Timothy Materer

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Please write an introduction for Timothy Materer's "T. S. Eliot and his Biographical Critics."

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In his article "T. S. Eliot and his Biographical Critics," Timothy Materer examines and challenges the prevailing consensus that the poet routinely attempted to prevent critics, sometimes through the threat of litigation, from exploring biographical dimensions of his work.

To this end, Materer cites a number of critics, most notably John Peter and John Xiros Cooper, who accused Eliot of suppressing scholarly work that came uncomfortably close to touching on certain elements of his life he would rather have kept under wraps.

Yet Materer challenges these critics, and many others like them, in holding that Eliot's response, far from being "testy," as Cooper would have it, was actually "measured and understandable."

Materer supports his argument by showing us that Eliot was actually quite helpful toward another biographical critic, Herbert Howarth, in the writing of his Notes on Some Figures Behind T. S. Eliot, despite the intrusive speculation in regards to his family that this book entailed.

However, the main force of Materer's argument is directed against John Peter's interpretation of The Waste Land in his Notes and Criticisms. In this article, Peter puts forward the argument that the poem's main persona is Eliot himself, lamenting the loss of a young man who, it is insinuated, was a homosexual lover.

Further attempts at what we would now call a Queer reading of The Waste Land come in Peter's analysis of "A Game of Chess," where the loveless sexuality on display is attributed to the speaker's homosexuality.

While Materer doesn't reject outright a Queer reading of The Waste Land, or any other of his works, for that matter, he nonetheless finds Eliot's hostile response to Peter's original article to be perfectly justifiable, involving as it does a conflation of the main speaker of the poem with Eliot himself.

Though friendly and helpful toward another of his biographical critics, Herbert Howarth, Eliot still felt decidedly uncomfortable at what he saw as an intrusion into his private life and the subsequent construction of a biographical account of his works. Materer is deeply sympathetic to Eliot, seeing Howarth's unfounded speculations concerning the poet's relationship with his family as undermining the genuine insights he makes in Notes.

Materer doesn't reject a biographical reading of Eliot's work any more than he rejects a Queer reading. What he does reject, however, is the kind of baseless speculation that so often blights our understanding of the poet and that has generated—and continues to generate—a slew of second-rate, slipshod scholarship.

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