Did T.S. Eliot's "The Wasteland" influence Middlesex?
Dear Jeffrey Eugenides,

As I'm sure you're well-aware, T.S. Eliot's "The Wasteland" has a character named Mr. Eugenides from Smyrna. Did this reference inspire you to set the beginning of Cal's family history in that region?

— Kelly W.

Dear Kelly,

Upon seeing my name on his class list, my ninth-grade Latin teacher looked at me and began to quote from "The Wasteland": "Mr. Eugenides, the Smyrna merchant, bearded, with a pocketful of currants..." That was the first I'd heard of it. Since then, I've tried without success to find out who this Mr. Eugenides was. An appeal to the T.S. Eliot archives brought nothing. My relatives did come from the region and, who knows, maybe Eliot's "Mr. Eugenides" was real and, furthermore, a distant relative of mine. I don't know. I didn't consciously set the early chapters of the novel in Asia Minor because of the Eliot quotation, but it may have played an unconscious role in turning my gaze eastward. By the way, the annotated edition of "The Wasteland" suggests that this Mr. Eugenides is an unseemly character. But I was happy to find him there, at 15, in one of the last century's greatest poems.

— Jeffrey Eugenides


Next Story