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A collection of fourteen essays by leading scholars examining the poetry, plays, criticism, and life of the Nobel laureate T. S. Eliot. Representing the best of a broad range of critical perspectives from the psychoanalytic to the poststructural, the volume serves as an excellent introduction to Eliot's works and the critical conversation surrounding them. Each piece is introduced by John Paul Riquelme, Professor of English at Boston University and author of Harmony of Dissonances: T. S. Eliot, Romanticism, and Imagination (1991). In his introductions, Riquelme distills each author's key insights and relates them to the wider conversation of Eliot's work.
Original essays illuminate the influences that shaped Eliot, contextualize his work, and assess his enduring impact on American and British poetry, drama, and literary theory. A biography of Eliot's early life sketches the familial, intellectual, social and cultural forces that formed his aesthetic and character; a reception history engages Eliot's initial success with The Waste Land in light of the critical controversies that followed in his later years and after his death; a comparison of Eliot's and Robert Browning's works finds that Eliot may have been more strongly influenced by the Victorian poet than he ever publicly acknowledged; and a reading of The Waste Landdraws out how the poem's use of juxtaposition, polyphony, and allusion prefigures Eliot's later work in Four Quartets.
Further, a selection of the most outstanding contemporary Eliot criticism offers detailed analyses of Eliot's most important works like "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," The Waste Land, Ash Wednesday, Four Quartets, "Tradition and the Individual Talent," Murder in the Cathedral, and The Cocktail Party. These essays examine Eliot's poetry and critical writings through the lens of his relations to romanticism and modernism; analyze the psychic dramas contained in his early and unpublished poems; investigate the biographical details informing Eliot's work; assess the Eliot cannon and his contributions to poststructuralism; elucidate the spiritual vision of the later poems; and explore the gothic elements pervading the writer's plays.
Uniquely, the collection also contains an original essay by Paris Review contributor Gemma Sieff. Celebrating the beauty and endless complexity of Eliot's poetry while pondering his enigmatic character, Sieff offers a writer's perspective on one of the most influential poets of the twentieth century.
Finally, a wealth of reference material, including a complete list of Eliot's publications and a full bibliography, rounds out the volume by giving readers ample sources for continuing their studies.
In addition to John Paul Riquelme, contributors include prominent critics such as Louis Menand, a Professor of English at Harvard and staff writer for The New Yorker; Ronald Bush, Drue Heinz Professor of American Literature at Oxford University; and Michael Goldman, Emeritus Professor at Princeton University and an award winning drama critic.
Edited and with an introduction by John Paul Riquelme, the collection is a gateway to the best of Eliot and his critics.
Each essay is 5,000 words in length, and all essays conclude with a list of "Works Cited," along with endnotes. Finally, the volume's appendixes offer a section of useful reference resources:
|A chronology of the author's life
|A complete list of the author's works and their original dates of publication
|A general bibliography
|A detailed paragraph on the volume's editor
|Notes on the individual chapter authors
|A subject index
From "About This Volume"
This collection of essays on the work of T. S. Eliot contains a variety of materials for approaching the writings of one of the twentieth century’s most influential writers: overviews of his career and his importance in the opening section; followed by a group of original essays focusing on relevant contexts and critical reception and illustrating interpretive choices; and the longest section, devoted to previously published essays by established scholars on Eliot’s critical writing, his drama, and the whole range of his poetry from early to late in his career. A section of “Resources” rounds out the collection, including a chronology of Eliot’s life, a list of his works, and a bibliography.
I have written an introductory note for each of the essays in the two main sections, sketching the direction of the argument, some of its salient moments, and tits relevance for understanding the importance and the implications of Eliot’s writings. As a way of providing a different kind of navigational aid for readers, I want to take the opportunity here to explain briefly the organization of the Critical Readings section and to comment on some connections and contrasts among the collection’s essays. As I explain in more detail below, the seven essays are arranged by the genre that they address and chronologically with regard to the period of Eliot’s career that they investigate.
In the first essay of Critical Readings, Louis Menand discusses key concepts from Eliot’s criticism, mostly formulated in Eliot’s early essays, that come up regularly in critical writings about Eliot’s poetry and drama, including several that appear in this collection. His concern to interpret Eliot’s relation to nineteenth-century precursors is one that Matthew Bolton shares in his essay comparing Eliot and Robert Browning, and also one that I share in my contribution on Eliot’s poetry through The Waste Land,which deals in part withWilliamWordsworth and with Eliot’s transformation of the dramatic monologue. In the closing essay, Michael Goldman focuses on a different stage of Eliot’s career and on quite a different genre, verse drama, which Eliot wrote in the middle of his career and later. Goldman’s concern with a recurring gothic element, the ghost, is related to Ronald Bush’s commentary on the nightmare situation in The Waste Land.
Between these opening and closing pieces, the five middle essays of Critical Readings span the chronological range of Eliot’s poetic career, starting with John T. Mayer’s consideration of early unpublished and published poems and ending with Lee Oser’s commentary on Four Quartets, Eliot’s last and most ambitious poem, written mostly during World War II. The intervening essays work between those poles. Mine deals with early poetry and briefly with The Waste Land, while Ronald Bush concentrates on that poem (as does Allan Johnson in his lens commentary in the preceding section). Nancy Gish’s essay deals with poems written between The Waste Land andFour Quartets. You will find commonalities and divergences among these essays. Mayer and Bush both argue for interpretations that emphasize character and psychology, while my poststructural reading finds Eliot thoroughly challenging the notions of self and person. Oser and Gish are both concerned with Eliot’s spirituality, but Oser argues for Eliot’s American cultural roots, while Gish compares Eliot’s writing to religious and mystical sources that are British and European.
Whatever period or genre of Eliot’s career interests the reader is covered by one or more of our essays. I join with my colleagues whose essays on Eliot are published here in expressing the hope that our essays send you back to Eliot’s writings with new perspectives.