A groundbreaking new biography of one of the twentieth century's most important poets
On the fiftieth anniversary of the death of T. S. Eliot, the award-winning biographer Robert Crawford presents us with the first volume of a comprehensive account of this poetic genius. Young Eliot traces the life of the twentieth century's most important poet from his childhood in St. Louis to the publication of his revolutionary poem The Waste Land. Crawford provides readers with a new understanding of the foundations of some of the most widely read poems in the English language through his depiction of Eliot's childhood―laced with tragedy and shaped by an idealistic, bookish family in which knowledge of saints and martyrs was taken for granted―as well as through his exploration of Eliot's marriage to Vivien Haigh-Wood, a woman who believed she loved Eliot "in a way that destroys us both."
Quoting extensively from Eliot's poetry and prose as well as drawing on new interviews, archives, and previously undisclosed memoirs, Crawford shows how the poet's background in Missouri, Massachusetts, and Paris made him a lightning rod for modernity. Most impressively, Young Eliot reveals the way he accessed his inner life―his anguishes and his fears―and blended them with his omnivorous reading to create his masterpieces "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" and The Waste Land. At last, we experience T. S. Eliot in all his tender complexity as student and lover, penitent and provocateur, banker and philosopher―but most of all, Young Eliot shows us as an epoch-shaping poet struggling to make art among personal disasters.
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Robert Crawford is the author of Scotland's Books and the coeditor of The Penguin Book of Scottish Verse. A fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh and the British Academy, he is the Professor of Modern Scottish Literature at the University of St. Andrews. The Bard, his biography of Robert Burns, was named the Saltire Society Scottish Book of the Year in 2009. Crawford's seven poetry collections include Testament and Full Volume, which was short-listed for the T. S. Eliot Prize. He lives in Scotland.Review:
“Assiduous . . . Crawford has done exceptional spadework in turning up clues that takes us deeper into Eliot's symbolic landscapes.” ―David Yezzi, The New York Times Book Review
“Impressive. . .Young Eliot marks both a milestone and a turning point. First, it coincides with the 50th anniversary of his death. . . Young Eliot is judicious, sympathetic [and] meticulous . . . it can hardly fail. The story it tells of a great poet's early life is enthralling.” ―Robert McCrum, The Guardian
“Even now, if you were to ask readers to name the 20th century's greatest poem, at least among those written in English, the answer would almost certainly be T.S. Eliot's 'The Waste Land' (1922). . .Young Eliot tracks in enthralling, exhaustive detail the poet's life up to the book publication of 'The Waste Land' . . .Earlier biographies have somewhat scanted Eliot's American childhood and youth, which is one reason why this new book is so valuable. It is magisterial in its minutiae . . .While proffering a steady flurry of names, facts and occasional trivialities, Crawford nearly always relates his discoveries to the poetry . . . No possible connection to Eliot's published work, however faint or distant, goes unnoticed. But Crawford, who is a professor of modern Scottish literature at the University of St. Andrews, also interweaves several ongoing themes. . .As Crawford observes, Eliot's early work is replete with sexual yearning and uncertainty, his later poetry rife with sexual disgust. The marriage of 'Tom and Viv' proved a disaster, but it gave the world 'The Waste Land.'” ―Michael Dirda, The Washington Post
“A rich exploration of Eliot's life, his grinding labors and excoriating intelligence.” ―Edna O'Brien, The New York Times Book Review
“This is the most complex and detailed portrait to date. Crawford's Eliot is a 'shy, sometimes naïve and vulnerable' young man whose poetry-particularly 'The Waste Land'-was shaped by the suffering of his early adult years. . . Sometime after 2020, when Eliot's letters to Emily Hale are released, Mr. Crawford plans to publish a second volume on Eliot from the publication of 'The Waste Land' to his death in 1965. If that volume is anything like Young Eliot in scope and storytelling, the two should form the definitive life of the poet for many years to come.” ―Micah Mattrix, The Wall Street Journal
“Robert Crawford's possibly unimprovable recent biography, Young Eliot: From St. Louis to The Waste Land, maps Eliot's progress from a shy, intellectual undergraduate to a shy, intellectual poet possessed of a voice that would change the English language. Crawford has taken on an immense task: to tell the story of the poet's poetic development alongside the story of his life, and he succeeds pretty much entirely. The book is brilliantly perceptive on the interaction of the life and the work, and it charts with erudition and wit the development of Eliot's unique poetic sensibility-particularly the origins of 'Prufrock.'” ―Damian Lanigan, The New Republic
