I heard Craig Raine interviewed on the radio about this book.[1] Didn’t he feel, he was asked, that his often abrasive dismissals of fellow critics (“execrable,” “stupid”) lowered the standards of academic writing? His answer was contemptuous: “Yeah, but who reads academic writing, for God’s sake?”

Well, quite a few people do—he has even read some himself—and they will have to go on doing so if they want real help in understanding T. S. Eliot. Raine’s book, in a series called “Lives and Legacies,” gives a biographical chronology, and adopts a chaotic approach to Eliot’s work, the continuity and development of which are obscured. There is no mention of Emily Hale, a key figure in Eliot’s life, in the chronology or the text. Raine is outraged, on behalf of the poet’s widow (to whom his book is dedicated...


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