Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Vivenne Eliot as inspiration for female characters

After talking about Eliot's personal biography today, I wondered if his depictions of women were influenced by his unhappy marriage to Vivenne Haigh-Wood Eliot. Some critics consider her to be a sort of "femme-fatale" character that seduced Eliot in a turbulent and disastrous marriage. Her and Eliot met while she was working as a governess in Cambridge and were married 3 months later. They were married until her death in 1947, but her physical and mental illnesses plagued their relationship during the entirety of their marriage. Eliot arranged for a formal separation after learning of her affair with philosopher Bertrand Russell. Five years later she was committed to an asylum. I feel that she influenced the female characters in the Waste Land, who are often depicted as apathetic temptresses. Many of the females are also characterized by their inability to maintain meaningful connections with men and barrenness. Perhaps this obsession with fertility was relevant due to the fact that Vivenne suffered from heavy, irregular menstruation that often impeded her daily life and sexual relations. Eliot's sister-in-law Theresa once said, "Vivienne ruined Tom as a man, but she made him as a poet."


wkuehne said...

Very interesting, and I'm sure that Elliot, or indeed anyone would be similarly influenced by a deranged partner. But I think that the idea that Elliot had to be ruined to become a poet is a little strange. First, Elliot recovered from his mental illnesses once he married he second wife Valerie Elliot. But what's more interesting is that Elliot was 38 years older than his second wife. There must have been something sexual about the marriage, because it is odd enough now to hear about marriages between two people of such an age gap, but in the fifties such a marriage would have been scandalous, which might be why the couple decided to marry in secrecy.

Austin Falk said...

I agree. This sounds a lot like the character Lil from his poem who's looks have deteriorated as she talks with her friends at the bar. The reason her looks are bad are due to pills she takes for an abortion she had. Just like Elliot's wife had problems with menstruation, Lil also seems to have her problems with pregnancy. I think the character, Lil, definitely was included by Elliot in part due to his frustrations with his wife Vivenne.