Eliot among the Women Open Access

Hipp, Shannon Crunk (2011)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/kd17ct01m?locale=en


This dissertation reconsiders T. S. Eliot's treatment of women in his complete poetry and drama through The Cocktail Party. Literary criticism has long decried the propensity of women in Eliot's work to suffer and die violently. This investigation offers no apologies for such grim realities; instead, it reiterates that Eliot fixates, even obsesses, on the bodies of women. However, Eliot's abiding interest in women is rooted not in hate but admiration, as he struggled against the limitations of his male body in the pursuit of complete Christian devotion. The first chapter, "What Bits May Sprout: The Violated Body" details Eliot's literary exploration of violence on male and female bodies. Eliot wrote against the body by dismembering, drowning, desiccating, and martyring it, imagining the effects of such abuse on each gender and coming to the conclusion that the female body better withstood such treatment and thereby possessed the privilege of redemption. The second chapter, "In the room Eliot comes and goes," examines the author's purposeful imaginings of empathy with the feminine. When he found his own male experience inadequate for self-knowledge, Eliot aimed to imagine an open body or penetrable space in which he might fully experience both humanity and the Absolute. Eliot also experimented with losing himself in the feminine through linguistic subversion. The third chapter, "Eliot's Third Sex," looks beyond Tiresias to recover Eliot's simultaneous attempts to muddle the gender binary. Eliot created a limited number of transgendered figures in the hope that the male-female body might unite the capacities of man and woman toward a devotional purpose. His collaboration with Djuna Barnes on Nightwood further reinforces this abiding interest even after he had himself abandoned it. Finally, the fourth chapter, "Revelations of Divine Vision: Eliot and Julian of Norwich" turns to the fourteenth-century mystic who shaped Eliot's understanding of devotion as requiring suffering and surrender. Beginning with images of recumbent women awaiting visions in the earliest poetry, the chapter tracks Eliot's deconstruction of feminine Christian mysticism according to the model of Julian through to his invocation of her in Little Gidding.


Table of Contents

Introduction 1

What Bits May Sprout: The Violated Body 17

In the room Eliot comes and goes 64

Eliot's Third Sex 117

Revelations of Divine Visitation: 169
Eliot and Julian of Norwich Conclusion 223 Notes 230

Works Cited 251

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