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Autobiographical Elements in T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land

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This presentations attempts to explore the autobiographical elements in 'The Waste Land' - the poem by T.S. Eliot - the high priest of the theory of depersonalization.

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Autobiographical Elements in T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land

  1. 1. Autobiographical Elements in ‘The Waste Land’ T.S. Eliot 26 September 1888 – 4 January 1965
  2. 2. Sources: • Bloom, Harold. The Story Behind the Story. Bloom’s Guides T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land. 2007. Bloom’s Literary Criticism. New York • Eliot, T.S. Tradition and Individual Talent. The Egoist. 1919. • Elisa, Dreamwidth.Literary Heritage: T.S. Eliot (September 26, 1888 – January 4, 1965). My reviews and Ramblings. LGBT reviews and ramblings since 2006. Web. 28 Oct. 2014. <http://reviews-and-ramblings.dreamwidth.org/3418380.html> • Laity, Cassandra, Nancy K. Gish. Gender, Desire, and Sexuality in T. S. Eliot .Cambridge University Press; 1ST edition. 2004 • Miller Jr, James E. T.S. Eliot's Personal Waste Land: Exorcism of the Demons (1977). Pennsylvania State University Press. • Nobelprize.org. Nobelprize.org. Nobel Media AB 2014. Web. 28 Oct 2014. http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/laureates/1948/press.html • Parkar, Rikard A. T.S. Eliot and Jean Verdenal. Exploring The Waste Land. Originally published: January 1999. Last updated: Sunday, September 29, 2002. Accessed on 28 Oct. 2014. http://world.std.com/~raparker/exploring/thewasteland/exjean.html • Wikipedia contributors. "T. S. Eliot." Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 23 Oct. 2014. Web. 28 Oct. 2014. • Woods, Gregory. An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Culture. Ed. Claude J. Summers. New England Publishing Associates: 2002 > www.glbtq.com/literature/eliot_ts.html <
  3. 3. T.S. Eliot’s poetic creed: High priest of Depersonalization • Isn’t it ridiculous to say that T.S. Eliot, who is high priest of depersonalization and who quite overtly declared that poet adopts the process of depersonalization, which is “a continual surrender of himself as he is at the moment to something which is more valuable. . . The progress of an artist is a continual self-sacrifice, a continual extinction of personality.”, is very much present in the poem • (Tradition and Individual Talent)
  4. 4. T.S. Eliot’s poetic creed: High priest of Depersonalization • The poet has, not a "personality" to express, but a particular medium, which is only a medium and not a personality, in which impressions and experiences combine in peculiar and unexpected ways. Impressions and experiences which are important for the man may take no place in the poetry, and those which become important in the poetry may play quite a negligible part in the man, the personality.” • (Tradition and Individual Talent)
  5. 5. Finding Eliot in ‘The Waste Land’ • Thus, it is not easy to find an autobiographical elements in the works of poets like T.S. Eliot. • Let us make an attempt to explore his life and the poem with reference to the articles, books mentioned in the slide ‘Sources’.
  6. 6. Some facts about Eliot’s life • Eliot was born into the Eliot family, a Boston Brahmin family with roots in England and New England. T.S. Eliot's grandfather William Greenleaf Eliot had moved to St. Louis, Missouri in order to establish a Unitarian Church there. His father Henry Ware Eliot (1843–1919) was a successful businessman. Eliot grew up in two contrasting geographies and cultures. • The neighborhood in St. Louis in which the Eliots lived was in decline, but because of their ties to the city, they did not move to the suburbs as others of their class did. Thus Eliot was familiar with the rundown streets of the city and the well to-do drawing rooms of his parents’ social circle. • Similarly, although he was raised Unitarian, his nurse, Annie Dunne, an Irish Catholic, sometimes took him to Mass. These conflicting influences are apparent in Eliot’s poetry, especially in The Waste Land, where high and low dialects, popular and classical culture, and upper and lower class characters are juxtaposed. • (Wikipedia)
  7. 7. Some facts about Eliot’s life • Among his teachers were the philosopher George Santayana and Irving Babbitt, an influential literary scholar and culture critic whose conservative moral thought generated a movement called the New Humanism. • With Santayana he studied allegory and read Dante in Italian; Babbit introduced him to Eastern religion, Sanskrit, and French literary criticism. • Both teachers influenced Eliot’s own austere political and moral conservatism. • (Wikipedia)
  8. 8. Some facts about Eliot’s life • In 1909, in the Harvard library, Eliot came across Arthur Symons’ book, The Symbolist Movement in Literature. • At Harvard, too, Eliot met the English philosopher and mathematician, Bertrand Russell. • In 1910, Eliot joined the staff of the literary magazine, The Harvard Advocate. • Within the circle of its contributors, he broadened his knowledge of contemporary poets and poetry, including the poetry of Ezra Pound, who would shape The Waste Land.
