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T. S. Eliot (Lives and Legacies) [Paperback]

Craig Raine

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Book Description

24 Nov 2011 Lives and Legacies
The twentieth century's most famous poet and its most influential literary arbiter, T.S. Eliot has long been thought to be an obscure and difficult writer-forbiddingly learned, maddeningly enigmatic. In this compelling exploration, prize-winning poet Craig Raine finds a way to read and make sense of Eliot's full corpus. He illuminates a paradoxical Eliot—an exacting anti-romantic realist, skeptical of the emotions, yet incessantly troubled by the fear of emotional failure—through close readings of his poetry, with extended analyses of Eliot's two master works—The Waste Land and Four Quartets. Raine also examines Eliot's criticism—including his coinage of such key literary terms as the objective correlative, dissociation of sensibility, the auditory imagination, and his biography, crafting a book that provides a concise introduction for beginners and a provocative set of arguments for Eliot admirers.

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Review

The book is excellent on the influence on Eliot of Jules Laforge, and has a poet's astute ear for the stray effects of sound and syntax. (Terry Eagleton, Prospect)

The most attractive quality of Raine's mind, in this book, is its vivacity, its enthusiasm, its racy pleasure in turning aside to compare a detail in Eliot with something in Nabokov, Kundera or Lawrence. (Denis Donoghue, London Review of Books)

a fabulous stimulating book, which marries old-fashioned literary criticism to pleasingly off-beam cultural allusions. (Ian Thomson, The Spectator)

This book is an ingenious and convincing demonstration that Eliot is still the Old Possum: lying unassertively low, but anxiously aware that the disinterment of the buried life is an undeniable imperative. But most importantly, it shows perceptively why Eliot's poems work with their unique compulsiveness. (Bernard O'Donoghue, Literary Review)

(Eliot's) existence is in his published work. This explains the strategy of Raine's short monograph - an intensely argued reading of the words on the published page. The exercise is done brilliantly. A poet himself, Raine is hyper alert to nuance. He has a sensitivity to literary echo rivalling that of the greatest living reader of Eliot, Christopher Ricks. (John Sutherland, Financial Times)

There are authors who one would rather read about than read. T.S Eliot is not one of them, yet there is both pleasure and profit to be got from Craig Raine's new study of the poet. (John Bayley, Times Literary Supplement)

Do we need another book about him? The answer, given Craig Raine's T.S. Eliot, is a strong 'Yes'. (Sean O'Brien, Sunday Times (Culture))

a sensitive, wide-ranging and stimulating piece of literary criticism (Sunday Telegraph)

This is a thoughtful book on a thorny subject. (John Montague, Irish Times (Dublin))

About the Author

Craig Raine is Fellow and Tutor in English at New College, Oxford, and editor of Arete, a tri-quarterly arts magazine. Poet, literary critic, playwright, librettist, and editor, Raine has been a powerful voice and an adversarial, intellectually independent figure in the literary world for the last 40 years.

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Amazon.com: 4.4 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars For the Eliot enthusiast, an instructive and rewarding commentary 8 July 2011
By R. M. Peterson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
For an installment in an Oxford University Press series called "Lives and Legacies", T. S. ELIOT contains surprisingly little about Eliot's life and it discusses his legacy even less. What it is is an intelligent and scholarly, yet readable, overview of Eliot's writings, principally his poetry. If, like me, you already are a fan of Eliot's poetry, I recommend the book. If you are not a fan, I doubt this book will turn you into one or otherwise do much for you.

To me, reading the book was most notable for encouraging the reader to look at Eliot's poetry as a body of work, as one extended poem. Over the years I have read many of Eliot's poems multiple times, but - in part, no doubt, because they are so complex and fecund - I have tended to think of the poems, or even discrete parts or stanzas, in isolation. Raine attempts to present Eliot's work as "one significant, consistent and developing personality." Towards that end, he identifies and explicates two overarching themes in particular: the failure to live fully (either as illustrated in the poems or ruefully recognized by many of the voices of the poems), and "classicism", an aesthetic stance that is skeptical of theatrical, exaggerated emotion (i.e., anti-Romantic). Raine also registered a point with me in describing Eliot's poetry as "impersonal", in the sense that in order to appreciate it a reader need know little or nothing about the biographical background of its author (unlike, for example, Sylvia Plath).

Raine makes his way through Eliot's oeuvre more or less chronologically, though his rather brief discussion of "Prufrock" is postponed until the middle of the book. He devotes one chapter each to "The Waste Land" and "Four Quartets", and then individual chapters to Eliot's dramas and to his literary criticism. For me, the first two chapters were the most rewarding, in part because they include insightful discussion of several of the lesser known (and, thus, less written about) poems - for example, "Animula", "Gerontion", and "Marina".

Raine's book is NOT a "reader's guide". He does not attempt, thankfully, to explicate each and every line of each and every poem. He confines himself to the thematic points he wishes to make, and he avoids the drudgery and stuffiness of an Oxford don (though he long taught there). Nonetheless, in discussing sources, models, and influences, he obviously draws on impressive Eliot scholarship. By and large, his writing is spare and taut, somewhat poetic and much less verbose than the typical texts of poetry criticism/exposition. (Still, there are quite a few 50-cent words, such as "oneiric" and "euphistically".)

