Eliot, Woolf and Vivien

T.S. Eliot, Virginia Woolf and the unfortunate Vivienne Eliot

“T. S. Eliot and Virginia Woolf were almost exact contemporaries, readers and critics of each others’ work, and friends for over twenty years. Their writings, though, are rarely paired.” So says the Amazon entry on Modernism, Memory, and Desire by Gabrielle Mcintire, which “proposes that some striking correspondences exist in Eliot and Woolf’s poetic, fictional, critical, and autobiographical texts, particularly in their recurring turn to the language of desire, sensuality, and the body to render memory’s processes.”

An article in the New Yorker from some years ago paints a different picture of Eliot: “he held all the English writers in contempt. It was a cool and disinterested contempt; it came from arrogance, not from pettiness or insecurity, and he gave just enough of a hint of it to make people nervous. The only contemporary writers he considered his peers were Pound and Lewis (though he knew their limitations extremely well). The only one he looked up to was Joyce.”

Virginia Woolf is only mentioned later in passing in the article, with a quote from her diary wishing “poor dear Tom had more spunk in him, less need to let drop by drop of his agonized perplexities fall ever so finely through pure cambric. One waits; one sympathizes, but it is dreary work.”

As for Eliot’s first wife, Vivienne, Virginia Woolf wrote in her diary: “Oh – Vivienne! Was there ever such a torture since life began! – to bear her on one’s shoulders, biting, wriggling, raving, scratching, unwholesome, powdered, insane, yet sane to the point of insanity, reading his letters, thrusting herself on us, coming in wavering trembling … This bag of ferrets is what Tom [Eliot] wears round his neck.”

Tim Miller, who blogs interesting excerpts of whatever he is reading, has more from Virginia Woolf’s diary: you can read it via First Person: Virginia Woolf Meets T. S. Eliot

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