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T.S. Eliot: An Imperfect Life

3.81  ·  Rating details ·  154 ratings  ·  25 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 misogyny. Her account "rescues b(Boston(The ...more
Paperback, 752 pages
Published November 17th 2000 by W.W. Norton & Company (first published 1998)
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Average rating 3.81  · 
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 ·  154 ratings  ·  25 reviews

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Paul Bryant
Dec 04, 2007 rated it liked it
Interviewer : why did you want to read about this nasty old man anyway?

PB : I was feeling more ignorant than usual. He's mentioned perpetually by all manner of people. Possibly the problem is that I can't understand any of the arsey abstract folderol in Four Quartets and also he was supposed to be a rightwing antisemitic creep. Why isn't he already on the scrapheap of literary history, a giant embarrassment like his fascist friend Pound?

Interviewer : Do you talk like this
Apr 21, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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.
David James
Dec 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Gordon, Lyndall. The Imperfect Life of TS Eliot

The revised edition of Lyndall Gordon’s biography (2012) is a comprehensive account of Eliot’s life, dealing mainly with his life in England, and including five appendices plus a profusion of Notes. It is however a fascinating insight into the mind and art of Eliot, his many masks and his difficulties with women, especially those whom he served badly. The book reads rather like a mystery-thriller, the ‘real’ Eliot being kept under wraps
Rachel Terry
Apr 23, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: biography
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, insightfu
Nov 30, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Peter Spaulding
Nov 01, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Gordon does a really good job of making a poet whose biography is so important more approachable to regular readers. It's a little annoying to me that Eliot writes so that if you don't know his biography his poetry isn't as amazing as it otherwise is... but Gordon does a really good job of showing the the genius of the poems by contextualizing them in certain biographical features to his poems, especially ones as enigmatic yet emotional as "Marina." This whole book is worth reading if for nothin ...more
Jan 25, 2017 rated it liked it
I will not lie. I skipped quite a lot. It's as much or more about his writing as his private life. I've learnt a lot and shall go back to his poetry. I'm glad he found love, even though late in life.
Scotty Zollars
Jan 17, 2019 rated it did not like it
I tried to read this. I managed to get through a few chapters. It would probably be alright for doing research on the literary style of the guy, but not to just sit down and read.
Jan 20, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Feb 10, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography, poetry
Lyndall Gordon obviously had an enormous amount of material to sift through and make sense of in order to compose this dense biography. I admire her efforts in such a daunting challenge. Her presentation of the material and her own personal insights shed light remarkably well on all aspects of a man otherwise obscured by many masks.

However, the organization of this volume is somewhat jumbled and required consistent concentration to follow. Also, her poetical examinations are scattered haphazard
Feb 10, 2012 rated it it was ok
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.
Jun 21, 2009 rated it liked it
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.
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...

May 02, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: eliot_studies
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.
A well written and insightful (if slightly repetitive) biography of one of the most important artists of the 20th Century. I have a particular obsession with Eliot, but I would still recommend to most everyone.
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.
Duncan M Simpson
Nov 26, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: biography
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.
Nov 18, 2007 rated it really liked it
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
Aug 10, 2008 rated it really liked it
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.
Douglas Wilson
Feb 09, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: biography
Fine work.
James Chafin
Jan 01, 2009 rated it it was ok
Carolin Kopplin
Oct 19, 2014 rated it really liked it
Enlightening biography of a brilliant if flawed man.
Aug 28, 2007 added it
Jul 09, 2007 rated it really liked it
A bit hostile to Eliot, but also very perceptive about his spiritual life.
Aug 11, 2014 rated it liked it
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.
heidi long
rated it really liked it
Jan 05, 2019
Anne Holmes
rated it it was amazing
May 23, 2017
Mike Benoit
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Nov 16, 2016
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Feb 10, 2015
Ravivarma Naduvilidam
rated it it was amazing
Nov 29, 2011
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T. S. Eliot 1 3 Nov 18, 2008 01:53PM  

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Lyndall Gordon (born 4 November 1941) is a British-based writer and academic, known for her literary biographies. She is a Senior Research Fellow at St Hilda's College, Oxford.

Born in Cape Town, she was an undergraduate at the University of Cape Town, then a doctoral student at Columbia University in New York City. She married the pathologist Siamon Gordon; they have two daughters. ...more