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Book of the Week: Eliot and His Age

Title: Eliot and His Age: T.S. Eliot’s Moral Imagination in the Twentieth Century
Author: Russell Kirk
Publisher: ISI Books

Quicks Thoughts:
“The past half-century has been Eliot’s Age…as once there was an Age of Dryden or an Age of Johnson,” Russell Kirk asserts in this now-classic literary biography. While critics agree that Eliot’s prominence remains unrivaled among modern poets, his elusive persona often generates uneasiness among those assessing his legacy. Not so with Kirk, whose twelve-year friendship with Eliot began shortly after he published The Conservative Mind in 1953, and lasted until Eliot’s death. The two writers shared much in common: both were Americans educated in Britain (Eliot never left, becoming a British citizen in 1927) and converts, in their forties, to traditional Christianity (Anglo-Catholic and Catholic, respectively). Although his own conservatism took a more political bent, Kirk grasps Eliot’s profound distaste for ideology, which persisted amidst two world wars. Dismissing suspicions that Eliot was an elitist, a fascist, or an anti-Semite, Kirk traces a complex moral vision rooted in Eliot’s affinity for the “permanent things” (“Conservatism is too often conservation of the wrong things; liberalism a relaxation of discipline; revolution a denial of the permanent things,” Eliot wrote in The Idea of a Christian Society.) Kirk’s claim that “if we apprehend Eliot–who is not easy to plumb–we apprehend the intellectual and moral struggles of our time” rings as true today as it did when this book first appeared some 40 years ago. (Eighth Day Books)

Though much has been written about T. S. Eliot since it was first published, Eliot and His Age remains the best introduction to the poet’s life, ideas, and literary works. It is the essential starting place for anyone who would understand what Eliot was about. Russell Kirk’s view of his older friend is sympathetic but not adulatory. His insights into Eliot’s writings are informed by wide reading in the same authors who most influenced the poet, as well as by similar experiences and convictions. Kirk elaborates here a significant theory of literary meaning in general, showing how great literary works awaken our intuitive reason, giving us profound visions of truth that transcend logical processes. And he traces Eliot’s political and cultural ideas to their true sources, showing the balance and subtlety of Eliot’s views. Eliot and His Age is a literary biography that will endure when much of the more recent writing on Eliot is gathering dust. (from the publisher)

What’s Being Said:

“Russell Kirk is widely known and respected as a persuasive exponent of ‘temperate conservatism.’ A friend in T. S. Eliot’s later years, he remains the closed of all Eliot’s many commentators to the editor of the Criterion and the enquirer into the possibility of a Christian society and culture–that is, to the moralist who must be seen as the same man as the poet, critic, and playwright.”
William Blissett, University of Toronto

About the Author:
Dr. Kirk was one of this century’s foremost men of letters. He was the founder of the conservative quarterlies Modern Age and The University Bookman.The Conservative Mind (Henry Regnery Company, 1953), Edmund Burke, The Roots of American Order,Enemies of the Permanent Things (Arlington House, 1969), and Eliot and His Age (Random House, 1971) are among his over thirty books.

Buy a copy from Eighth Day Books

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