T. S. Eliot was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1948 for the poetic masterpieces that won his worldwide critical accolade. His literary criticism has been paragon of the genre and his life has long been great inspiration for all readers of his.
Coming from a prominent New England family, the calling of poetry overcame the expectation of familial obligations for him when he was a doctoral student of philosophy in Harvard: ‘The Arts insist that a man shall dispose of all he has, even of his family tree, and follow artalone. For they demand that a man be not a member of a family or a caste or of a party or of a coterie, but simply and solely himself.’ Eliot puzzled and alarmed his parents by staying in London in 1915 instead of finishing his doctorate at Harvard, and by spending years writing poetry that was published only sporadically and in little-known magazines. His father died in 1919 under the impression that his youngest child had made a mess of his life. He had a long, night marish marriage, worked as a school master yet felt the job ‘took too much out of me’: it made him reluctant to write even during days off. Then he worked for eight years as a bank clerk, and wrote The Waste Land—the timeless masterpiece — during the time. Later he was a successful publisher in Faber & Faber. Throughout his life, he treated each day’s work with utmost industry and care.
For years on end, people have been drawing upon one early description he made of himself, that he is ‘a classicist in literature, royalist in politics, and Anglo-catholic in religion’, despite the fact that towards his later years he revoked the statement in a talk. He often spoke of the ‘unspoken’. In a solitude guarded by public masks he lived a hidden life. It would be unreachable if he had not been a poet with a need to explore and define that life.
Dr. Lyndall Gordon from Oxford University is a world-renowned biographer. She is primarily known by her work The Imperfect Life of T. S. Eliot, which is an exemplar of biographic writing. The aim of this biography was to bring together life and work so as to follow the trials of a searcher whose flaws and doubts can speak to all of us whose lives are imperfect.
How should we approach Eliot in these days? How, then, will his writing benefit us? This event seeks to respond to these questions through a conversation about this great poet. The conversation will be coordinated between Wang Jiaxin, poet and professor in Renmin University of China, Wang Wei the poet, and Xu Xiaofan, lecturer in English literature and translator of the book. The conversation will revolve around the poet’s enigmatic life of mixed memory and desire as well as of the vacillation between his pursuit for worldly happiness and his spiritual yearnings. It also seeks to unravel how for the great poet life and work were reciprocal parts of one design.