T. S. Eliot Attends the Sorbonne

In May 1910 a suspected case of scarlet fever almost prevented Eliot's graduation.

By fall, though, he was well enough to undertake a postgraduate year in Paris. He lived at 151 bis rue St. Jacques, close to the Sorbonne, and struck up a warm friendship with a fellow lodger, Jean Verdenal, a medical student who later died in the battle of the Dardenelles and to whom Eliot dedicated "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock." With Verdenal, he entered the intellectual life of France then swirling, Eliot later recalled, around the figures of Émile Durkheim, Paul Janet, Rémy de Gourmont, Pablo Picasso, and Henri Bergson. Eliot attended Bergson's lectures at the College de France and was temporarily converted to Bergson's philosophical interest in the progressive evolution of consciousness. In a manner characteristic of a lifetime of conflicting attitudes, though, Eliot also gravitated toward the politically conservative (indeed monarchistic), neoclassical, and Catholic writing of Charles Maurras. Warring opposites, these enthusiasms worked together to foster a professional interest in philosophy and propelled Eliot back to a doctoral program at Harvard the next year.

He [Eliot] went as well to attend classes at the Sorbonne, and particularly to hear the lectures of Henri Bergson at the College de France. Eliot's tutor in French was the novelist Alain-Fournier (1886-1914, killed in the war) who introduced Eliot to his brother-in-law, Jacques Riviere. The latter was secretary of La Nouvelle Review Francaise, founded in 1909 by (among others) Andre Gide, with the purpose of publishing the important new post-Symbolist writers. Thus Eliot was thrust immediately into the avant-garde of French literature, and by reading La Nouvelle Review Francaise was able to keep up with the latest in French poetry and prose. In addition to Gide himself, Eliot could find in the Revue's pages such contemporary writers as Paul Claudel, Jean Giraudoux, Charles Peguy, and Paul Valery.