“The Letters of T.S. Eliot”— The Poet as an Anti-Semite

Eliot, Valerie and Hugh Haughton (editors). “The Letters of T.S. Eliot: Volume 1: 1898-1922, Revised Edition; Volume 2: 1923-1925, Yale University Press, 2011,

Checking the Rumors

Amos Lassen

As a graduate student in English, I took a course on T.S. Eliot mainly because I loved “The Wasteland”, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” and his dramas. Then last week I read an article that claimed that Eliot hated Jews and I wanted to see if his letters proved that. Sadly, I have to report that he indeed was an Anti-Semite. In one letter he calls someone a “Jew merchant” and states that he “sick of doing business with Jew publishers”. His wife was even more vocal about the Jews as was his mother and this now has made me think about how I should feel about him. It is similar to the argument when the state of Israel refused to play the music of Wagner because he was a Nazi. I have not reached a decision yet and I may never.

Nevertheless I did scan most of the letters and some of them are quite fascinating, especially the one he wrote about other people. The first volume was published 25 years ago but has been revised for the addition of volume two. In fact more than 200 new letters have been added to volume one. There are also letters that were written to Eliot and we get an idea of who was around him. It is unfortunate that death for Eliot meant uncovering some things about him that changes the way people feel. I think it will be hard to separate the man from his art. For me, I know that this is true.

 

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