The Scandal in T.S. Eliot's Life

T.S. Eliot (1888-1965), dead now for more than 20 years, continues to vex those for whom his poetry is not complete—or is not completely to be understood—without an intimate knowledge of his biography. At the time of his death, of course, Eliot's reputation was somewhat in decline, despite the Nobel Prize of 1948, the Order of Merit, and many other awards. But during the years that he flourished, his literary authority was so commanding that those irritated by what he had done and what he stood for felt the need to diminish his remarkable achievement once he was gone. Gossip about his life was always a London pastime, but the passing of the great poet sharpened the interest in the story of his life, and more than a few readers still look forward to revelations that will supposedly clarify what is felt to be the hidden scandal of his youth.

Certain already-known facts about Eliot's past give a titillating foretaste of the anticipated scandal. It is known, for example, that Eliot broke with his distinguished family in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and that he insisted on living apart from them in London. Why, is not perfectly clear. Then there was the discovery of his King Bolo verses, with their obscene sexual ribaldry. Some of the early poems like "Rhapsody on a Windy Night" were said to suggest that he had prowled the Paris red-light districts, a la Charles-Louis Phillipe's Bubu de Montparnasse....

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