Arnold Bennett and T. S. Eliot: What Happened to Sweeney Agonistes?

  • Hans Hauge
Part of the Macmillan Literary Annuals book series (MLA)


On 20 September 1920 Virginia Woolf wrote in her diary: ‘He [Eliot] wants to write a verse play in which the 4 characters of Sweeny [sic] act the parts’.1 Four years later, on 9 September 1924, T. S. Eliot informed Arnold Bennett that he had given up verse and wanted to write ‘a drama of modern life (furnished flat sort of people) in a rhythmic prose “perhaps with certain things in it accentuated by drum-beats”’.2 According to Grover Smith, Eliot drafted a version of the play, sent it to Bennett who returned it, and ‘on October 23 Eliot wrote to him again saying that he was reconstructing it in accordance with Bennett’s suggestion’.3 Apparently Grover Smith has had access to a correspondence between Eliot and Bennett, but he gives no sources. As is well-known there are certain allusions in Sweeney Agonistes to Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. Hence the ‘Fragment of an Agon’ couldn’t have been ‘completed’ until near the end of 1925 when Eliot read the novel. This is more than a year after the conversation with Bennett. In 1926 ‘Fragment of a Prologue’ was published and the next year ‘Fragment of an Agon’. Carol Smith, like Grover Smith, thinks that the ‘sample fragments’ and ‘scenario’ ‘were probably completed two years earlier, for in October Eliot sent them both to Arnold Bennett with a request for criticism’.4


Short Story Family Reunion Moral Imagination Russian Literature Cocktail Party 
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  1. 1.
    Anne Olivier Bell and Andrew McNeillie (eds), The Diary of Virginia Woolf: Vol. II, 1920–24 (London: The Hogarth Press, 1978) p. 68.Google Scholar
  2. 2.
    Arnold Bennett, The Journals, selected and edited by Frank Swinnerton (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1971) p. 483.Google Scholar
  3. 3.
    Grover Smith, T. S. Eliot’s Poetry and Plays: A Study in Sources and Meaning (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1967) pp. 113–14.Google Scholar
  4. 4.
    Carol H. Smith, T. S. Eliot’s Dramatic Theory and Practice. (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1967) p. 51 (italics added).Google Scholar
  5. 5.
    Bernard Bergonzi, T. S. Eliot (London: Methuen, 1972) p. 106.Google Scholar
  6. 6.
    James Hepburn (ed.), Letters of Arnold Bennett, III, 1916–1931 (London: Oxford University Press, 1970) p. 286.Google Scholar
  7. 12.
    Russell Kirk, Eliot and His Age: T. S. Eliot’s Moral Imagination in the Twentieth Century (New York: Random House, 1971) pp. 118–19.Google Scholar
  8. 13.
    Herbert Howarth, Notes on Some Figures Behind T. S. Eliot (London: Chatto & Windus, 1965) p. 290.Google Scholar
  9. 14.
    Donald Gallup, T. S. Eliot: A Bibliography (London: Faber, 1969) p. 211. Vivien Eliot made one more contribution to The Criterion which Donald Gallup has not mentioned. In no. 11 (April 1925), she reviewed Myrtle by Stephen Hudson (p. 475). Herbert Howarth was not aware of the ‘figure behind’ Feiron Morris and Fanny Marlow.Google Scholar
  10. 15.
    Arnold Bennett always praised Turgenev’s On the Eve. See Samuel Hynes (ed.), The Author’s Craft and Other Critical Writings of Arnold Bennett (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1968) p. 115 and passim.Google Scholar
  11. 16.
    Maurice Baring, Landmarks in Russian Literature (London: Methuen, 1960). Baring’s view of Turgenev comes out in the following: ’There is, I think, an exaggerated cult for Tourgeniev among intellectual Englishmen’ (p. 75).Google Scholar
  12. 17.
    Edward Garnett, Turgenev: A Study (London: W. Collins, 1917). Garnett quotes from Baring’s book: “‘Turgenev’s characters are living as any in books, but they belong, comparatively speaking, to bookland, and are thus conventional”. But why conventional? Why damn all the great creations in books, from Don Quixote downwards… Mr Baring has been seduced, one imagines, by our generation’s preference for the “photographic likeness” in art’ (pp. 8–9). See also H. Howarth, p. 290.Google Scholar
  13. 19.
    See Seán Lucy, T. S. Eliot and the Idea of Tradition (London: Cohen and West, 1960) p. 184: ’there are many elements in Sweeney Agonistes which Eliot was to use again’. I am arguing similarly with regard to ‘On the Eve’, as is Herbert Howarth.Google Scholar
  14. 22.
    John Lucas, Arnold Bennett: A Study of His Fiction (London: Methuen, 1974) p. 223.Google Scholar
  15. 23.
    See James Hepburn, The Art of Arnold Bennett (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1963) p. 220.Google Scholar

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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1990

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  • Hans Hauge

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