43 of 43 people found the following review helpful
An Interpretation of Life and Work,
This review is from: T.S. Eliot: An Imperfect Life (Paperback)
This book combines two earlier biographies of T. S. Eliot by Gordon, with the inclusion of materials that had come to light since their publication (letters, early poems, and materials relating to Eliot's relationship with his wife). Gordon's book is full of fascinating details about Eliot--an intensely private man, who attempted to hide much of his life from the public view.
Gordon's interpretation of Eliot's poems is what might be called mystical/autobiographical. The emphasis on Eliot's conversion and self-creation (from her first biographies) is still here, but a great deal more is also here about Eliot's marital problems, his relationships with women, and his opinions about minorities. The result is much more in keeping with contemporary biographical focus: Eliot is presented as a self-conflicted and flawed individual--a real man, with real problems, and a difficult life, striving for sainthood, and falling short. Gordon's respect for Eliot keeps it gossipy, but not scandal-mongering.
The only flaw in Gordon's presentation and interpretations seem to be her heavy focus on Eliot's relationship with Emily Hale. Eliot kept up a correspondence with Miss Hale, and possibly harbored some romantic intentions towards her intermittantly. In Gordon's account, this relationship is the touchstone for decoding much of Eliot's poetry. Like those interpretations that seek a homosexual relationship (with Verdenal or someone else) as the real center of Eliot's poetry, I find Gordon's reading occasionally reductive. However, this biography presents much more of the puzzle that is T. S. Eliot, and is a must-read for those interested in the intersections between his life and work.