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Sherman, M.H. (1997). T. S. Eliot: His Religion, his Poetry, his Roles. Psychoanal. Rev., 84(1):73-107.

(1997). Psychoanalytic Review, 84(1):73-107

T. S. Eliot: His Religion, his Poetry, his Roles

Murray H. Sherman, Ph.D.


In 1925, I. A. Richards, in his criticism of T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land, alluded to his “persistent concern with sex,” which he characterized as a problem comparable to the problem of religion of the prior generation (p. 292). Eliot (1933) responded, “One might think that sex and religion were ‘problems’ like Free Trade and Imperial Preference” (p. 119). A shrewd but evasive riposte.

Richards' remark had truly been on target, for religion and sex had long been sources of conflict for Eliot. In a letter from London at the age of 26, Eliot (1914c) wrote to Conrad Aiken: “I have been going through one of those nervous sexual attacks which I suffer when alone in a city. … I should be better off … if I had disposed of my virginity and shyness several years ago” (p. 75). This degree of sexual inhibition and conflict may not have been unusual in Eliot's social milieu, but Eliot's anxiety symptom foreshadowed the marital distress that eventually led him to leave the Unitarianism of his family and seek relief in Anglo-Catholicism.1

Thomas Stearns Eliot (1888-1965) was brought up in a family that was ardently Unitarian in its beliefs and observances. His grandfather, William Greenleaf Eliot, graduated from the Harvard Divinity School in 1834 and immediately took a position as Unitarian preacher in St. Louis, establishing a western outpost of that religion.

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