Monday, September 24, 2018

Simply Eliot


There is nothing simple about T.S. Eliot.  At least, that's the simple conclusion to be drawn from the existence of thousands of books, essays and dissertations about the Nobel Prize-winning poet.  Collectively, this body of critical work has created a popular conception of Eliot as an impossibly complex writer and a man of many contradictory masks.  Critics have presented him as an avant-garde poet and a conservative critic, a modernist and a traditionalist, a Romantic and a Classicist, a philosopher and a moralist, an American and a European, a proto-fascist and a pseudo-mystic, a bigot and a sage.  Each of these masks can be peeled away, but then what are we left with?  Who was T.S. Eliot and what did he really stand for?

“The next time I teach Eliot to undergrads I will assign this swift, witty, enjoyable invitation to T. S. Eliot’s work and thought. Maddrey knows everything about Eliot, but he grinds no axe which frees professors and students to grind their own. Scrupulously footnoted for professional use, not short but concise, it is stuffed with unfamiliar and apt quotations. Maddrey quotes a 1949 interview about The Cocktail Party, in which Eliot said, 'If there is nothing more in the play than what I was aware of meaning, then it must be a pretty thin piece of work.' There’s the New Criticism in 25 words, 21 of them monosyllables. Eliot asks us to quit asking what he thought and to do some thinking ourselves. This book will help.”
—George J. Leonard, Author of Into the Light of Things and The End of Innocence. Professor of Interdisciplinary Humanities, San Francisco State University

“Joseph Maddrey provides an illuminating spiritual biography of T.S. Eliot that treats his writings as markers of Eliot’s lifelong spiritual drama and development while avoiding reducing his poetry to biography because he treats the texts as products of creation that all can contemplate. Maddrey admiringly captures the creativity of both Eliot’s character and his poetry. The two are elusive not only because Eliot’s poetry employs a vast and encyclopedic storehouse of poetic images ('3,000 years of word made flesh'), but also because his poetry strives to move 'beyond poetry,' at the apophatic 'ever-present frontier of consciousness—where words fail, though meanings persist.' Maddrey introduces Eliot to a new generation of readers, and guides wanderers anew at the 'point of intersection with the timeless / With time.'”
—John von Heyking, Professor of Political Science at the University of Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada

“T. S. Eliot considered that 'a worthwhile biography should show the development of an artist and give readers a proper sense of how each work of art fits within the whole.' In Simply Eliot Joseph Maddrey has fulfilled the directive, brilliantly compressing a gargantuan amount of previous Eliot studies and providing a fresh dynamic manual for understanding this storied literary icon.”
—Quinton Hallett, Poet, and Author of Mrs. Schrödinger’s Breast 

Simply Eliot is an accessible, artfully-written book that positions a well-known literary figure in a seemingly new landscape. One of the book’s greatest strengths is its extensive engagement with archival sources. Maddrey draws on those sources to give weight and depth to his narrative, which weaves interpretations—close-readings, even—of Eliot’s poetry into the broad strokes of his biography and intellectual genealogy. The approach is neither reductive nor esoteric, and Maddrey’s way with language draws the reader—one suddenly realizes one is reading and enjoying literary criticism. For this reason, the book will appeal not just to an audience of academics or students, but to intelligent, cultured people of all kinds.”
—Dr. Siân White, Associate Professor of English, James Madison University

“Joseph Maddrey's Simply Eliot is an elegant addition to the Great Lives series, providing an authoritative introduction to T.S. Eliot's work and influences. Accessible and yet well researched, Maddrey's biography gives readers a deeper understanding and appreciation for Eliot's life and his development as an artist by tracing the personal and critical influences of the individual poems and plays written throughout the writer's long career. Maddrey focuses on the individual works themselves to demonstrate how each fits into the whole and represents Eliot's journey as a spiritual seeker and artist. Maddrey's book will make a great introduction to all who are interested in Eliot as well as to everyone and anyone who wants to learn more. Simply Eliot is simply what all biographies should be.”
—Carol Scarvalone Kushner, Professor of English & Humanities at Dutchess Community College

“Joseph Maddrey’s brief vita of Eliot is a tale of a search for identities both human and divine. Maddrey is right to say that 'Eliot’s total commitment to the church transformed his poetry.' Was that church, though, the Church of England, with its distinctive patrimony of the King James Bible, and Lancelot Andrewes, and George Herbert, and their like, or the Anglican faith as a world religion which Eliot experienced first in the USA during his flight from Unitarianism? Maddrey’s analysis of Eliot as an American High-Church Anglican living in Britain insightfully explores the relationship between religious and cultural identities, and helpfully places Eliot, nationally and religiously respectively, as 'stranger and pilgrim.'”
—The Reverend Graeme Napier MA MPhil (Oxon), Rector, St. John’s in the Village, Greenwich Village, New York

“This relatively brief account of the life of T.S. Eliot admirably enlarges one’s appreciation of his poetry and other writings by situating them within their historical, cultural, and religious backgrounds. Not of least value is the final section entitled ‘Suggested Reading’, which is actually a summary of the responses of critical scholarship to Eliot’s work rather a mere list of books.”
—The Reverend Dr. Paul Bradshaw, Professor Emeritus of Liturgical Studies, University of Notre Dame

“I had to stop my daily life, almost, to read Simply Eliot;  for me, it is compelling, refreshing, and genuinely exciting to read a biography that speaks to Virginia Woolf’s “common reader.” Cats saved Eliot for millions of people, but it did not make people want to read Eliot’s challenging poetry. I think Maddrey’s book will.”
—Charles W. Spurgeon, Professor Emeritus at Marymount University and Author of The Poetry of Westminster Abbey and J. Henry Shorthouse, The Author of John Inglesant (with Reference to T.S. Eliot and C.G. Jung)