“T. S. Eliot did not want his biography written,” Robert Crawford admits in the introduction to Young Eliot. And yet, of course, several biographies and biography-inflected studies precede Crawford’s own. Peter Ackroyd’s T. S. Eliot: A Life laid out the basic narrative in 1984. Lyndall Gordon’s Eliot’s Early Years (1977) and Eliot’s New Life (1988)—later amalgamated and revised as The Imperfect Life of T. S. Eliot in 1998—tell a convincing and sympathetic life story, with Eliot’s religious quest at its center. Both Ackroyd and Gordon were hampered by strict limits on what and how much material could be quoted. Tom and Viv, Michael Hastings’s 1984 play (later a film) imagined—freely fictionalizing—the miseries of Eliot’s first marriage; Carole Seymour-Jones’s 2001 Painted Shadow shifts the focus and presents a more factual view of Vivien(ne) Eliot. Eliot is a truly unpleasant figure in both these portraits....

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