Today in Literary History – September 26, 1888 – T.S. Eliot is born

T.S. Eliot, the great poet, playwright and publisher, was born on September 26, 1888, in St. Louis, Missouri. He moved to England at the age of 25, eventually renouncing his American citizenship and becoming a British citizen.

In 1925 Eliot (Tom to his friends) began working as an editor at the publishing house that would become Faber & Faber and rose to become the firm’s director. He was responsible for nurturing and publishing poets such as W.H. Auden, Stephen Spender and Ted Hughes who would go on to become some of the most important poets of their generation.

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Like his near contemporary Wallace Stevens (insurance executive by day, modernist poet at night) Eliot seems to have lived a rather double life. Before Faber & Faber he worked for Lloyds Bank and despite his exacting day jobs he wrote poetic masterpieces breaking new ground, such as The Wasteland and The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock, and plays like Murder in the Cathedral. He won the Nobel Prize in 1948.

My favourite story about T.S. Eliot involves his love of the Marx Brothers movies. He entered into a correspondence with Groucho Marx and when Groucho happened to be in London Eliot invited him to dinner.

Unfortunately, the dinner was not a success. Groucho, a very intellectual man off screen, only wanted to talk about Eliot’s poetry, and Eliot only wanted to talk about the Marx Brothers films. So, the evening ended in a draw.

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