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T. S. Eliot – Part II

In this second lecture the biographical sketch of Eliot’s life is continued, and episodes from it are juxtaposed with scenes from the Waste Land. The biographical review alludes to episodes, themes, and interests such as Charles Maurras and Action Française, Eliot’s editorship of The Dial, his work in philosophy, his Harvard dissertation on Bradley (though it was never defended), and (as early as 1917) the interest in Thomism. Dr. White also explores the pain Eliot experienced in his unhappy marriage to Vivian Haigh Wood (though she loved his work and appreciated its significance).

The additional emphasis of this lecture is the beginning of a detailed consideration and explication of the first three sections of the Waste Land, consisting of a repository for imagery, allusions, and fragments, that are themselves assembled but also remain for reassembly in other settings. Considered, among other things, are the significance of World War I, the use of myths – inherited from Joyce (though Eliot abhorred his Ulysses in many ways) – such as the fisher-king, the Grail. Dr. White notes the opening reference to Chaucer, and the poem’s contrasting the joy of Medieval, Catholic spring with the misery of living in a useless, hideous world. The doctor also emphasizes the role of the poetic reader – who brings a legitimate element to a poem, coloring its meaning based on the reader’s own experience – is contrasted with that of the poet.

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