T.S. Eliot among the Metaphysicals
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Eliot’s admiration for the poetry of the seventeenth century is well known. However, the several documents that explore the subject (thinly scattered across decades) fail to constitute a full account. Drawing on manuscript and print sources, and tracing particularly Eliot’s prose poetics, this thesis redresses the scholarly need for a nuanced account of Eliot’s role among the Metaphysical poets. The relationship ran in both directions, most famously in Eliot’s championing of the poets and his urging that they find a new readership. His part in the revival of Metaphysical poetry, though, has been greatly exaggerated and the record is here faithfully adjusted. He was not in any way responsible for that revival, though he is its most important product, as is shown by a careful reconstruction of turn-of-the-century transcontinental publishing and reception. Eliot’s criticism tells its own, largely unexplored story about the Metaphysicals and their influence on his critical and poetic sensibility. Most scholars, for instance, know that Eliot loved Donne, but few know the origin of that interest, let alone its brief nature or the personal reasons that drove him to appreciate the poet’s audacity. Most also know the Modernist dicta of Tradition, objective correlative and the dissociation of sensibility, but not the fact that each owes something to Eliot’s thinking about Donne. Engaging with Harvard class notes, under-consulted textbooks and a close study of Eliot’s articles from the 1910s, two separate chapters investigate his education and early prose, along with their delicate dance between impersonality and confessional criticism. 1921-1926 marks a crucial stage in Eliot’s writing, both for his poetry and his criticism. The Metaphysicals provide the clearest barometer of that change as well as the space where he approached conversion. This thesis is the first to trace the poets throughout Eliot’s criticism, one of the first to engage with his Metaphysical-themed Clark Lectures, and the first to move far past Eliot’s conversion, interpreting George Herbert as typical of his late mindset. In 1961 Eliot claimed no one had been as influenced by the Metaphysical poets as he had been. What this thesis offers is not only a more nuanced portrait of that influence but also a glimpse into the educational, critical and reading cultures of the early 1900s.
Thesis, PhD Doctor of Philosophy
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Embargo Reason: Thesis restricted in accordance with University regulations
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