Constable & Robinson Ltd
3 The Lanchesters
162 Fulham Palace Road
London W6 9ER
First published by Constable, an imprint of Constable & Robinson Ltd, 2001
Copyright © Carole Seymour-Jones 2001
Citations at this website refer to the British edition of
An American edition is expected to be published April 1, 2002.
(Bantam, Doubleday, Dell (US) ISBN 0-385-49992-2)
The blurb on the book jacket:
'It was only when I saw Vivie in the asylum for the last time I realised I had done something very wrong... She was as sane as I was... What Tom and I did was wrong. And Mother. I did everything Tom told me to.' Maurice Haigh-Wood, Vivienne Eliot's brother
By the time she was committed to an asylum in 1938, five years after T. S. Eliot deserted her, Vivienne Eliot was a lonely, occasionally demented figure. Shunned by literary London she was the neurotic wife whom Eliot had left behind. In The Family Reunion he describes a wife who is a 'restless shivering painted shadow' and so Vivienne became: a phantom-like figure on the fringe of Eliot's life, written out of his biography and literary history.
This outstanding biography is the first life of Vivienne Eliot. It places her at the centre of T. S. Eliot's life for almost two decades and is the first full-length portrait of the marriage and its influence on both his emotional state and his work. Using papers both privately owned and in university library archives, many hitherto unpublished, and drawing most importantly on Vivienne Eliot's own writings, the author paints a strikingly new picture of Eliot's first wife.
When Tom and Vivienne married on 26 June 1915 they had known each other only a few months. She was recovering from a failed love affair and eager to escape a domineering mother. He was still grieving the death of Jean Verdenal, the young Frenchman he had loved. Within weeks he had introduced Vivienne to his mentor, the predatory Bertrand Russell, who under the guise of taking the Eliots under his wing drew Vivienne into an ever-closer relationship. As T.S. Eliot's reputation grew, the couple were increasingly involved in the emotional merry-go-round of the Bloomsbury and Garsington circles and their marriage became the subject of speculation.
Vivienne, though collaborating with her husband in writing for his journal, the Criterion, alienated his friends. The sadness of the Eliots' marriage lay in the pairing of a repressed yet sensual man, who continued to lead a separate and secret life, with an extrovert woman who longed for a full sexual relationship with her husband. Her bouts of nervous depression grew worse and she became ever more addicted to prescription drugs.
Out of this emotional turbulence came the most important English poem of the twentieth century: The Waste Land. Carole Seymour-Jones believes that it cannot be understood without reference to his troubled marriage and her book opens the way to a new understanding of Eliot's poetry. In addition she shows, for the first time from Vivienne's point of view, how this spontaneous, loving, but fragile woman was trapped and ultimately destroyed by a disastrous marriage.
Carole Seymour-Jones was born in Wales and educated at Oxford University. She is the author of several books, including Beatrice Webb: Woman of Conflict. She has spent four years researching the life of Vivienne Eliot both in England and in the USA, where she was awarded a Paul Mellon Visiting Fellowship at the Harry Ransom Center, University of Texas at Austin. She lives in Surrey.
A copy of the British Library Cataloguing in Publication data is available from the British Library
ISBN 0 09 479270 4
To home page of Exploring The Waste Land