I choose the word narrative deliberately. I don’t wish to be too fanciful, but might we not see the work as amounting, almost, to one great discursive novel; alive in the particular and chary of abstraction, funny when it needed to be, vivid in its delineation of heroes and villains, abstemious by temperament but surprisingly promiscuous in practice, so deeply collaborative that there are times when we feel he is writing the novels of Lawrence and the poems of TS Eliot along with them. A novel whose subject is “creative renewal” – his phrase – practising what it preaches.
In order to do as Eliot urges her readers – to feel with you, and care for you – I must take you seriously. And to do that, it follows that I must first take myself seriously. Eliot took herself very seriously, and in the backlash that followed her death that seriousness was sometimes taken to be sanctimony. It may be tempting to laugh at her remembered pronouncements, as even so sympathetic a reader as Virginia Woolf did. To Woolf’s generation, Eliot’s earnestness was an embarrassment. A hundred years later, though, Eliot’s melancholy seriousness resonates. It suggests that we, her readers, should take ourselves as seriously as she took us.