Advertisement

Not Waving but Drowning: The Waste Land to Eliot’s Drama

  • Tony Pinkney
Part of the Macmillan Studies in Twentieth-Century Literature book series

Abstract

As everyone now knows, The Waste Land was drafted in 1921 during Eliot’s convalescence from some kind of nervous breakdown due to overwork, financial worries, tension with his family back in America, and the prolonged strains of his disastrous marriage. This list could probably be extended, but will not in itself explain why the crisis should have occurred precisely when it did. Casting around for precipitating causes, one comes upon the inescapable fact that Eliot’s collapse immediately followed his mother’s first and long-awaited visit to England. How deeply that visit was necessary to him is suggested by a letter to his brother in 1920 (WLF, p. xviii) where Eliot’s heavy, repeated stress on seeing the mother has the resonant quality of Hegelian recognition rather than denoting mere visual proximity. That aspiration, I shall argue below, will be denied in The Waste Land itself by the sea-change that turns Phlebas’s eyes to pearl. Details of Mrs Eliot’s visit in 1921 are not available, yet it is nevertheless clear that Eliot had radically underestimated his mother’s strength and vitality. Since she was seventy-seven years old, he anticipated that physical frailty would render her visit more an anxiety than a joy to him.

Keywords

Family Reunion Physical Frailty Violent Death Cocktail Party Dirty Hand 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.

Preview

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Notes

  1. 1.
    Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1973) p. 107.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    See Adorno’s The Philosophy of Modern Music (New York: Seabury Press, 1973).Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Jackson, Fantasy, p. 15. See also F. N. Lees, ‘Mr Eliot’s Sunday Morning Satura: Petronius and The Waste Land’, in T. S. Eliot: The Man and his Work, ed. Allen Tate (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1971) pp. 343–52.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    John Peter, ‘A New Interpretation of The Waste Land (1952)’, Essays in Criticism, no. 19 (1969) p. 143.Google Scholar
  5. James Miller, T. S. Eliot’s Personal Waste Land: Exorcism of the Demons (London: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1977) is a book-length version of the same argument.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    Bernard Bergonzi, T. S. Eliot, 2nd edn (London: Macmillan, 1978) p. 95.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. 7.
    August Strindberg, The Father, Miss Julie and The Ghost Sonata, trs. Michael Meyer (London: Eyre Methuen, 1976) p. 170. Subsequent references are included in the text.Google Scholar
  8. 9.
    Cited in George Steiner, After Babel: Aspects of Language and Translation (Oxford University Press, 1975) p. 35.Google Scholar
  9. 10.
    Jacques Lacan, The Language of the Self The Function of Language in Psychoanalysis, trs. Anthony Wilden (New York: Dell, 1968) p. 31.Google Scholar
  10. 11.
    D. W. Harding, ‘What the Thunder Said’, in The Waste Land in Different Voices, ed. A. D. Moody (London: Edward Arnold, 1974) p. 25.Google Scholar
  11. 13.
    Graham Martin, ‘Language and Belief in T. S. Eliot’s Poetry’, in Eliot in Perspective, ed. Graham Martin (London: Macmillan, 1970) p. 117.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. 15.
    D. W. Harding, Experience into Words (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1974) p. 121.Google Scholar
  13. 17.
    Aeschylus, Oresteia, trs. Robert Fagles (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1977) p. 264.Google Scholar
  14. 18.
    André Green, The Tragic Effect: The Oedipus Complex in Tragedy, trs. Alan Sheridan (Cambridge University Press, 1979) pp. 55–6.Google Scholar
  15. 22.
    Sigmund Freud, Beyond the Pleasure Principle, trs. James Strachey (London: Hogarth, 1974) p. 12.Google Scholar
  16. 25.
    T. S. Eliot, The Confidential Clerk: A Play (London: Faber, 1967) p. 118.Google Scholar
  17. 26.
    T. S. Eliot, The Elder Statesman (London: Faber, 1969) p. 32. Subsequent references are included in the text.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Tony Pinkney 1984

Authors and Affiliations

  • Tony Pinkney

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations