Society News

Lyndall Gordon, The Hyacinth Girl

Katie Roiphe, in the Sunday New York Times for 13 November, writes a glowing review of Lyndall Gordon’s new book, The Hyacinth Girl. We’ll post a few excerpts from that review here:

“[O]ne of the most refreshing things about The Hyacinth Girl is that Gordon neither lionizes nor takes down Eliot. Rather, a deep respect for and curiosity about his writing, combined with a supple psychological portrait, animates her analysis. She resists judging him in a facile or dismissive way, while not hesitating to illuminate the unsavory and disturbing behavior he sometimes displayed. . . .

“One common pitfall of the genre of books devoted to the wives and muses and women around a famous male author is that the biographer often skips impatiently over the writer’s work to the more juicy revelations of his life. Gordon somehow manages to keep Eliot’s poetry and prose at the center of the book, while preserving a quiet but persistent moral authority.

“There is a human richness to Eliot’s cerebral poetry that we can appreciate more in the context of his knotted emotional life, and Gordon’s art is in drawing this out. She is also adept at mapping Eliot’s well-known religious and spiritual yearnings onto the sexual and emotional struggles that fed his beliefs. This is delicate and tricky work, if one is not overly reductive, and Gordon allows the reader to live with Eliot’s conflicts and contradictions. She is not interested in reducing or bludgeoning the mystery of his words, but in exploring layers and resonances.”

Hold on Tight: The Women of The Waste Land

Collage by Catrin Saran James

“All the women are one woman,” wrote T. S. Eliot in his deliberately difficult notes to his extraordinary modernist poem, The Waste Land. But who were all the women that race around his poem, and why did they inspire him so much, despite his unease with them?

One woman who has remained fascinated with the poem is arts journalist Jude Rogers. She still dreams of the modernism doctorate she never did and recently attended the International T. S. Eliot Summer School for a treat for her 40th birthday. Despite her own struggles with the problematic poet, the beauty and bleakness of The Waste Land still draws her in, leading her to immerse herself in the worlds and the voices of the women inside and outside of the poem.

She meets other female experts fascinated by Eliot – biographer Lyndall Gordon, who’s just published The Hyacinth Girl: T. S. Eliot’s Hidden Muse, and Frances Dickey, Eliot scholar and Associate Professor of Modern Literature at the University of Missouri. They discuss what it was like to be among the first to read more than a thousand love letters written by Eliot, from an archive that was recently opened after being hidden from the public for more than 50 years. We also hear from Beci Carver, Lecturer in 20th Century Literature at the University of Exeter, and Megan Quigley, Associate Professor of English at Villanova University, who discuss Eliot’s problematic if compassionate representations of women in The Waste Land.

An Overcoat Media production for BBC Radio 4

James Longenbach, the Joseph H. Gilmore Professor of English at the University of Rochester, died of cancer on July 29 in Stonington, Connecticut, at the age of 62. A preeminent scholar of poetry and poetics as well as of modernism, a fine poet in his own right, and an accomplished teacher, he gave the T. S. Eliot Memorial Lecture to our Society in 1997. Titled “Recovering a Postmodern Eliot,” the lecture was published as “What Was Postmodern Poetry?” in Modern Poetry After Modernism (Oxford, 1997). His first scholarly monograph, growing out of his dissertation at Princeton, was centrally concerned with Eliot: Modernist Poetics of History: Pound, Eliot, and the Sense of the Past (Princeton, 1987). The obituary from the University of Rochester may be found here; the Poetry Foundation’s is here; his publications are gathered on his website. Jim was a brilliant and generous colleague and friend to many in our fields of study. We lament his passing.

Temur Kobakhidze – scholar, teacher, and a good and longtime friend of the International T. S. Eliot Society – has died. A Professor at Tbilisi State University in Georgia, he organized multiple Eliot conferences and was a part of many others. He will be missed.

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The Charleston Literary Festival ( full program of events here), which is running November 4th through the 13th this year in downtown Charleston, South Carolina, announces two events this year that will be of interest to Society members:

  • Lyndall Gordon will discuss her new book The Hyacinth Girl: T. S. Eliot’s Hidden Muse (Tickets here; Dock St. Theatre)
  • Edoardo Ballerini, audiobook narrator, will be performing The Waste Land along with some of his other poems. (Tickets here; Dock St. Theatre)

The T. S. Eliot Society in the UK is pleased to announce that their Annual TS Eliot Lecture 2022 is to be given in London at 5.30pm on 17th November by Professor John Haffenden. Its title is Vivien Eliot – Woman and Writer. The English Department of University College, London will host the lecture in the Gustave Tuck Lecture Theatre at UCL. Admission is free, but the audience is limited and registration is required. Members of the TS Eliot Society UK have booking privileges for the Lecture. Registration is open now to members only, exclusively for seven days prior to public registration opening on 21st October. You will need your Member Password to enter the booking site at tseliotlecture.eventbrite.co.uk where full details of the evening and its location are provided and you can register to attend.

