A reading of a short Eliot poem by Dr Oliver Tearle
‘Cousin Nancy’ appeared in T. S. Eliot’s first volume of poems, Prufrock and Other Observations, in 1917. It is one of a series of poems included in the volume which satirise and analyse the stuffiness of New England society – in this case, by contrasting the thoroughly ‘modern’ Cousin Nancy with the more traditional attitudes of those around her. You can read ‘Cousin Nancy’ here.
‘Cousin Nancy’ describes the young woman of the title. There we come to our first problem. What evidence is there that she is young? Well, she is ‘Miss Nancy Ellicott’, but middle-aged and elderly women can be unmarried, too. Or is it the fact that her aunts are mentioned, thus making her seem younger? Or the fact that she is described doing very active things – striding across the New England hills, riding a horse across the hills, dancing the ‘modern dances’? A combination of these things, it would seem.