“Book Review: The Wasteland”
Reviewed by Liam Anthony
“Do I dare disturb the universe? Do I dare to eat the peach?”
The Wasteland, a novel by Harper H. Jameson, follows the life of poet T.S Eliot. From his days as a bank clerk to his becoming a formidable force in literature, this novel not only illustrates his real-life artistic trajectory, it invites us to take a look at his darkest conflicts.
The novel begins with the minutiae of Mr. Eliot’s routine, which mostly involves working at a bank, daydreaming, and attempting to write. There is an emphasis on the idea of time, “and Big Ben is the ticking, tocking time bomb that adorns the remains of civilization, wearing the city’s sins like a crown of thorns.” Additionally, it catapults the setting of London into the foreground, and Eliot’s ambition to become a poet feels impossible amongst the capitalist rhythm of a twentieth Century London.
The theme of social class plays an instrumental role in the novel. Poetry is seen as an exclusive art form for the elite. Eliot’s idols are what the writer refers to as “well-heeled men:” upper-middle-class men who dress with ostentation and possess an intimidating amount of intellect, the epitome of what Eliot wants to be. Along with capturing the hierarchical nature of the literary world at the time, author Harper H. Jameson also illustrates the social landscape and Eliot’s relationship with his American identity.
The quick pace takes us to a place where are part of a clandestine world beneath the streets of London. This is where Mr. Eliot meets Jack, a former colleague with whom he embarks on a love affair. Eliot’s burgeoning sexuality plays a high point in the novel, allowing us to see him radiate with a happiness seen before.
“The purpose of poetry is to bring forth the beauty of the world with words. There are many other ways to explore the beauties of the world, though, and in this particular one, Jack was Mr. Eliot’s most winning professor.”
Jack educates Eliot on the the codes and language of the infamous Pansy Club. Despite trepidation, he immerses himself in a world he has long denied.
“Mr. Eliot takes a step forward. It’s like he’s floating across the threshold. This must be what a bride feels like on her wedding night, he imagines. A giant weight is lifted off his shoulders.”
However, a homosexual relationship was not going to be an acceptable lifestyle choice for poet T.S Eliot. When one of his poems gains recognition from Ezra Pound, a literary editor, we play witness to his primary ambitions of publishing his work.
So, in order to fit in, Eliot marries a woman.
He doesn’t want to acquiesce, but the pressure to conform and to be the embodiment of a successful poet means there is no room for Jack in the picture, contributing to a form of internalized homophobia.
In addition to discussing sexuality, the novel allows room for a social commentary on marriage, and how it was seen as the epitome of order, respect, and thus rendering an individual as accepted. Eliot´s wife (Vivienne) has her own fascinating role to play in this book as well.
Give me a group of famous poets sharing a room any day. Robert Frost makes a cameo in here, and he is treated like an absolute rock star. Poetry is often presented as a character: a decadent, esoteric figure that is omnipresent. The author even writes some of the passages of the book in rhyme, perhaps an ode to the use of blank verse and poetry in general, or a wink solely to the brilliance of T.S. Eliot.
The Wasteland is a treat for readers interested in poetry and history. But it’s also an eye-opening foray into LGBTQ history and the unequivocal torture and social exclusion people faced due to their sexuality.
The novel represents Eliot as a poet with an innate talent, but with myriad conflicts. Some readers may not appreciate his flaws, or may fall in love with the character Jack, or feel sympathy and hope for Vivienne. But it is Eliot’s demons that galvanize the story, that keep us reading.
Category: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Level 4 Press
Print length: 280 pages
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