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T. S. Eliot

The Making of an American Poet, 1888–1922

James E. Miller, Jr.

Publication Year: 2005

Late in his life T. S. Eliot, when asked if his poetry belonged in the tradition of American literature, replied: “I’d say that my poetry has obviously more in common with my distinguished contemporaries in America than with anything written in my generation in England. That I’m sure of. . . . In its sources, in its emotional springs, it comes from America.” In T. S. Eliot: The Making of an American Poet, James Miller offers the first sustained account of Eliot’s early years, showing that the emotional springs of his poetry did indeed come from America. Miller challenges long-held assumptions about Eliot’s poetry and his life. Eliot himself always maintained that his poems were not based on personal experience, and thus should not be read as personal poems. But Miller convincingly combines a reading of the early work with careful analysis of surviving early correspondence, accounts from Eliot’s friends and acquaintances, and new scholarship that delves into Eliot’s Harvard years. Ultimately, Miller demonstrates that Eliot’s poetry is filled with reflections of his personal experiences: his relationships with family, friends, and wives; his sexuality; his intellectual and social development; his influences. Publication of T. S. Eliot: The Making of an American Poet marks a milestone in Eliot scholarship. At last we have a balanced portrait of the poet and the man, one that takes seriously his American roots. In the process, we gain a fuller appreciation for some of the best-loved poetry of the twentieth century.

Published by: Penn State University Press


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pp. vii-ix

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pp. xi-xv

The incubation period of T. S. Eliot: The Making of an American Poet is some thirty years, beginning in the early 1970s, and propelled by the publication of, and response to, my first book on Eliot, T. S. Eliot’s Personal Waste Land: Exorcism of the Demons, in 1977. ...

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A Note on Sources

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pp. xvii-xx

The main thrust of my 1977 book was not Eliot’s life but his poetry, exploring ways in which the fragmentary details shaped and illuminated the poems.My reinterpretation of The Waste Land was not dependent on biographical reconstruction and thus the firm establishment of the full facts of Eliot’s early life ...

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pp. 1-8

Randall Jarrell (1914-65), poet, novelist, critic, served in the Air Force in World War II and attracted attention with the publication in 1945 of his volume of vivid but bitter war poems. Now largely forgotten, during his life he published a great deal of both poetry and prose, but ultimately it was as a critic ...

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1 1888-1906: Origins

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pp. 9-30

“In my end is my beginning,” the poet writes in “East Coker.” The story of T. S. Eliot’s life is to some extent an account of his retracing Andrew Eliot’s steps, further and further back to East Coker, and finally his interment there, in 1695, in St. Michael’s, the village church. ...

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2 1902-1914: Early Influences

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pp. 31-48

In 1902 in either the third or fourth academic year of his five-year stay at Smith Academy, something remarkable happened that changed the fourteen-year-old Eliot. This event has not been hidden from the view of biographers. Eliot himself has made a series of references to it in a number of pieces written and published, ...

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3 1906-1911: Harvard: Out From Under

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pp. 49-78

Eliot’s career as an undergraduate student at Harvard began inauspiciously. In December of his beginning year, 1906, he was put on probation for poor grades and “for working at a lower rate than most freshmen”—even though he had “an excellent record of attendance” (LTSE 1, xix). ...

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4 1906-1910: Harvard Influences: Teachers, Texts, Temptations

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pp. 79-114

The secret of how—and perhaps why—Eliot became such an allusive (and therefore elusive) poet is revealed in part in the authors and texts he studied at Harvard. From any point of view, the lists are overwhelming: ...

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5 1910-1911: T. S. Eliot in Paris

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pp. 115-160

To understand what happened to Eliot in Paris during his year of study there, 1910-11, it is best first to look ahead at Eliot’s state of mind and imagination some decades after that magical year. In 1934, in the April issue of the Criterion, a journal that Eliot then edited in London, ...

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6 1911-1914: Eliot Absorbed in Philosophical Studies

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pp. 161-190

The Harvard philosophy department that T. S. Eliot found upon entering its graduate program in 1911 had been shaped some three decades or so earlier. Eliot’s distant cousin, Charles W. Eliot, had served as president of Harvard from 1869 to 1909 and was credited in Three Centuries of Harvard, 1636–1936 ...

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7 1914-1915: American Chaos Versus English Tradition

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pp. 191-216

In March 1914, Eliot was awarded a Sheldon Traveling Fellowship for the coming academic year, 1914–15, to study philosophy at Merton College, Oxford, where the subject of his dissertation, F. H. Bradley, had taught and where Bradley’s student, Harold Joachim, offered classes in which Eliot intended to enroll. ...

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8 1915: An Inexplicable Marriage and the Consequences

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pp. 217-254

In Eliot’s letter to his cousin Eleanor Hinkley, April 24, 1915, we find the first mention of the woman who would become his wife only two months later—on June 26. She was one of several English girls his age he had met at the dances he attended at the large hotels on Saturday nights—two especially were “very good dancers.” ...

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9 1916: Making Do, Finding Means, Expanding Connections

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pp. 255-276

One of the first letters Eliot wrote at the beginning of the new year, 1916, and one so important I have quoted it again and again, was to his friend Conrad Aiken on January 10, and seemed to present an overview of the crisis-state of every side of his life:“ ...

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10 1917-1918: T. S. Eliot: Banker, Lecturer, Editor, Poet, Almost Soldier

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pp. 277-320

As we have seen, once Eliot had made his decision to stay in England and earn enough money to support himself and his wife, he devoted all his mental and physical energies to writing reviews and essays, teaching school, and delivering a mind-boggling series of lectures. Little time was left for the newlyweds to spend together, ...

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11 1919-1920: Up the Ladder, Glimpsing the Top

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pp. 321-362

The American lawyer and art patron John Quinn had been enlisted by Ezra Pound to help Eliot get his books published in America. In 1918, Quinn had attracted the interest of the New York publisher Alfred Knopf in publishing a book of Eliot’s poetry and prose and Eliot had submitted a hastily assembled manuscript. ...

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12 1919-1921: Notable Achievements, Domestic Disasters, Intimate Friends

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pp. 363-386

Eliot visited Paris alone in mid-December 1920. As he recounted the visit to his mother in January 1921, he stayed in the Pension Casaubon, the same place that he had lived when he met Jean Verdenal during his year in Paris, 1910-11. This trip has been left out of Eliot biographies and chronologies ...

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13 1922: Over the Top

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pp. 387-412

From the beginning, Ezra Pound was an indispensable force in Eliot’s career, nowhere more so than in the creation of The Waste Land. He would help to shape it at a time when Eliot was most dependent on him. To be sure, Eliot had been writing his long poem over a very long time and could be said to have finished it in Lausanne. ...

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14 A Glance Ahead: The Making of an American Poet

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pp. 413-426

On New Year’s Eve, 1922, Eliot wrote to his brother about his “problem of living a double or triple life,” and his hope that a successful Criterion would provide “a partial way out” (LTSE 1,617). The Criterion did prove successful and Eliot’s position at Faber and Faber did ease his financial burden, ...

References to Works by T. S. Eliot

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pp. 427-430

References to Works by Other Authors

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pp. 431-450


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pp. 451-468

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780271052915
E-ISBN-10: 0271052910
Print-ISBN-13: 9780271027623
Print-ISBN-10: 0271027622

Page Count: 488
Publication Year: 2005