Eliot letters fan flames of row over 'racism'

February 14, 2003

A previously unknown cache of letters written by T. S. Eliot to be published next week will add fuel to a bitter literary dispute over whether one of the 20th century's greatest poets was anti-Semitic.

Eliot was dogged throughout his later years by charges of anti-Semitism.

Ronald Schuchard of Emory University in the US said the letters categorically overturned the allegations.

But other experts rebut the evidence. They accuse Professor Schuchard of misreadings and omissions.

A paper by Professor Schuchard, to be published in the next edition of the journal Modernism/Modernity , focuses on letters from Eliot to Horace Kallen, his lifelong friend.

Mr Kallen was a Jewish-American professor of social thought at New York University. During the early 1940s the pair collaborated to help Jewish refugees from Germany and Austria resettle in Britain and the US.

The journal editor, Lawrence Rainey of York University's department of English, said Professor Schuchard's evidence had reignited the debate over Eliot's anti-Semitism, which broke out in 1995 when solicitor Anthony Julius published T. S. Eliot: Anti-Semitism and Literary Form .

Mr Julius defended Professor Schuchard's colleague Deborah Lipstadt against the libel suit brought by discredited historian David Irving after Professor Lipstadt accused him of denying the Holocaust.

Mr Julius said that Professor Schuchard was guilty of "misreadings" and "a misuse of biographical material". He said: "Critics who excuse Eliot's anti-Semitism, or worse, pretend that it does not exist, merely carry on his own work of contempt towards Jews."

But Denis Donoghue of New York University finds the new evidence persuasive - although he doubts that it will alter the view that Eliot was anti-Semitic.

Professor Rainey said the debate would never come to a close because, whether or not Eliot himself was anti-Semitic, anti-Semitism was central to his greatest and most difficult poems. "Professor Schuchard deserves credit for re-opening the debate. But readers will have to decide the matter for themselves," he said.

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