T.s. eliot

The English were never an overtly religious lot

Generalisations about national characteristics are open to question. Nevertheless, the overwhelming impression one gets from reading the major works of English literature, or from studying the famous English men and women of politics, the military or the academic world, is that the English have not been an especially religious lot. Or, if you think that a strange judgment of a nation that produced the finest Gothic cathedrals in Europe and the hymns of Charles Wesley, then you could rephrase it and say that they have not generally worn their religious feelings on their sleeve. Jane Austen’s hilarious novels do not quite prepare us for her letters in which she confesses

Claude Vivier ought to be a modern classic. Why isn’t he?

April is the cruellest month, but May is shaping up quite pleasantly and the daylight streamed in through the east window of St Martin-in-the-Fields at the start of I Fagiolini’s latest concept-concert, Re-Wilding The Waste Land. The centenary of Eliot’s poem is the obvious hook. But whether you’re counting from the Rite of Spring riot in 1913, Schoenberg’s Skandalkonzert the same year, or further back to Strauss’s Salome or Debussy’s Faune, music’s modernist moment occurred some time earlier. Which is helpful, in a way, because it freed the group’s director Robert Hollingworth from the limitations of chronological programming and gave him scope to do something a bit more interesting, and

The nightmare of making films about poets

Television and film are popular mediums. Poetry has never been popular. This is Sam Weller’s father in Pickwick Papers, when he discovers his son writing a valentine, alarmed it might be poetry: Poetry’s unnat’tral; no man ever talked poetry ’cept a beadle on boxin’ day, or Warren’s blackin’, or Rowland’s oil, or some o’ them low fellows; never let yourself down to talk poetry, my boy. In 1994, I made a short film about Kipling. The director, Tony Cash, a man with a first-class Oxford degree in Russian, objected to a two-second reference to Aristotle’s ‘pity and terror’ in my script. ‘If you mention Aristotle, they [the TV audience] will

Nymphomaniac, fearless campaigner, alcoholic – Nancy Cunard was all this and more

The title of Anne de Courcy’s riveting new book might give the impression that Nancy Cunard had no more than five lovers. In fact she had many, many more. Born in 1896, Nancy was the only child of fantastically ill-matched parents. Her mother, Maud – she later changed her name to Emerald – was an American heiress and socialite. Her father, Sir Bache Cunard, was a fox-hunting squire busily engaged in spending the fortune he inherited as the grandson of the founder of the shipping line. Maud neglected Nancy, leaving her in the charge of an odious governess. The only person who had any time for the lonely little girl

Disappointingly conventional and linear: BBC radio’s modernism season reviewed

This week marks the beginning of modernism season on BBC Radio 3 and 4, which means it’s time for some pundit or other to own up to abandoning Ulysses at page seven, or to finding T.S. Eliot a bore, or to infinitely preferring the landscapes of J.M.W. Turner to the repetitive squares of Kazimir Malevich. That pundit, however, won’t be me. Modernism is rather like the birth of the Roman Empire. It could be seen as a brilliant sloughing off of everything that had decayed in favour of sensible revolution, or as the predictably reactive consequence of years of wrangling over a loss of identity. Most of the contributors to

When did postmodernism begin?

There’s a scene in Martin Amis’s 1990s revenge comedy The Information in which a book reviewer, who’s crushed by his failures and rendered literally impotent by his best friend’s success, is sitting in a low-lit suburban room beside a girl (not his wife) named Belladonna: ‘She was definitely younger than him. He was a modernist. She was the thing that came next.’ Stuart Jeffries argues in his new book that the thing that came next was in fact a thing that started a couple of decades before Amis wrote The Information. In Jeffries’s telling, postmodernity can be dated to 13 August 1971, when Richard Nixon held a closed-door meeting that

The National has become the graveyard of talent: Manor, at the Lyttelton, reviewed

Somewhere in the wilds of England a stately home is collapsing. Rising floodwaters threaten the foundations. Storms break over the leaking roofs. Inside, an argument rages between a snooty moron, Lady Diana, and her drunken Marxist husband who used to be rock star. This is the chaotic opening of Moira Buffini’s country-house drama Manor. The angry husband picks up a hunting rifle and blasts ornaments to smithereens. Then he chases his wife to the top of a staircase where she hits him with a candlestick. Once the fight ends, more commotion erupts as various groups of evacuees rush in through the front doors. Two women arrive from south London. They’re

