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Anti-Semitism in some of T. S. Eliot’s works

by
13 March 2015

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From the Revd Alexander Faludy

Sir, - Dr Martyn Halsall's article on T. S. Eliot (Features, 27 February) is unfortunate not so much for what it says as for what it does not. Eliot indeed "crossed frontiers", one of them being into an anti-Semitism that disfigures the spirituality of his work. Instances include the lines in "Burbank with a Baedeker: Bleistein with a Cigar" (1920):

The rats are underneath the piles.
The Jew is underneath the lot.
Money in furs.

While the theme did not persist in his poetry (presumably he early exhausted its rather limited creative possibilities), it did long continue in his prose, as witnessed by After Strange Gods: A primer of modern heresy (1934): "What is still more important [than cultural homogeneity] is unity of religious background, and reasons of race and religion combine to make any large number of free-thinking Jews undesirable."

Moreover, unlike Malcolm Muggeridge's sexual peccadilloes (Letters, same issue), these sentiments were not later publicly recanted and repented of, even after they ceased to be expressed.

Acknowledging this side of Eliot does not debar one from appreciating (even commemorating) him as a poet, any more than it does memorialising St John Chrysostom or Martin Luther as theologians. It does, however, need to be. The issue seems obscured beneath Dr Halsall's emollient words about Eliot's "faith being illuminated from many directions - not least his appreciation of other world faiths".

Alexander Faludy
The Vicarage, 381 Station Road
Wallsend NE28 8DT

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