At the end of this relatively brief book there is a lengthy (30-page) Appendix in which Raine discusses the charge, delivered by many critics, that T.S. Eliot was anti-Semitic. Here the tone of the book changes and Raine engages in rather prosaic academic polemics. I don't follow all of Raine's arguments in defense of Eliot, but then neither do I follow many of the accusers' arguments. For the general reader, it perhaps suffices to report that in Raine Eliot has an intelligent and reasoned defender, and before anyone (based on reading Anthony Julius, George Steiner, Louis Menand, etc.) mentally pigeonholes Eliot as an anti-Semite, in fairness they should read Raine's Appendix.

I bought the so-called "hardcover" edition. It is rather cheap and tacky, surprisingly so for a publication by such an august publishing house. The cover is some sort of pressed cardboard (I don't know the precise term) with a glossy finish on which the cover photo and text are directly emblazoned - i.e., there is no dust jacket. The edges of the pages are almost coterminous with the edges of the cover, and the paper itself is ordinary. The book is "bound" - more accurately, glued - indifferently, so that the first few pages of my copy have been given permanent waves in close to the gathering. These rather mediocre production features probably influence my four-star assessment.
15 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Oh happy stars all five of you 9 Jun 2011
By Aceto - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Craig Raine's slim volume on Thomas Sterns Eliot may be the best of the fine small series from Oxford, Lives and Legacies. Half are about American and half about Britons. This volume might have broken the tie, but Eliot was both. Without doubt, this volume is the most ambitious of the lot because the plethora of books on the man and on his writing shy from a unification of the corpus of his work. Raine does and does so without contrivance or strain.

I had always been happy with insightful criticism. My watermark is the great and sometimes greatly infuriating Edmund Wilson:

Mr T. S. Eliot's first meager (see what I mean) volume of twenty-four poems was dropped into the waters of contemporary verse without stirring more than a few ripples. But when two or three years had passed, it was found to stain the whole sea...it became evident that Mr Eliot had fished a murex up.

Rather than "stain", the use of "tint" would have been more colorful and more gracious. But it would have robbed Mundy of his savory spittle. Still he makes overly clear his vast point.

There is no more biography in this book than needs be. I do not much like rummaging about in an author's drawers looking for clues. You usually end up choking on a red herring. In Eliot's case, there has been so much fussing about his personal life. Well, since he was second only to Twain as coming out of Missouri then, it would be acceptable behavior amongst the locals. But it went everywhere with or without him, Harvard and across the sea. This book is well measured for biographical respect.

Raine plays a strong opening move in his push for the unifying in Eliot. He points out that, in Eliot's work on Shakespeare, Eliot holds out the ideal that the whole of Shakespeare's work is one poem. So this journey for Eliot's one poem is found through his many poems. Eliot's modern man is cut off from his roots, his grounding, and thereby from the very well spring of all vitality. Eliot uses back-handed rhetoric such as occultato, whose weak force is affirmation by denial, e.g., Gerontion is "...an old man in a dry month, Being read to by a boy, waiting for rain."

The occultation is that he is not Leonidas, or one the vital three hundred at Thermopylae. We come to know him by what he is not: "I was neither at the hot gates...", and what he did not:
Neither fought in the warm rain
Nor knee deep in the salt marsh, heaving cutlass
Bitten by flies, fought.

We know what it is to be truly alive only indirectly, by what we do not ever even try to do. And even then it is through a glass, darkly. Eliot saw where we were headed, cut loose from tradition. We were headed for the dry land of Limbo, where none quite live and nothing rather matters.

The cowardice, the dryness and the timidity of the indirect shrivel the erotic drive. Eliot's characters, though far less funny, would be at home with those of Sam Beckett, whose moistureless couple, feebly laboring through sex, eventually give up, blistered, exhausted and disgusted.

Raine is good at taking you across these poems. He aspires to be your Virgil; and never to be your Beatrice. Mostly he builds his case fitting small stones together. Before you know it, he has excavated all Pompeii at your feet. Now you can find your way around the gardens and fountains and the alleys that seemed forbidding only a day ago.

His voice is clear and strong; but he is not stuffy, not a muscle-bound academic, nor a prig. Perhaps because he is a poet. One of the other things I am grateful for is his explosion of that resentful slur that Eliot is elitist, that he is obscure to obfuscate his lack of talent and vision that we prize poets for. He takes a simple path to understanding these fabulous (in the strict sense) poems. You need no skeleton key or secret decoder ring for his plainly poignant world. "I will show you fear in a handful of dust". For all of Eliot's references and many languages, his meaning comes through is plainest words. The others are layers of enrichment.

Raine wisely quotes Whitman "Shut not your doors...the words of my book are nothing, the drift of it everything". So he pays close attention to the words, but he sets his sails to spill Eliot's wind our way.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Delightful 22 Jan 2012
By H. S. Hansen - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition
Prior to reading this book, I'd had little exposure to Eliot's works and was unaware that his poetry carried such depth and spiritual meaning. However, Craig Raine's analysis provides insight essential for comprehension of Eliot's enigmatic poetry. While the author certainly admires his subject, he does not shy away from addressing certain errors in Eliot's critical assessments. Furthermore, Raine adroitly dispenses with the (largely paranoid) allegations of anti-semitism, but leaves the door open for further evidence. Highly recommended.
0 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Insightful 13 Feb 2014
By foxx - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
While giving interesting insight into the poetry etc.,it is essential, I feel to have read the poetry described before hand,otherwise you are at a loss through ignorance of the work.Nonetheless a well researched and interesting book showing the intelligence and wildly read mind of Eliot.
0 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars great 1 Nov 2013
By Maureen Look - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
delivered on time and in good shape! I would recommend the product and carrier to everyone I know. yes, yes.
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