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This article is taken from PN Review 112, Volume 23 Number 2, November - December 1996.

Eliot, Julius and the Jews Bernard Bergonzi

Anthony Julius's important book, T.S. Eliot, Anti-Semitism, and Literary Form (CUP, 1995), has provoked vigorous if belated discussion, following Tom Paulin's review of it in the London Review of Books (9 May 1996). Frederic Raphael's article in PNR 110 says more about the larger issues raised than about the book itself, and I should like to discuss it at some length, expanding points I made briefly in a letter to the LRB. As I said there, Julius has a real case to make about Eliot's anti-semitism, though he frequently overstates it. In his later life Eliot flatly denied that he was anti-semitic and professed himself puzzled and saddened by the charge; his admirers, in turn, have denied or minimized it. But the evidence Julius produces is not so easily dismissed. He writes as a Jew, in what he describes as a deliberately adversarial spirit, drawing up an indictment of a major writer whom he believes has insulted his people. He is an acute close reader; he is also a lawyer by profession, and his book brings together a formidable range of critical and forensic skills. He acquits some of Eliot's poems of the anti-semitism that other readers have detected there, but does so in order to concentrate more effectively on the works where it is certainly present.

The principal verse exhibits in Julius's case are the first three poems in Eliot's Ara Vos Prec, 1920: 'Gerontion', 'Burbank with a Baedeker: Bleistein with a Cigar', and 'Sweeney Among ...


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