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 Painted Shadow : The Life of Vivienne Eliot, First Wife of T. S. Eliot

Painted Shadow : The Life of Vivienne Eliot, First Wife of T. S. Eliot

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Rating: 3 stars
Summary: Bangs and Whimpers
Review: 700 pages of commonplace minutiae is probably tons more than anyone wants to know about Vivienne Eliot but, even allowing for such proffered particulars as V.E.'s 1934 cockroach problems, the story told by Carole Seymour-Jones is fascininating...and repulsive. If they are ever to pick up The Collected Works again without a shudder, devotees of T. S. Eliot will have to study a juggling denial/avoidance, while those who regard him as little more than a purveyor of era-bogged, clever-dick party pieces, will receive broad permission from this volume to dismissively despise him as an appalling, conniving, cheating, embezzling, slug-under-a-rock. (Of the "Uncollected" works , the less said the better.)

Difficult as it may be to generate sympathy for a person who set up household shrines to Oswald Mosley, Jones leaves us little doubt that Vivienne Eliot was certainly as talented as many another Bloomsburian, disgracefully dealt with--abused--by Eliot and her own family, but simplemindedly, to her captive last, holding out for the theory that Tom was not to blame.

With so much material to deal with, it is not surprising Jones occasionally seems to lose track of precisely what went before (early on she lays it out that TSE at least enabled V's affair with Bertrand Russell, certainly profited by it, possibly connived at it; hundreds of pages later Jones speaks of how hurt Eliot was by her infidelity). Jones' oracular certainty of who-felt-what, who-thought-what, who-did-what-why and her psychological pontificating become irksome to anyone not willing to concede her omniscience.But for a microscopic view of a time-dated literary milieu and its peculiar, self-aggrandizing denizens, and a disturbing look at what intellectual creeps can get up to, this book will reward even the non-trivialists among us.

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