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This review is taken from PN Review 43, Volume 11 Number 5, May - June 1985.

FLIGHT FROM REALITY Peter Ackroyd, T. S. Eliot (Hamish Hamilton) £12.50

It was probably a mistake for me to agree to review this book. Any biography of Eliot at this time of day is bound to be unsatisfactory. It is well known that Eliot himself did not want anyone to attempt such a thing and that Mrs Eliot could therefore give no help in the matter; that she is, moreover, preparing an edition of her husband's letters which will at least lay before the public more evidence than has hitherto been available. It has of course always been obvious that whatever Eliot may have thought about the matter there would one day be biographies - probably a string of them. But why not wait at least for the letters to be published? Peter Ackroyd has had access to some of them and to a number of other papers scattered around in American universities and elsewhere, but he is not allowed to quote from them, or even from Eliot's published works 'except for purposes of fair comment in a critical context'. In the circumstances, although one can accept Ackroyd's statement that he wanted to write 'as serious and as scrupulous a biography' as he was 'capable of' (The Times, 15 September 1984), it must be clear that he could not 'elucidate the mystery' of the 'connection between the life and the work' - even if so ambitious an objective were attainable in the case of any poet, as it cannot be more than partially, even at the best of times.

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