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Fringe Musical Takes On T.S. Eliot’s Sexuality

Photo caption:

Photo by William Roetzheim

A poster for the musical "T.S. Eliot"

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There's no doubt that Nobel Prize-winning poet T.S. Eliot, author of "The Waste Land," was dissatisfied — even tortured — about many things in life. But was one of them his sexuality?

A musical called "T.S. Eliot" is opening Friday as part of the San Diego International Fringe Festival. It takes as its central theme that Elliot was gay, and his closeted sexuality may have inspired his works.

Historians have debated the poet's sexuality for years, citing difficulties with his first wife that led to a vow of celibacy. But many argue that despite negative depictions of sex in Eliot's work, there isn't enough evidence to be sure of his sexuality.

"For Eliot bad sex was the symptom of a failure of civilization, and it is a fallacy to conclude that, because sex in his poems is disgusting, Eliot was disgusted by sex," Louis Menand wrote in The New Yorker in 2002. "Eliot was disgusted by modern life, period."

William Roetzheim, author of the Fringe Festival musical, said the play's theme of internal struggle stands no matter where historians land on Eliot's life.

"The message here is about when you’re faced with very tough choices and both are losing options," Roetzheim said. "That’s going to be a source of misery in your life. Whether or not he actually went through that, numerous others have gone through that."

Roetzheim joins KPBS Midday Edition Thursday with more on Eliot's work and a selection from the musical.


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