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Painted Shadow: A Life of Vivienne Eliot [Paperback]

Carole Seymour-Jones
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)

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Book Description

12 Sep 2002
This biography of Vivienne Eliot completely belies the long-held view of her as merely a demented woman. When Tom and Vivienne married in 1915 they had known each other only a few months. The predatory and exploitative Bertrand Russell, under the guise of taking the Eliots under his wing, soon drew Vivienne into a sexual relationship. The couple joined the emotional merry-go-round of the Bloomsbury and Garsington circles and their marriage became the subject of speculation. Nevertheless Vivienne flourished for a while helping her husband with his literary work, contributing poems, essays and book reviews to his magazine. But by the time she was committed to an asylum in 1938, five years after Eliot had deserted her, this spontaneous and loving woman had become a sad and lonely figure. Out of this emotional turbulence came the poem "The Waste Land". Carole Seymour-Jones seeks to show that the poem cannot be understood without reference to the marriage. Based on papers both privately-owned and on university archives, and on Vivienne's own writings held at the Bodleian Library, Oxford, the author aims to offer a striking new picture of Eliot's first wife.

Product details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Robinson Publishing; New edition edition (12 Sep 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1841196363
  • ISBN-13: 978-1841196367
  • Product Dimensions: 19.3 x 13 x 4.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 533,332 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Amazon Review

In Painted Shadow, the first major biography of Vivienne 'wife of TS' Eliot, Carole Seymour-Jones succeeds where five previous biographers had allegedly failed, and in the process further reclaims the tattered reputation of the poet's tragic collaborative muse. Variously diagnosed with "moral insanity", anorexia and hysteria, Vivienne suffered from severe menstrual symptoms most of her life, as well as an inherited tendency for manic depression. Having collided in their desperation to escape their mothers, she and Tom married in 1915, to their families' disapproval and Tom's quickly encroaching disgust (newly married, he slept in a deckchair in the hall). He was revolted by the female form, and his wife's in particular, but during their 18 years together she was to inspire, and, on occasions, shape, his finest poetry; without her, "in all probability", The Waste Land would not have been written. Seymour-Jo! nes insists on a confessional, intimate reading of this landmark work, focusing on the influence of Jean Verdenal, the young French medic killed in the First World War, and whom Eliot idolised, and, in truth, idealised. Vivienne herself pursued a complicated menage à trois with Bertrand Russell, but she was as transparent as Tom was opaque, and when the cracks in their marriage became chasms he finally left her. After calling herself Daisy Miller she dabbled in music and fascism before finally being committed to a North London asylum in 1938, partly to prevent her besmirching Tom's reputation. She died there nine years later. Ultimately, her malady was less that she had gone out of her mind, than that she had gone out of her husband's.

With apposite and rich quotation, Seymour-Jones' prose glides effortlessly through the mire of early 20th-century London literary society, and in and out of the Eliots' tangled lives and marriage, bringing together valuable archive materials, subtle reading of the poetry, and sensitive consideration to produce a compulsive biography of considerable appeal and art. If ultimately Tom upstages the increasingly spectre-like Vivienne with his alcoholic rages, sadistic impulses, and sheer ferocious talent, Seymour-Jones unfurls a 'behind-every-great-man' life that proves as harrowing as it was doomed, and rescues the much-maligned Vivienne Eliot from the attic of literary madwomen. --David Vincent --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


'A gripping 700-pager, immaculately researched, which at a stroke consigns all those academic books which have taken TSE's theory of the impersonal nature of his art to the rubbish heap' - Roger Lewis, Books of the Year, New Statesman; 'Fascinating and pitiful. [this] fine biography is the product of wide, meticulous research which exposes the nightmarish quality of the Eliot marriage' - Helen Dunmore, The Times; Brilliant, deeply researched, utterly compelling.' - Tom Paulin, Guardian

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Gripping tale of a tragic, flawed heroine 7 April 2005
This biography gripped me like a novel - I was spinning pages like mad! Cos if you're familiar with the Bloomsbury authors, this book reads like a whole lot of new gossip...
The picture which emerges is not very flattering though - and TS Eliot has a lot to answer for. Vivien is shown to be a tragic, flawed figure whose talent ran to waste partly because she was a woman (and thus denied the academic education enjoyed by her male counterparts) and partly because she was in the wrong place at the wrong time. It is heartbreaking to see how vulnerable Vivien was: an emotional, over-ambitious, weak and naive woman in a world of cold, calculating men.
My only complaint about this book is the repetition I found - for instance, Seymour-Jones often quotes a letter or diary and then paraphrases the same words again in her text... And I don't know how necessary it was for her to tell us every time one of the Eliots had the flu or a cold.... This was pretty tedious and slowed down the narrative significantly.
I also felt the ending was a bit abrupt and over-ruled by Seymour's own evident emotion and feeling for her subject... Though by then we forgive Seymour because we feel so sorry for Vivien and angry with Eliot ourselves.
To be honest, it will be difficult to enjoy Eliot's poetry after reading this book .
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Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
A very good book which reflects very badly on the treatment of those people with personality problems.

I was shocked that it was so easy to commit people.

Interesting background to some of the poems of Eliot

Good Insight into the unacceptable face society of that time. A great balance to the Downton image.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Vivienne Eliot biog 28 May 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Very good and extremely interesting side of her story. One usually reads how much T S Eliot was himself admired by his contemporaries (though I personally hate his poetry and so I was predisposed to dislike him anyway) and this biography is definitely on Vivienne's side (there weren't many). The writing I found ok and as a result I went on to read Seymour-Jones' "A Dangerous Liaison" (about Sartre and de Beauvoir) which I found impossible to read and not because of the subject but because of the tedious style. Strange how this author's writing seemed to vary from book to book.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Eliot's Muse 12 April 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I loved this book. It goes to the heart of Bloomsbury but that world is seen from a different angle - from that of the wife, the muse rather than from the poet's viewpoint. Vivienne is inside the magic circle only because she's Eliot's wife and when he dumps her, Bloomsbury dumps her too. I found the story incredibly sad and moving.
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