's no appreciable discussion of his criticism (which is unfortunate) but the Wasteland and the Four Quartets receive phenomenal treatments. These poems feel far more intimate and historical with the additional context her narrative contributes. Eliot was a flawed and physically battered man whose religiousness, though deep and abiding, never seemed more t ...more
Lyndall Gordon is among my very favorite biographers, and she is able to bring any of her subjects back to life, as it were. In this case, T.S. Eliot, not among my favorite persons by any stretch, but I was entirely engrossed in Gordon's biography, which has every thing I look for in a literary biography - how and why and individual writes.
Rachel Terry
I had only a vague idea about T.S. Eliot's life before I read this book. I thought he was British (wrong). I knew he wrote the cat poems immortalized on Broadway. I always liked his poetry in anthologies, and I read his Quartets in college, but to me he was just a name next to poetry titles and somehow associated with e.e. cummings (lower case mystical men without first names).

But now I know much more about Tom Eliot than I ever wanted to know. Lyndall Gordon is a thorough, insightful biographer
My new gold standard for biography - insightful but ruthless, appreciative but not idolizing. This was the perfect book at the perfect time, stripping away layers of Eliot's impersonality and obfuscation while leaving the central mysteries intact. Yes, he could be a terrible human being: certainly not a personality anyone would want to model themselves after. But Gordon treats the art as art and allows the poet to speak for himself through his work, illuminating how his life and his works intert ...more
This book comprised of two segments of T.S. Eliot's life: the first half up the final ending of his first marriage, then the rest. The first half is much more engaging as it deals with arguably the most fertile period of the poet's life as well as the tortuous marriage with Vivienne. At half way, TSE was already an artist formed in his intelligence and his spirituality, if not quite certain what to do with his disturbed and disturbing first wife.

The author has a highly accomplished literary sty
Duncan Simpson
A well written biography, not afraid to link the story of his life with his poetry. Used to be a very unfashionable approach which I am pleased to see is fading away. Poet's are people and their poetry links to the life they led.
He was a strange guy, that T.S. Eliot. I think Gordon was a little forgiving of him but generally writes a very interesting biography of a hard to understand character.
Gordon is a stellar biographer: meticulous, curious, witty, and even-handed -- here at times to a fault. Eliot is far from a likeable character, but Gordon goes to pains to give context, colour, and the benefit of the doubt to all of his bad behaviour. She spends at least as much time on his work as on his life and has a breath-taking command of both. Despite her best efforts, it's difficult to enjoy the book simply because Eliot is so unsympathetic. If that's genius, God save me from it.
Thomas Stearns Eliot was a Nobel Prize winning poet and literary critic best known for The Waste Land, and other works. Gordon's work is a tediously-researched and equally-tediously written analysis of two earlier biographies of the man's life and writings which some apparently find psychologically titillating. It was too tedious for my enjoyment, although, sans all the psychological speculation, it would have been much shorter and much more readable.
Now--- rather a good biography. But at this particular instant, what I'm seeing in my mind's eye is Willem Dafoe in a straw boater singing a Gilbert & Sullivan-y song that goes---

My name is Tom Eliot,
I am a Modernist poet.
My first wife was a lunatic,
And I am an anti-semite...

At this point, probably the definitive biography of Eliot. Gordon transitions often and well between the biographical and the critical, a la Richard Ellmann, though there is little original in the literary analysis. Much more central to this account of Eliot's life than Ackroyd's is the figure of Emily Hale.
Lauren Albert
I don't know what to make of this. Gordon gives the reader in-depth looks at certain key figures in Eliot's life but gives short shrift to others (Pound, for instance). She constantly draws analogies from the literature of Hawthorne, James, etc. It felt like a mish mash to me.
This is no straightforward biography; you've got to be familiar with the scope and sequence of Eliot's poems and plays to get the full benefit of this extensive work. It's formidable, but satisfactory.
Dana Vincent
Even if TS Eliot is not exactly on the brain, this book is so well and smartly written you'll enjoy reading good as good fiction.
A bit hostile to Eliot, but also very perceptive about his spiritual life.
Carolin Kopplin
Enlightening biography of a brilliant if flawed man.
James Chafin
He was an asshole.
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T. S. Eliot 1 3 Nov 18, 2008 01:53PM  
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