Synopses & Reviews
One of the most distinguished readers of modern literature offers his most personal book of literary criticism. "Words Alone" is an intellectual memoir, a lucid, illuminating account of his engagement with the works of Eliot, from initial undergraduate encounters with "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" to later submissions.
"Eliot has been ill handled in recent years, perhaps inevitably so, given his dominance at mid-century. And perhaps it was inevitable that this backlash would induce its own backlash, with scholars springing vigorously to Eliot's defense. While much of this reaction is marred by defensiveness as much as the accusations are drawn with a prosecutor's pen, these defenses have also produced some remarkable works of genuine and communicable intelligence—partial keys into Eliot's cryptogrammatical poems. Donoghue's book takes its place beside Christopher Ricks' T.S. Eliot and Prejudice as exemplary among these. Focusing, as the title implies, on the language, the 'words alone' of Eliot's writing, Donoghue argues that Eliot's writing models a certain form of estrangement from language—or makes us recognize an estrangement always there—that is communicated through the radiant hieroglyphics of his language. In-between discussions of many poems (including a happily thorough analysis of the 'Four Quartets,' and even a just treatment of 'La Figlia Che Piange,') we get to see a meticulous mind at work among the briar-patches that are Eliot's poems. Donoghue has also managed to set Eliot in a conversation with Wallace Stevens which, admittedly, seems a bit unfair—Stevens was a very pretty writer, but his rumored 'philosophical' sensibilities were all, like his favored idealism, superficial. Indeed here as elsewhere one senses that a bit of score-settling has infiltrated Donoghue's agenda, perhaps without his full awareness. In any event this is a wonderful book, with much to recommend it. When the recovery of Eliot gets underway—as it inevitably will—in the near future, the first explorers back to the scene will find in this book a cache full of supplies on which they will gratefully draw." Reviewed by Andrew Witmer, Virginia Quarterly Review (Copyright 2006 Virginia Quarterly Review)