We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

T.S. Eliot and the Essay

G. Douglas Atkins

Publication Year: 2010

G. Douglas Atkins here offers an original consideration of T. S. Eliot’s essay as a form of embodied thinking. A combination of literature and philosophy, the genre of the essay holds within itself a great tension—that between truth and creative prose. And, as Atkins explains, these conflicting forces of truth and creativity exist not only within the literary format itself but also within the writers and their relationships with the genre, making essay writing a wonderfully enriching “impure art.”

Exploring the similarities between Eliot’s prose and poetry with the art of essay writing, Atkins discovers remarkably similar patterns of Incarnational thinking that emerge in each. In so doing, he establishes for the first time the essayistic nature of the great poem Four Quartets and provides an eloquent reflection on how the essay in all its impurity functions as Incarnational art, an embodiment of truth.

Published by: Baylor University Press

Series: Studies in Christianity & Literature

Table of Contents

pdf iconDownload PDF (44.3 KB)
pp. v

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (37.6 KB)
pp. vii-viii

My debt to Old Possum is enormous. He taught me more about faith (and doubt), Christianity, and Christ than I ever managed to squeeze out of Sunday School, sermons heard and read and studied, required and elective courses in college (Wofford and once at Converse) in the Bible ...

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF (47.2 KB)
pp. ix-x

In recent books, I have argued that the form of the venerable and protean essay exists as a site of tension between literature and philosophy; it instances more specifically, I argue, Incarnational art: truth embodied. Thus, in my book Reading Essays: An Invitation, I write about T. S. Eliot, ...

read more

Introduction—Eliot the Essayist

pdf iconDownload PDF (89.4 KB)
pp. 1-10

In a book published over fifty years ago, English Essayists, Eliot’s friend, the eighteenth-century scholar Bonamy Dobrée, wrote trenchantly and suggestively about both form and matter, moving from The Sacred Wood (1920) through the postconversion collection For Lancelot Andrewes (1928): ...

read more

1 Against (Pure) Transcendence: The Essay and Embodied Truth

pdf iconDownload PDF (130.3 KB)
pp. 11-28

In an influential essay modestly represented as a “letter to a friend,” Georg Lukács advanced study of the essay by linking it to irony. The essayist may think “he has come close to the ultimate,” although of course he has “no more to offer than explanations of the poems of others, or at best of his own ideas. ...

read more

2 Eliot, Montaigne, and the Essay: The Matter of Personality

pdf iconDownload PDF (114.1 KB)
pp. 29-44

Since Montaigne, the acknowledged “father,” the essay has been linked to skepticism. Montaigne himself was, notoriously, a skeptic—Eliot thought a thorough-going one. Scholars have generally agreed while debating the degree of influence of Sextus Empiricus and the precise nature of the skepticism: ...

read more

3 Turning the Essay: “Tradition and the Individual Talent”

pdf iconDownload PDF (108.0 KB)
pp. 45-58

Few craft better essays today than Scott Russell Sanders, and no one more securely represents the writer as vir bonus. The voice is graceful, the man intelligent, engaged, as sympathetic as he is sympathizing. I have yet to encounter a reader unattracted to either Sanders’ humane perspectives and strongly poetic yet political sensibility ...

read more

4 The Perfect Critic and Imperfect Critics: The Essay, Criticism, and Impurity

pdf iconDownload PDF (91.0 KB)
pp. 59-68

Alexander Pope was somewhere between seventeen and twenty-one years old when he wrote An Essay on Criticism. Youth did nothing to temper the claims to authority, even as he located critical error in the sin of pride. Beyond pyrotechnical displays of sheer poetic brilliance, ...

read more

5 Eliot’s Prose Voice: The Critical Essayist as Medium

pdf iconDownload PDF (95.9 KB)
pp. 69-80

In Criticism in the Wilderness, Geoffrey H. Hartman devotes two lengthy and dense chapters to the task of undercutting The Sacred Wood as he confronts Matthew Arnold and seeks to overturn him, too. Always suggestive, sometimes infuriating, but never dull, Hartman may get more wrong about Eliot than right, ...

read more

6 “Restoring / With a New Verse the Ancient Rhyme”

pdf iconDownload PDF (87.1 KB)
pp. 81-90

It may seem odd, in a book on Eliot and the essay, to discuss his poetry. But I offer no apology, only the claim that his poetry and his essays should not be separated. Perhaps more so than is often acknowledged or realized, they complement one another, neither acting primary to the other’s secondary, ...

read more

7 Four Quartets: The Poem as Essay

pdf iconDownload PDF (154.3 KB)
pp. 91-110

In the third of Four Quartets, Eliot laments the way that we so often miss the meaning of an experience, thus echoing the discouragement of the opening of The Waste Land some twenty years earlier. Eliot’s words also recall his asseverations in “Tradition and the Individual Talent” against Wordsworth ...

read more

8 The Impure Art of Four Quartets: Where Literature and Philosophy Meet

pdf iconDownload PDF (96.9 KB)
pp. 111-122

Fresh from having offered the poem over two three-hour sessions to undergraduates, I ponder once more likely and effective places to focus discussion— or at least to begin. The students failed to see the poem’s signifi cance on their own, and few of them showed interest in journeying with me toward the discovery of its meaning. ...

read more

Conclusion—Faring Forward, Exploring Still: Participation Instead of Puritan’s Progress

pdf iconDownload PDF (80.6 KB)
pp. 123-130

One of the most recent is Peter McCullough in his introduction to the first full annotated edition of Lancelot Andrewes’ writings. The edition is impressive, undoubtedly valuable, the commentary on Andrewes much better than that briefly offered on Eliot, who may have rescued the Divine from relative oblivion. ...


pdf iconDownload PDF (97.5 KB)
pp. 131-134

Works Cited

pdf iconDownload PDF (63.2 KB)
pp. 135-138


pdf iconDownload PDF (809.4 KB)
pp. 139-147

E-ISBN-13: 9781602584815
E-ISBN-10: 1602584818
Print-ISBN-13: 9781602582552
Print-ISBN-10: 1602582556

Page Count: 160
Publication Year: 2010

Edition: 1
Series Title: Studies in Christianity & Literature