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TS Eliot: guilt, desire and rebellion at respectability | Roz Kaveney

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Eliot's revolt from duty, and Unitarian virtue and philosophy, can, in part, be blamed on a culture of repression and ignorance

We are so used to thinking of the glum, austere person that Eliot spent most of his life turning himself into that it sometimes takes an effort of will and imagination to remember that he was once young and deeply confused. Most talented people suffer all their lives from imposter syndrome the feeling that they cannot really be as gifted as people tell them they are, and as a mixture of self-worth and vanity sometimes tells them they are. Religion particularly that strain in Christianity that tells us we are all miserable sinners from our birth is not much help with this, or with a tendency to depression.

There was a side of Eliot that felt guilty about being a poet at all, let alone the poet that he became. He came from a long line of preachers and businessmen that went back, on both sides, to New England puritanism, with its culture of earnest endeavour as the proper duty of human beings, not merely an option. His father was deeply disappointed in his decision to stay in England and become a poet, rather than pursue an academic career as a philosopher, to the extent that he put his inheritance of shares into a trust. (The only one of his siblings subjected to that conditional inheritance was a sister with severe learning disabilities.)

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