Mark Wallace Maguire has released an album containing sections of T. S. Eliot reading parts of “Preludes.” The album is inspired by C. S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy. Sample here: https://markwallacemaguire.bandcamp.com/track/merlin-sleeps

Marybirnong, Australia: Staged at the heritage site Jack’s Magazine, a 144 year-old munition factory, there will be a live recitation of The Waste Land directed by Kirsten von Bibra and performed by Ray Swann, Thursday 10 November 2022 – Saturday 19 November 2022. It features pre-show music by Melbourne composer and musician Andrew Duffield. https://www.trybooking.com/events/landing/939376

Society Notes

compiled by Patrick Query

Charles Altieri’s new book, Modernist Poetry and the Limitations of Materialism, is available from New Mexico University Press. It features a long chapter on the doubled world Christianity affords in Murder in the Cathedral and Four Quartets.

Massimo Bacigalupo, emeritus of the University of Genoa, Italy, and president of the Class of Letters of Accademia Ligure di Scienze e Lettere in Genoa, is marking the 50th anniversary of Ezra Pound’s death (1972-2022) with a book of essays, Ezra Pound: un mondo di poesia, published by Edizioni Ares in Milan. The book features longer chapters on Pound and Ford Madox Ford and Pound and Yeats in Rapallo, as well as an account of Eliot’s and Pound’s reception by one of Italy’s most significant post-war experimental poets, Edoardo Sanguineti.

On April 7th, David Chinitz delivered (alas, on Zoom) a keynote lecture, “Does T. S. Eliot Have a Future?” at the European Association of American Studies conference in Madrid. The conference theme was “Wastelands,” in homage to the Waste Land centenary.

On Monday 15 August, 100 years of The Waste Land was marked in Wales with a special edition of Cardiff BookTalk, organized by Dr Anna Mercer at the School of English, Cardiff University. Celebrating the poem’s centenary with members of the public, Dr. Ruth Alison Clemens of Leiden University, Dr. Nicoletta Asciuto of the University of York, and Durham University’s Suzannah V. Evans gave presentations on elements of multilingualism and interlingual exchange in Eliot’s poem. An exciting discussion followed, and the event will soon be uploaded to Cardiff BookTalk’s YouTube channel. More details can be found here: https://cardiffbooktalk.wordpress.com/

Pascale-Marie Deschamps announces that the Paris Conference “T. S. Eliot in Translations” is on its way, 13-14 October 2022. All information may be found here: https://tseliotintrans.wixsite.com/eliotintranslations

The organizers hope to have the Translators of the Waste Land Roundtable (Oct 14th, 5-7pm, Paris time) broadcast on Zoom. This Conference is organized by LARCA, Université Paris Cité, Université Lyon 2, Université Rennes 2, and supported by The T. S. Eliot Foundation, the Société d’études modernistes and the French Association of Literary Translators.

Sara Fitzgerald spoke on 1 October to the annual meeting of the University of Michigan Alumnae Council on her book, Conquering Heroines: How Women Fought Sex Bias at Michigan and Paved the Way for Title IX.

Lyndall Gordon has been invited to speak on Eliot on the final day of the Charleston Literary Festival in South Carolina in November.

On September 22, Rob Hartman’s T. S. Eliot. De vele gezichten van een conservatieve modernist (‘T.S. Eliot. The Many Faces of a Conservative Modernist’) will be published by Spectrum, Amsterdam. Language: Dutch. 272 pp.

Ryan Holston’s new book Tradition and the Deliberative Turn: A Critique of Contemporary Democratic Theory will be published by SUNY Press in February 2023.

Ian Probstein has published two new books: in August, a bilingual English-Russian edition of Osip Mandelstam’s Centuries Encircle Me with Fire: Selected Poems (Academic Studies Press); in September, Contemporary American Poetry in Russian from Black Mountain Poets to Language Poetry (New Literary Review. Language: Russian).

Barry Spurr delivered two public lectures in Sydney, Australia to mark the centenary of The Waste Land: at The Australian Club in April and at Campion College in August. 

John Tamilio III is now a full-time professor of philosophy at Salem State University. His book Applied Ethics: Exploring Ethical Theory in the Medical, Environmental, and Business Fields was just released by Kendall Hunt.

Wei Zhou completed her PhD in English under the supervision of Dr Richard Brown at the University of Leeds in June. Her thesis entitled Modernist Nostos in The Waste Land and Four Quartets examines the reimagining of the classical trope of “nostos,” homecoming, in a selection of T. S. Eliot’s poems. Her examiners, Professor Jean-Michel Rabaté (University of Pennsylvania) and Professor Fiona Becket (University of Leeds) recommended the thesis for Recognition of Research Excellence.

By John Whittier-Ferguson

John Whittier-Ferguson is Professor of English at the University of Michigan and is the current president of the International T. S. Eliot Society