T. S. Eliot and the Jews 4

L’Avenir de Vintelligence has four parts, only two of which are likely to have interested Eliot: the first, which is an analysis of modern French history as a struggle between “Blood and Gold . . . the Usurer and the Prince, Finance and the Sword”; and the third, which is an attack on “Le Romantisme fiminin.” A crucial element in both discussions is the claim that the corrupting influences—the obsession with money, in the first case, and feminine solipsism, in the second—were not French. They were the products of what Maurras called the “meteques”—foreigners who adopt French ways. He habitually referred to Rousseau (and to the concepts of liberty, fraternity, and equality themselves) as “Swiss”; he described Madame de Stael as “a Swiss of Prussian origin.” There is no ex¬plicit attack on the Jews in L’Avenir de Vintelligence, but any reader of Drumont, who had argued that Jews had taken over France by controlling its finances, would have had no trouble identifying the alien representatives of finance and usury as Maurras described them.
Maurras’s argument in “Le Romantisme féminin” is that the romantic imagination is inherently feminine. It spawns self¬absorption, perversity, emotional anarchy—a general attitude of, as he put it, “je souffre, done je suis.” To say that French culture was blighted by romanticism was to say that it had been feminized. Two years later, Lasserre, in Le Romantisme francais, included a chapter on “Le Sacerdoce de la femme,” which recommends Maurras’s “Le Romantisme feminin” as the best treatment of the subject. “Roman¬ticism,” Lasserre explained, “when one considers its impact on ideas, sentiments, manners, literature, or art, manifests everywhere the instincts and the travail of the self-indulgent woman.”
Eliot finished “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” shortly after he read L’Avenir de Vintelligence. Ricks, in T. S. Eliot and Prejudice, has a great deal of fun with the many critics, from John Crowe Ran¬som to Helen Gardner, who have simply assumed that the women in the lines “In the room the women come and go / Talking of Michelangelo” must be prating silliness. “The absurdity of dis¬cussing his giant art, in high-pitched feminine voices, drifting through a drawing room, adds merely extra irony to the underlying sense of the lines,” as Helen Gardner once put it. It’s true, as Ricks points out, that the poem says not a word about the intellec¬tual quality, or, for that matter, about the pitch, of the talking these women are engaged in. But it is a little hard, after reading what Eliot had been reading with admiration just before turning his attention to this poem, not to believe that Dame Helen spoke truer than she knew, and that the intention of the lines is to depict a condition of cultural debilitation, and precisely for the reason that the talkers are identified as women and not men. Historical scholarship must be good for something.
Eliot’s personal meeting with Maurras, in 1910 or 1911, was probably arranged by Jean Verdenal, who is reported to have had a literary and political interest in the Action Francaise. Reactionary politics were common among young male Parisians at the time, and Maurras had a gang of followers, who were known as les camelots du roi, “the hawkers of the king,” since they sold the movement’s newspaper, L’Action frangaise, on the sidewalks. They also engaged in harassment of the movement’s enemies—which is to say, liberals and Jews, whom they chased through the streets and sometimes beat. In April 1911, for example, during Eliot’s stay, the Comedie Franyaise put on a play, called Aprils mot, by Henri Bernstein. Bernstein, who was Jewish, was an established playwright who had, in his youth, deserted briefly during his military service, an episode apparently largely forgotten by 1911. But on opening night, the camelots plastered the theater with stickers denouncing “Le juif Deserteur”; they drowned out every performance with catcalls and disturbances. After two weeks, and a discreet official request, the play was with¬drawn. The incident attracted considerable attention, and Maurras, to accompany the protests, published daily attacks on Jews on the front page of L’Action frangaise.
In March, the paper had published an article by Lasserre (who had become its literary critic in 1908) on “La Philosophie de Bergson.’’ The article identified Bergson with romanticism, condemned his philosophy for its emphasis on individuality, sensation, and the irrational, and attacked him for being a Jew. (Maurras would later protest Bergson’s election to the Academie Frangaise because Bergson was Jewish; he protested on the same grounds after hearing that Albert Einstein might come to the College de France after fleeing Germany in 1933.) Whether Eliot read Lasserre’s essay is not known; but T. E. Hulme read it—he had already taken an interest in Maurras and the politics of the Action Frangaise—and it marked the beginning of a complete transformation in his theory of art.
Hulme was killed in the war, in 1917, and his writings have come down to us in the form of a collection called Speculations, edited in 1924 by Herbert Read, at the time Eliot’s assistant at the Criterion. For years critics tried to treat the pieces in Speculations as though they were somehow intellectually consistent, until Michael Leven- son pointed out, in A Genealogy of Modernism (1984), that about half the pieces—those written before 1912-—are Bergsonian and the other half—those written after 1912—are anti-Bergsonian. Hulme completely changed his mind in 1912, going from a late-romantic subjectivism largely derived from Bergson to a profoundly antihu¬manist objectivism largely derived from the German aesthetician Wilhelm Worringer. Lasserre’s article, Levenson suggests, was probably the reason. So that by the time Eliot met him, Pound, influenced partly by this turn of Hulme’s and partly by the self- promotional success of the Italian futurists, had dropped imagism for a “harder” aesthetic theory, something he called (in collaboration with Wyndham Lewis) “vorticism.” Pound had become suspicious of the emotionalism and subjectivism implicit in the sort of impressionistic free verse he had once encouraged; when Eliot showed up at his door, his views were in the process of a severe hardening.

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