To the brownstone born: WASPS, by Michael Knox Beran, reviewed

It was only in 1948 that the term WASP was coined — by a Florida folklorist, Stetson Kennedy. Yet White Anglo-Saxon Protestant never satisfactorily defined this all-but-extinct breed of American Brahmin. In his sweeping, teeming study of the WASP, Michael Knox Beran concedes that the acronym fumbles its origins. For one thing, it excludes the Celts and Anglo-Dutch Patroons, several of whom lent gravitas and grit to the term and tribe. For this reason too, ‘Wealthy English Episcopalians’ does not work. It may extract the sting but it is belittling, so why tinkle with it? It is sufficient to say that to be a WASP one should have been descended

Poems are the Duracell batteries of language, says Simon Armitage

Ezra Pound in ABC of Reading: ‘Dichten = condensare.’ Meaning poetry is intensification, ‘the most concentrated form of verbal expression’. Simon Armitage saying the same thing, memorably, genially, metaphorically, democratically: ‘How much power and force could be stored in — and retransmitted by — such compact shapes. Poems as the Duracell batteries of language.’ Both poets go straight to the point. But a shift has taken place — in tone, in attack — which can be illustrated also by the photographs Armitage found as a ‘sleep-walking’ teenager leafing through Worlds, a sampler of seven contemporary poets, edited by Geoffrey Summerfield: ‘Norman MacCaig watched television and smoked fags.’ We are in

Letters: The limitations of a Covid vaccine

Still distant Sir: In James Forsyth’s analysis (‘Boris’s booster shot’, 14 November) he infers that a vaccine, if provided to the majority of the UK population, would deliver herd immunity from Covid-19, noting that ‘it seems increasingly probable that by the second half of next year, we will be emerging from this Covid nightmare’. I pray that he is right, though fear he may not be. In a recent Lancet editorial the view expressed was the exact opposite, as it notes that any vaccines are ‘unlikely’ to prevent transmission, though will reduce the severity of symptoms and likelihood of death. Critically, if transmission cannot be stopped via vaccine, in the

Driven to distraction — the unhappy life of Vivien Eliot

Do you think your mother slept with T.S. Eliot? That was the question I needed to ask the 98-year-old in front of me. It wasn’t easy. I’d never met him before. After some preliminary chat, though, I realised this affable man knew exactly where our conversation was heading and had pondered the question a good deal himself. The barrister Jeremy Hutchinson — Baron Hutchinson of Lullington — was the son of Mary Hutchinson, Eliot’s close friend. Infatuated with the poet for a time, she had met ‘Tom’ and his wife Vivien before Vivien’s adultery with Bertrand Russell, and some years before the publication of The Waste Land in 1922. When

Poetry in motion | 30 May 2019

T.S. Eliot’s Four Quartets is full of music and movement. The players, such as they are, slip, slide, shake, tumble, wrestle, leap, kick, whirl, fold and kneel. There are lines like stage directions: ‘stillness’, ‘quick now’, ‘the dancers are all gone under the hill’. In her rendering of Four Quartets, the American choreographer Pam Tanowitz has denied reviewers the satisfaction of ‘Eliot in leotards’ jokes. Her dancers wear diaphanous ruched onesies. No Cats spandex here. In collaboration with the Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho and the New York artist Brice Marsden, Tanowitz’s Four Quartets is a remarkable recasting of Eliot’s ‘Burnt Norton’, ‘East Coker’, ‘The Dry Salvages’ and ‘Little Gidding’ —

The House of Eliot

Like many a 20th-century publishing house, the fine old firm of Faber & Faber came about almost by accident. The inaugurating Faber — Geoffrey — was an All Souls don in search of a livelihood, who began his career in the post-Great War book trade by investing in the Scientific Press, publishers of the Nursing Mirror. There was trouble with the Gwyer family, owners of the original concern, who resisted the move into general books and disliked the poems of Faber’s brisk young protégé Mr Eliot, but by 1929 the sale of the Mirror for an eye-watering £190,000 (about £5 million at current values), allowed Geoffrey to buy them out

