In this dismayingly thorough second volume of his biography of the poet, Eliot: After The Waste Land, Robert Crawford digs through the drifts, heaping shovelfuls of speeches and honorary degrees on to the helpless reader...It is our privilege to witness the author of The Waste Land (1922) engaging in such scintillating activities as 'speaking at a . . . celebration in Chichester after his return from a short Spanish holiday' and 'unveiling a plaque to Yeats'...One of the most painful elements of Crawford’s book concerns Eliot’s 'sense of humour,' which (in so far as it existed) suffered the twin deficiencies of being ponderous and racist...Eliot’s elephantine frivolities constituted a doomed attempt to escape his own seriousness, but also the tragedy of his personal life...He suffered 'a maddening feeling of failure and inferiority'...Crawford’s criticism of Eliot’s poetry is characterised by a brevity that might have enlivened his narration of the dinners and speaking engagements...One’s eventual sense of Eliot is, I suppose, of a man not at home in the world...Like many poets, he was doomed to feel more intensely than other people, but Eliot’s feelings — his mystical longings and civilisational anguishes — were especially difficult to contain in a human mind and especially prone to alienate him from other inhabitants of the 20th century.
Near the beginning of the second volume of Robert Crawford’s magisterial biography of TS Eliot, the problem for the biographer becomes clear. Eliot wrote, ironically in a letter, 'If I could destroy every letter I have ever written in my life I would do so before I die. I should like to leave as little biography as possible'...Eliot did vacillate from this position, but there was a perpetual reticence to his life...Crawford is the first biographer to have access to Eliot’s correspondence with Emily Hale, which was sealed for 50 years, and there is therefore a tranche of new detail, speculation and inference possible...But Crawford wisely states 'my aim is not to neaten his life, or reduce it to one expository template, but to let it emerge in its sometimes complex, contradictory messiness'...Eliot, however, is remembered as one of the greatest poets of the 20th century, not for his haphazard romantic life...Crawford places the Four Quartets in the context of war and depression, as much a work of ruination as The Waste Land but with a searing and redemptive quality...Eliot, in some ways, created a whole new key of poetry...Crawford does bring back a shocking Eliot...This book is properly complex, both in terms of the art and the life.
As Mr. Crawford surveys Eliot’s life after the publication of The Waste Land (1922), he wisely doesn’t aim at new 'readings' of Eliot’s poems, although he is careful not to neglect any one of them ... Mr. Crawford’s biographical net is a wide one, and I was more than once surprised and touched by something new that enriches the unpleasant Mr. Eliot into something other—richer and more strange ... For all his self-refashioning as a model Englishman, Eliot’s advice here seems to me very much in the American grain and strikes a note quite distinct from that of his august contemporaries. We should keep reading him with that note in mind.