“It is, of course, the first biography of Eliot to be able to make extensive use of his personal papers . . . It is also grounded in the most thorough archival work in the US, and the picture painted is enormously detailed, without overwhelming the reader. . . A major achievement: this is very much what a literary biography should be . . . It is likely to be a while before the next volume, if it is to be on the same scale, but it will be worth the wait if it does what this first book does: to offer a credible and three-dimensional portrait of this most elusive figure.” ―Rowan Williams, The New Statesman
“Crawford's account lends something special to Eliot's poems - not just a refreshed sensory palette, but a personal presence, a bloodstream. Where so often we go to Eliot's poems for a glimpse at humanity, Crawford helps us find something human, a man who dares to '[d]isturb the universe.'” ―Michael Andor Brodeur, The Boston Globe
“Magnificent . . . Superbly written and researched, it contains much new material.” ―Ian Thomson, The Independent
“A new biography sheds light on a tricky, brilliant writer. Young Eliot is the most carefully researched life to date . . . Few writers offer such a richly complex subject matter. Even fewer biographies offer such a fair assessment of the man.” ―The Economist
“Robert Crawford's intelligent, thoroughly researched and well-written book lights the long fuse that led from T.S. Eliot's birth in St. Louis in 1888 to the aesthetic explosion of 'The Waste Land' in 1922 . . . Crawford is perceptive about how Eliot's extensive reading, especially Arthur Symons' 'The Symbolist Movement in Literature' (1899) and the colloquial, slangy and allusive French poetry of Jules Laforgue, echoed through the most important poem of the 20th century.” ―Jeffrey Meyers, The San Francisco Chronicle
“There has always been something utterly mysterious as well as alluring about T. S. Eliot, perhaps the greatest poet of the twentieth century. The triumph of Robert Crawford's magnificent life of this poet (up through the publication of The Waste Land, when Eliot was 34) is that he brings us close to the poet--his vulnerabilities and harsh defenses--without destroying his allure. Crawford has uncanny sympathy for Eliot, writing with a tight grip on his poetic intelligence. The life-and-work unfold seamlessly, with vivid and fresh details. Young Eliot is a book I will re-read soon, just to experience again the quiet unfolding of Eliot's genius, its flowering in the central poem of literary modernism. Himself a gifted poet, Crawford never puts a foot--or a word--wrong. This biography is an achievement, and it deserves a wide and welcoming readership.” ―Jay Parini, author of Robert Frost: A Life
“Robert Crawford, who had extraordinary access to the Eliot archives, digs deep for this biography of 'Tom' Eliot, writing about the early influences of his family and hometown of St. Louis . . .Crawford is the first biographer to enjoy full access to the Eliot archive, as well as permission to quote from the poet's work. As a result, he has produced the first volume of a biography that not so much supersedes Ackroyd and Gordon as it amplifies and enriches their contributions to an understanding of the man and the work . . .Even Eliot adepts will find much to savor in the new material at Robert Crawford's disposal, an impressive array of sources that he handles with care.” ―Carl Rollyson, Minneapolis Star Tribune
“*Starred review* Drawing extensively on new interviews, original research, and previously undisclosed memoirs, biographer [Robert] Crawford offers the first book devoted to T.S. Eliot's youth, painting a vividly colorful portrait of the artist as a young man . . . Crawford's masterly biography, with its great depth, attention to detail, and close reading of the youthful Eliot's writings, is likely to become the definitive account of the great poet's early years.” ―Publishers Weekly
“*Starred review* A masterful biography of the canonical modernist. . . Drawing on sources not available to previous biographers, the author fashions an authoritative, nuanced portrait. . . Although Crawford modestly claims that his biography is neither 'official' nor definitive, it is unlikely to be surpassed.” ―Kirkus Reviews
“*Starred review* The man whose The Bard dispelled the myths and mists about Robert Burns now publishes the first volume of a biography every bit as magisterial on the most consequential anglophone poet of the twentieth century. . . It's hard to imagine a literary biography of greater merit being published this year.” ―Booklist
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