Was T.S. Eliot a Scoundrel?
T.S. Eliot’s anti-Semitism is back in the news. Over recent months there has been a spate of articles, first in Britain and then in the United States, prompted by the appearance of a new book, Anthony Julius’s T.S. Eliot, Anti-Semitism, and Literary Form.1 Some of these articles—for such are the ways of journalism—have presented the subject as though it were a revelation; but for many of Eliot’s readers it is, of course, an old story, one they have been living with for a long time. Reading Julius and his reviewers, I found my own thoughts turning inescapably personal, reflection giving way to recollection.
I first discovered Eliot in 1950, when I was fifteen. Not a particularly daring discovery, it might be said—after all, he had already won the Nobel Prize, and the great works on which his reputation still rests, from “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” (1915) to Four Quartets (1943), had long since achieved their positions of renown. But the school I attended in London had an old-fashioned approach to literature, and he was not yet on the curriculum. In addition to his other charms he had the attraction of being an “unofficial” author, someone you had to explore under your own steam.
About the Author
John Gross is the editor most recently of The New Oxford Book of Literary Anecdotes. His “Mr. Virginia Woolf” appeared in the December 2006 COMMENTARY.