  9. 9. Some facts about Eliot’s life • He also attended the lectures of the philosopher Henri Bergson at the College de France. • In 1915, Eliot married Vivienne Haigh-Wood. It was a disastrous marriage that began badly. • Soon, however, frustrated by a lack of affection from her husband, Vivienne allowed herself to begin a relationship with Russell, of which Eliot was jealous but also tolerant.
  10. 10. Some facts about Eliot’s life • Several factors are responsible for Eliot's infatuation with literature during his childhood. • First, Eliot had to overcome physical limitations as a child. Struggling from a congenital double inguinal hernia, Eliot could not participate in many physical activities and thus was prevented from interacting socially with his peers. • As Eliot was often isolated, his love of literature developed. Once he learned to read, the young boy immediately became obsessed with books.
  11. 11. Some facts about Eliot’s life • Secondly, Eliot also credited his hometown with fuelling his literary vision: – "It is self-evident that St. Louis affected me more deeply than any other environment has ever done. I feel that there is something in having passed one's childhood beside the big river, which is incommunicable to those people who have not. I consider myself fortunate to have been born here, rather than in Boston, or New York, or London.“ • Thus, from the onset, literature was an essential part of Eliot's childhood and both his disability and location influenced him.
  12. 12. Letters reveal the person • In a private paper written in his sixties, Eliot confessed: "I came to persuade myself that I was in love with Vivienne simply because I wanted to burn my boats and commit myself to staying in England. And she persuaded herself (also under the influence of [Ezra] Pound) that she would save the poet by keeping him in England. To her, the marriage brought no happiness. To me, it brought the state of mind out of which came The Waste Land. (Eliot, T. S. The Letters of T. S. Eliot, Volume 1, 1898–1922, p. xvii) • Virginia Woolf once said: "He was one of those poets who live by scratching, and his wife was his itch."
  13. 13. The Lost Manuscript of ‘The Waste Land’ • John Gordan, the curator of the library’s Berg Collection, out of respect for Eliot, who was still alive, did not make the acquisition or the existence of the manuscript public until Eliot died in 1965. Then Gordan sent a microfilm of the manuscript to Valerie Fletcher Eliot, Eliot’s widow and his secretary, and she put together an edition of the original drafts. It was published as The Waste Land: Facsimile and Manuscripts of the Original Drafts in 1971. • Bloom, Harold. The Story Behind the Story. Bloom’s Guides T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land. 2007. Bloom’s Literary Criticism. New York
  14. 14. The Lost Manuscript • Just as the complete manuscript drafts of The Waste Land made clearer the meaning and the method of the poem, so, too, have the biographical details of Eliot’s married and emotional life in the late teens and early 1920s helped to clarify certain aspects of the poem. (Bloom)
  15. 15. A trivial tease or a serious comment? • Even though Eliot was known to have said that the poem represented his own grumblings rather than a serious social critique, his primary aesthetic principle of literature, that the poet should remove himself from his work, made his observation seem like a tease rather than a serious comment. (Bloom)
  16. 16. Biographical Criticism • Biographical scholarship emerging at the end of the twentieth century, however, has focused on the unhappiness of his first marriage, particularly on his own sexual impotence and his wife’s nervous agitation and sexual promiscuity. • Bloom, Harold. The Story Behind the Story. Bloom’s Guides T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land. 2007. Bloom’s Literary Criticism. New York
  17. 17. Is the woman, Vivienne Haigh-Wood, his wife? • These factors illuminate, even while not entirely accounting for, the personalities of the narrator and of the woman in the first part of “A Game of Chess”—his diffidence and her high-strung sensuality. (Bloom, Harold. The Story Behind the Story. Bloom’s Guides T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land. 2007. Bloom’s Literary Criticism. New York)
  18. 18. Is the Phlebas, Jean Verdenal, his friend? • Similarly, the intensity of Eliot’s friendship with Jean Verdenal, who was killed in 1915 in the war, in Paris in 1911 may have affected the composition of “Death by Water” and the elegiac (mournful) tone of the poem as a whole. • Bloom, Harold. The Story Behind the Story. Bloom’s Guides T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land. 2007. Bloom’s Literary Criticism. New York
  19. 19. • In January 1972, as part of a series of letters to the London Times Literary Supplement about Eliot's drafts, G. Wilson Knight made the observation that the so- called "hyacinth girl" was male. • Knight expanded upon his observation in an essay "Thoughts on The Waste Land" (The Denver Quarterly 7 (2): 1–13)later that year.