Keeping up with the Joneses

To bleak, boarded-up Margate — and a salt-and-vinegar wind that leaves my face looking like Andy Warhol’s botched 1958 nose-peel — to see Journeys with ‘The Waste Land’ at Turner Contemporary. The exhibition has been organised by a group of local residents, who selected the exhibits, designed the layout, and wrote the exhibition texts. In ‘The Waste Land’, some of it written in the Nayland Rock seafront shelter, Eliot writes: ‘On Margate Sands./ I can connect/ Nothing with nothing.’ The local research group have connected Eliot’s text with everything — some duds, some successes. For example, in ‘The Fire Sermon’, a gossipy, gripping, ungrammatical female voice says: ‘It’s them pills

Literary motorcycling

No seat belts. No airbags. Just air, and coming at you as fast as you like. Motorcycling shouldn’t be allowed, really, but thank God it is. Hanging on to an engine braced between two wheels as you travel through the countryside is worth any dose of mindfulness. The NHS should prescribe it. Even with the cost of broken bones and, alas, the occasional overheads of the mortuary, it would save money on mental health treatments. Your senses are stimulated in a way that is impossible in a car, with the force of movement intensifying an ordinary experience. Smells and temperature become suddenly distinct as you dip or rise, fly through

… trailing strands in all directions

Letters of Intent — letters of the intense. Keen readers of Cynthia Ozick (are there any other kind?) will of course already have copies of the books from which these often fiery essays have been selected. There’s a broad range of work represented here, from personal essays through to Ozick’s often rather profound philosophical enquiries into the meaning of art and religion — though the inclusion of no fewer than five essays on Henry James, two on Kafka, two on Virginia Woolf and two on Saul Bellow might make one wish for a little more breathing room, a little more room to roam. But this is a quibble. This is

A man with an agenda

What’s this? An autobiography by Stuart Hall? Wasn’t he one of the guys who put the Eng. Lit. departments out to grass by arguing that it was senseless to talk about fictional characters as if they were real people when the truth was that real people were fictional constructs? Indeed he was; but don’t go thinking that just because Hall embarked, shortly before his death in 2014, on writing his life story, that he’d given up on the decentred subject. As he remarks early on in Familiar Stranger, despite our need to grasp our inner being, ‘we’ll never be ourselves’. It’s a nice line. It’s also a rare moment of

The Spectator’s Notes | 1 June 2017

At Mass on Sunday, we were issued with a letter from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference, entitled ‘The General Election 2017’. It set out questions which Catholics should ask candidates. These included the ‘uncertain future’ of EU citizens in Britain and British citizens in the EU, rehabilitation in prisons, immigration, overseas aid, welfare services. All important issues, of course. But it was striking what we were not invited to raise. Nothing about how high spending and taxation might burden poorer taxpayers. No subject in which the interests of UK citizens (who, after all, are the people for whom any British election takes place) come first. No mention of the difficulties of

Boxing clever

Thirty years ago, Russell Davies wrote a weekly sporting column in the New Statesman. It proved unsustainable and was soon discontinued, but not before Davies had described a boxer ‘genuflecting through the ropes’ — an image I have coveted ever since. Boxing is ‘a standing challenge to [a writer’s] powers of description’, according to Carlo Rotella and Michael Ezra in their preface to The Bittersweet Science. They are right. All physical action is a challenge to writers: YouTube can repair deficiencies, and is invoked several times in this anthology; but it is no substitute for writing, because writing adds focus to reality. I once saw the handsome, British-Hungarian, bottle-blond heavyweight

Passion indeed

‘The dripping blood our only drink/ The bloody flesh our only food…/ Again, in spite of that, we call this Friday good.’ In spite of that. Anglo-Catholic convert T.S. Eliot knew a thing or two about Easter. The Passion story might end with resurrection and redemption, but it’s a celebration that we achieve in spite of agony, torture and abandonment, a tale whose root lies in the Latin ‘passio’, meaning suffering. Musical Passion settings are no different — or shouldn’t be. A performance of Bach’s St John or St Matthew Passion should disquiet, even distress, as much as it consoles. But concert performances have become a comfortable festive tradition to