Painted Shadow by Carole Seymour-Jones
A Life of Vivienne Eliot

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Synopsis

“It was only when I saw Vivie in the asylum for the last time I realized I had done something very wrong.--She was as sane as I was.”
–Maurice Haigh-Wood, Vivienne Eliot’s brother, shortly before his death.

By the time she was committed to an asylum in 1938, five years after T. S. Eliot deserted her, Vivienne Eliot was a lonely, distraught figure. Shunned by literary London, she was the “neurotic” wife whom Eliot had left behind. In The Family Reunion, he described a wife who was a “restless shivering painted shadow,” and so she had become: a phantomlike shape on the fringe of Eliot’s life, written out of his biography and literary history.

This astonishing portrait of Vivienne Eliot, first wife of poet T.S. Eliot, gives a voice to the woman who, for seventeen years, had shared a unique literary partnership with Eliot but who was scapegoated for the failure of the marriage and all but obliterated from historical record. In so doing, Painted Shadow opens the way to a new understanding of Eliot’s poetry.

Vivienne longed to tell her whole story; she wrote in her diary: “You who in later years will read these very words of mine will be able to trace a true history of this epoch.” She believed (as did Virginia Woolf) that she was Eliot’s muse, the woman through whom he transmuted life into art. Yet Vivienne knew the secrets of his separate and secret life — which contributed to her own deepening hysteria, drug addiction, and final abandonment: the tragedy of a marriage that paired a repressed yet sensual man with an extroverted woman who longed for a full sexual relationship with her husband.

Out of this emotional turbulence came one of the most important English poems of the twentieth century: The Waste Land, which Carole Seymour-Jones convincingly shows cannot be fully understood without reference to the relationship of the poet and his first wife. Drawing on papers both privately owned and in university library archives and, most importantly, on Vivienne Eliot’s own journals left to the Bodleian Library, Oxford, Carole Seymour-Jones uses many hitherto unpublished sources and opens the way to a new understanding of Eliot’s poetry.
 

About Carole Seymour-Jones

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CAROLE SEYMOUR-JONES was born in North Wales and educated at Oxford and Sussex Universities. Her recent biography Painted Shadow: The Life of Vivienne Eliot was shortlisted for the Samuel Johnson Prize. She is the chair of the Writers in Prison Committee of English PEN, and co-editor of Another Sky: Voices of Conscience from Around the World, a collection of pieces by writers imprisoned and tortured for expressing their views.
 
Published October 25, 2001 by Constable. 702 pages
Genres: Biographies & Memoirs, Literature & Fiction. Non-fiction

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“at the core of the revulsion Eliot felt for Vivienne,” she writes, “was her very femininity, which reminded him of the shameful, feared feminine part of himself.” Though she relies on indirect evidence and more than a little speculation, and though she goes on much too long, Seymour-Jones makes ...

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Publishers Weekly

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Although the history of literary marriages is littered with tragic muses and sacrificial spouses, few partnerships are considered as ill-starred as that of T.S. Eliot and Vivienne Haigh-Wood (1888&

Mar 11 2002 | Read Full Review of Painted Shadow: A Life of Viv...

The Guardian

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Painted Shadow: A Life of Vivienne Eliot Carole Seymour-Jones 384pp, Constable, £20 Perhaps the Bloomsbury group were right about T S Eliot's first wife?

Nov 03 2001 | Read Full Review of Painted Shadow: A Life of Viv...

The Guardian

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On first acquaintance it seemed to Eliot that Vivienne came from a social background equivalent to his own in New England, although to an English aristocrat such as Bertrand Russell, Vivienne, only two generations away from her roots in trade, seemed 'a little vulgar'.

Oct 14 2001 | Read Full Review of Painted Shadow: A Life of Viv...

The Guardian

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Painted Shadow: A Life of Vivienne Eliot Carole Seymour-Jones Constable Robinson £20, pp682 Never marry your muse.

Oct 21 2001 | Read Full Review of Painted Shadow: A Life of Viv...

Publishers Weekly

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Glimpses of their oppressive, sexually silent marriage appear in The Waste Land, Sweeney Agonistes and The Family Reunion–which masterpieces, Seymour-Jones (Beatrice Webb) argues, Eliot might never have written without his intolerable muse.

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Chron

Somewhat more compelling perhaps is Eliot's allegiance to a group of young men who were known to be gay and with whom Eliot for a time resided after his separation from Vivien in the early '30s;

May 05 2002 | Read Full Review of Painted Shadow: A Life of Viv...

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