Cover image for The gatekeeper : a memoir
The gatekeeper : a memoir
Eagleton, Terry, 1943-
Personal Author:
First U.S. edition.
Publication Information:
New York : St. Martin's Press, 2002.

Physical Description:
vii, 177 pages ; 22 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PR6055.A44 Z466 2001 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Oxford professor, best-selling author, preeminent literary critic, playwright, screenwriter, and novelist, Terry Eagleton knows all about the claims of competing worlds. One of his earliest roles growing up Catholic in Protestant England was as "the gatekeeper"-the altar boy who at reverend mother's nod literally closed the door on young women taking the veil, separating the sanctity of the convent from earthly temptations and family obligations.

Often scathingly funny, frequently tender, and always completely engaging, The Gatekeeper is Eagleton's memoirs, his deep-etched portraits of those who influenced him, either by example or by contrast: his father, headmasters, priests, and Cambridge dons. He was a shy, bookish, asthmatic boy keenly aware of social inferiority yet determined to make his intellectual way. "Our aim in life," he writes of his working-class, Irish-immigrant-descended family, "was to have the words 'We Were No Trouble' inscribed on our tombstones." But Eagleton knew trouble was the point of it all. Opening doors sometimes meant rattling the knobs. At both Cambridge and Oxford, he gravitated toward dialectics and mavericks, countering braying effeteness with withering if dogmatic dissections of the class system.

The Gatekeeper mixes the soberly serious with the downright hilarious, skewer-sharp satire with unashamed fondness, the personal with the political. Most of it all it reveals a young man learning to reconcile differences and oppositions: a double-edged portrait of the intellectual as a young man.

Author Notes

Terry Eagleton received a Ph.D from Cambridge University. He is a literary critic and a writer. He has written about 50 books including Shakespeare and Society, Criticism and Ideology, The Ideology of the Aesthetic, Literary Theory, The Illusions of Postmodernism, Why Marx Was Right, The Event of Literature, and Across the Pond: An Englishman's View of America. He wrote a novel entitled Saints and Scholars, several plays including Saint Oscar, and a memoir entitled The Gatekeeper. He is also the chair in English literature in Lancaster University's department of English and creative writing.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Ireland has always provided England with some of its greatest wits. Past ages have seen Jonathan Swift and Oscar Wilde illuminating English letters; for the last several decades, Oxford, at least, has had Terry Eagleton. The brilliant and controversial Marxist literary theorist was born to Irish immigrants near Manchester and reared Catholic in a tight-knit exile community that also produced actor Albert Finney and dramatist Shelagh Delaney. This memoir begins with Eagleton's boyhood service as gatekeeper to a conventful of cloistered Carmelites, a job that set the pattern of his life, for as a critic he has stood between the sacred literary text and the commercial world outside. But his deep roots in the working class keep elitism at bay, and his sharp pen punctures the pretense of such false gatekeepers as the fellow Oxford dons whose shortcomings he details. Although it is serious about culture, this is a very funny book, with wet-your-pants-laughing passages about, say, teaching «distinctly non-penguin» American nuns in the 1960s, and Eagleton's «doddering, quasi-fascistic» Cambridge teachers, one of whom «later killed himself out of sheer boredom.» The prolific Eagleton claims to need an Authors Anonymous group for his writing compulsion, but one trusts there is no such thing in Dublin, which is now his home. Patricia Monaghan.

Publisher's Weekly Review

Eagleton (The Truth About the Irish) has never been shy about expressing sharp, penetrating opinions. In this entertaining memoir of his childhood and intellectual development, Eagleton lives up to both sides of his reputation, coming off as both an astute social critic and a sharp-tongued cad. He expounds on his Cambridge adviser ("his role as a teacher was to relieve me of my ideas"), Mormons ("It was their lethal American blandness which proved hardest to take") and his Young Socialist cadre ("At one point in the group's career, venereal infections were circulating almost as rapidly as theories of neo-colonialism"). Clearly, Eagleton can be snide. But he can also be profound. He writes seriously and convincingly about Oscar Wilde, Wittgenstein, working-class intellectuals, Catholicism and liberal politics. Eagleton fiercely defends the radical left's ambitions and offers sharp critiques of globalization and the apparent triumph of capitalism. But he recognizes socialist failings his description of a typical leftist conference will elicit howls of laughter from those who have attended similar events. On his religious upbringing, Eagleton is even more damning. As an altar boy, he served as the "gatekeeper" in a convent whose nuns were never allowed to go outside or see a man. Later, he attended a seminary, which introduced him to the problems that have lately plagued the Church (how do you separate the boys from the men in a Catholic school? "[W]ith a crowbar," writes Eagleton). In little more than a hundred pages, Eagleton manages to be lewd, irritating, solemn and idealistic, all at the same time. (July) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

When celebrated literary critics reach retirement, they produce memoirs. These are often revelations about the academy's insides or classic coming-of-age tales about a poor lout's triumph over humble beginnings to reach the life of the mind. Eagleton's almost egregiously witty and amusing memoir is of the latter kind. His story chronicles the ascent of an Irish Catholic working-class boy to Oxbridge and international recognition as the author of classic studies such as Literary Theory and Aesthetic Ideology. The book differs from others in the genre, such as Sir Frank Kermode's Not Entitled and Marcel Reich-Ranicki's The Author of Himself in that Eagleton unflinchingly displays the sharp teeth with which he bit quite a few hands that fed him along the way. As a prominent Marxist critic, Eagleton has proved a matchless debunker of the shortcomings of trendy literary theory. As a memoirist, he is equally merciless about the admittedly ludicrous characters encountered in his life. But even in this personal recollection of petty power play in the church and the academy, the eloquent Marxist privileges analysis over genuine insight into himself or others. Missing from this book is Eagleton the human being, the man behind his clever words. Recommended for academic libraries and large public libraries. Ulrich Baer, NYU (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Table of Contents

1 Lifersp. 1
2 Catholicsp. 30
3 Thinkersp. 47
4 Politicosp. 76
5 Losersp. 103
6 Donsp. 124
7 Aristosp. 153