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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Curious Man
Writing without support from the Eliot Estate, this book makes up for it by being gannet-like in its use of memoirs, letters and biographies of artistic contemporaries. It has Eliot as alienated, sensitive, aloof, snobbish, detached, intellectual, arrogant and cold. He was over-protected as a child. His sexuality was repressed; his marriage was unhappy. But he also liked...
Published on 18 Mar 2010 by Bob Ventos

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3.0 out of 5 stars Not illuminating
I agree with almost everything another reviewer, J. Mann, has written.

Amidst a lot of inconsequential detail, among which the frequency of his illnesses indeed stands out, I learned that he was widely acclaimed, and that he was awarded the Nobel prize for literature. But I gained no understanding of why he was so acclaimed or of what was distinctive about...
Published 11 months ago by Justerman


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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Curious Man, 18 Mar 2010
This review is from: T.S. Eliot: A Life (Hardcover)
Writing without support from the Eliot Estate, this book makes up for it by being gannet-like in its use of memoirs, letters and biographies of artistic contemporaries. It has Eliot as alienated, sensitive, aloof, snobbish, detached, intellectual, arrogant and cold. He was over-protected as a child. His sexuality was repressed; his marriage was unhappy. But he also liked practical jokes, the music hall and sailing. He could be ironically humorous. He had a strong work ethic. He liked order and organisation, but felt that his own life was a mess. He was tall and handsome but had a congenital hernia, for which he always wore a truss. Ackroyd alleges that Eliot was unhappy for most of his adult life, but that this helped inspire his poetry. He thought that literature helps us to understand the wider culture and was a way of disciplining private feelings and experience.

Regarding his work, Peter Ackroyd praises Eliot's `unerring' understanding of individual writers, but is savage, in his factually authoritative but mild-mannered way, about Eliot's magisterially-expressed general critical judgements. He says Eliot's justifications often vague or inconsistent, and Eliot often, "and with ease" contradicts himself. (The fact that we learn the essays were written and published under pressure provides some mitigation.) Self-obsessed, Eliot "found himself everywhere, transforming dull or inexplicable lines into plangent mirrors of his own preoccupations." To learn that `Prufrock' was originally `fragments' helps explain its (lack of) structure. Ackroyd also explains how its `unpoetic' subject matter and lack of a single tone confused contemporaries. And how many other people (especially Aitken, Pound and Eliot's first wife Vivien) contributed to the early poems' final forms.

Ackroyd dismisses `facile' correspondences between life and work. He talks at length about how difficult such correspondences are given Eliot's character. At the end, though, we still get a full-blown: "Eliot proclaimed the impersonality of great poetry, and yet his own personality and experience are branded in letters of fire upon his work." But that's literary biography for you. I thought it was a fascinating read.
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16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A faithful account of Eliot's Life, 15 Oct 2004
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J. Mann - See all my reviews
(VINE VOICE)    (REAL NAME)   
This review is from: T.S. Eliot: A Life (Paperback)
This book told me three interesting things about T.S. Eliot
1. He was ill a lot. All through the book Eliot has some ailment or other. At the start both he and his wife suffer from various minor but debilitating disorders, at the end he manages to produce a one man list of trivial yet naggings diseases.
2. He liked to live an ordered and respectable life. For many years he works at a bank. Many artists think it is outrageous that such a talented poet should spend all his time in bureaucracy yet clearly he enjoyed this sort of life. Even when he finally leaves the bank he gets a job at Faber and Faber where he can go to meetings all day. He just loved living a boring middle class life.
3. He took ages to write anything. He always has writers block, he always thinks he has dried up and won't write anything else. Even when he does write something he does so very very slowly and sends it around to all his friends to modify and improve - leaving you wondering what his work was like before everyone had a hand in correcting the mistakes.
Having learned these facts about Eliot, what do I really think of the book? The thing about Eliot's work is that you immediately think "that sounds brilliant but what the hell is he writing about?" and I'm afraid this book won't bring you any nearer. In Ackroyd's defence he will say he wrote a book about Eliot's life and that therefore is what you get.
The frustrating thing about this book is that a third of the way through you realise you didn't actually want to know just about his life, you wanted to understand more about his work and you thought that if you knew more about his life you would. Basically, you won't. Perhaps you need to read this book and some books about his work and then you can put them both together and try to figure out Eliot. Perhaps one day someone will write a book about both Eliot's life and work and will make sense out of them both for you.
Reading this book is like standing outside a church while some holy mysterious rites are going on inside. Ackroyd seems to have given a reasonably faithful account of Eliot's life but it is rather tedious and dull and a million miles away from the daring, haunting, evocative poetry he wrote.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Great Value, Really Great!, 3 Mar 2014
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This review is from: T.S. Eliot (Paperback)
I just hope someone made some money out of this, 1p doesn't give much room though.
The book was in good nick, arrived next day, and I know will be a very good read, as are all of P.Ackroyd's books.
I feel like sending him a donation!
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3.0 out of 5 stars Not illuminating, 2 Aug 2013
This review is from: T.S. Eliot: A Life (Hardcover)
I agree with almost everything another reviewer, J. Mann, has written.

Amidst a lot of inconsequential detail, among which the frequency of his illnesses indeed stands out, I learned that he was widely acclaimed, and that he was awarded the Nobel prize for literature. But I gained no understanding of why he was so acclaimed or of what was distinctive about Eliot's sensibility. (I'm not familiar with his works.) These are critical omissions.
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T.S.Eliot
T.S.Eliot by Peter Ackroyd (Hardcover - 24 Sep 1984)
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