Dysfunctional Relationships in The Waste Land

Ackroyd’s Chapter 3 reveals a great deal about the impulsive and disordered union of T.S. Eliot and Vivien Haigh-Wood. Reading about their marriage, it is almost difficult not to make connections to The Waste Land. The passionless sexual encounter between the typist and the young man carbuncular seems inspired by Eliot’s and Vivien’s relationship: “Vivien wrote Bertrand Russell a despairing letter which sounded to him not far from suicide […] Russell does not dwell upon the nature of Vivien’s ‘despair’ but all the evidence suggests that it was of a sexual nature” (Ackroyd 66). Later, Vivien’s complex illness comes to affect her teeth and “on at least one occasion the dentist seemed to think that Eliot needed to be calmed down more than” Vivien did (Ackroyd 68). This hearkens back to the conversation overheard in the bar during ‘A Game of Chess’ and the emphasis placed on Lil’s losing her teeth and looking ancient.

Ackroyd also discusses the general malaise that defined the marriage of T.S. and Vivien. Ackroyd asserts that in their whirlwind haste to get married, “from the beginning, they quite misunderstood each other’s characters” (63). From Ackroyd’s description, it is easy to imagine that the dysfunctional and incomplete conversation between the soldier and his wife in Part II was not solely the product of Eliot’s imagination. The many dysfunctional relationships reflected in The Waste Land speak volumes about World War I and its aftermath, but they also speak volumes about Eliot and Vivien’s difficulties.

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