  20. 20. Attempts to depersonalize his personal emotions and feelings • Eliot used the circumstances and the emotions of his own life to invent and give vitality to images which were partially drawn from his own experiences and yet reflected a world broader than his own private one. (Bloom) • But the facts are unearthed by Biographical critics like – Laity, Cassandra, Nancy K. Gish. Gender, Desire, and Sexuality in T. S. Eliot – Miller Jr, James E. T.S. Eliot's Personal Waste Land: Exorcism of the Demons – Parkar, Rikard A. T.S. Eliot and Jean Verdenal. Exploring The Waste Land. – Woods, Gregory. An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer Culture
  21. 21. Noble Prize: Reinventing the True Identity of T.S. Eliot as a Poet • The autobiographical study of Eliot’s The Waste Land not only deconstructs his theory of depersonalization but also reveals his true self. It unmasks the man behind. • But the discussion would be incomplete if we do not consider the remarks made during the Noble Prize award ceremony in 1948. • (note: the following speech refers to Eliot’s lifetime contribution to literature and is not solely based on ‘The Waste Land’)
  22. 22. Prior to the speech, Gustaf Hellström of the Swedish Academy made these remarks: • “Humility is also the characteristic which you, Mr. Eliot, have come to regard as man's virtue. ‹The only wisdom we can hope to acquire is the wisdom of humility.› At first it did not appear that this would be the final result of your visions and your acuity of thought. • (Nobelprize.org)
  23. 23. Prior to the speech, Gustaf Hellström of the Swedish Academy made these remarks: • (The) contact was a shock to you, the expression of which you brought to perfection in The Waste Land, in which the confusion and vulgarity of the civilization became the object of your scathing criticism.
  24. 24. Prior to the speech, Gustaf Hellström of the Swedish Academy made these remarks: • But beneath that criticism there lay profound and painful disillusionment, and out of this disillusionment there grew forth a feeling of sympathy, and out of that sympathy was born a growing urge to rescue from the ruins of the confusion the fragments from which order and stability might be restored. • (Nobelprize.org)
  25. 25. T.S. Eliot vs Sigmund Freud • For Freud the most profound cause of the confusion lay in the Unbehagen(discomfort,uneasiness) in der Kultur of modern man. In his opinion there must be sought a collective and individual balance, which should constantly take into account man's primitive instincts. You, Mr. Eliot, are of the opposite opinion. For you the salvation of man lies in the preservation of the cultural tradition, which, in our more mature years, lives with greater vigour within us than does primitiveness, and which we must preserve if chaos is to be avoided. • (Nobelprize.org)
  26. 26. Tradition and T.S. Eliot (the Individual) • Tradition is not a dead load which we drag along with us, and which in our youthful desire for freedom we seek to throw off. It is the soil in which the seeds of coming harvests are to be sown, and from which future harvests will be garnered. • (Nobelprize.org)
  27. 27. Conclusion • It is well said that “Honest criticism and sensitive appreciation is directed not upon the poet but upon the poetry” . . . and . . . “Poetry is not a turning loose of emotion, but an escape from emotion; it is not the expression of personality, but an escape from personality”. • Consciously, the poet should make such attempts . . . But the Un/Subconscious is not under the control and commands of Conscious Mind. • It finds it outlet in the expression. At the very moment when, quite consciously, the poet has surrendered itself to the process of creation, it leaks out – it finds its moment of expression. • T.S. Eliot, the high priest of the school of depersonalization is also not free from the ‘Un/Subconscious overflow of powerful self . . . Which can only be recollected in tranquility by the biographical critics’.
  28. 28. Acknowledgement for Photographs /Images • http://lilolia.files.wordpress.com/2010/01/nobel-prize.jpg • http://standpointmag.co.uk/files/u28/Eliot-and-wife.jpg • http://standpointmag.co.uk/node/2522/full • http://cdn.counter-currents.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/ts- eliot.jpg • http://www.bookforum.com/uploads/upload.000/id08596/article00.jpg • http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/literature/medal.html
  29. 29. Thank you! Dilip Barad Dept. of English, M.K. Bhavnagar University Bhavnagar (Gujarat – India) www.dilipbarad.com www.dilipbarad.blogspot.in dilipbarad@gmail.com

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