Literature, Politics, Belief, 1927-1929. Introduction
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[ xiii Literature, Politics, Belief, 1927-1929 Introduction In June 1927, at the age of thirty-nine, T. S. Eliot was baptized and confirmed in the Church of England; in November he became a naturalized British citizen. These momentous acts resonate through his prose of 1927 to 1929, the years covered by this volume. Even as he continued to write on many of the same subjects as in earlier years − Dante, Elizabethan drama and poetry, the seventeenth century, Baudelaire − he now saw these familiar figures and periods from a new vantage point. As he wrote in the 1928 Preface to the second edition of The Sacred Wood (1920), looking back on his first book of essays, he had “passed on to another problem . . . that of the relation of poetry to the spiritual and social life of its time and other times” (3.413). His long spiritual journey was accompanied by a deepening interest in the history, complexity, and difficulty of belief in the modern world. In the prose of these years, Eliot explored the relation of belief to poetry and humanism in debates with I. A. Richards, John Middleton Murry, and Irving Babbitt; considered the sources and collaborations of Elizabethan poetry and drama; and probed the moral character of contemporary literature . His British citizenship brought a lasting concern for the political forces threatening the relation of church and state in England and Europe. Eliot spoke out on behalf of the Action française while distinguishing it from Italian fascism, writing in the Criterion in 1929: “If, as we believe, the indifference to politics as actually conducted is growing, then we must prepare a state of mind towards something other than the facile alternative of communist or fascist dictatorship” (3.598). As a reviewer, editor, and publisher , he also responded to a wide array of writers and topics that reflected the trends and problems of the day, including copyright reform, censorship, literary piracy, historic preservation, church controversies, and London slums. All of his writing during this intensive three-year period was composed in the midst of demanding editorial and publishing responsibilities, family and employee deaths, a failing marriage, and a transformed spiritual and civic life. While Volume 1 covers fourteen years, and Volume 2, eight years, this volume includes only three; in sheer numbers it represents Eliot’s most Literature, Politics, Belief, 1927-1929 xiv ] productive period as a literary journalist. Eliot’s personal burdens continued as before, but the quantity of his prose writings increased dramatically. Compared with the twenty-two pieces of 1926 (a respectable number by any measure), in 1927 he published fifty-two essays, book reviews, commentaries , translations, and letters to the editor, as well as the lecture “Shakespeare and the Stoicism of Seneca” and his introduction to Seneca His Tenne Tragedies.Nearlythesamenumberfollowedin1928(forty-sevennewperiodical contributions); 1929 saw the publication of his small book on Dante as well as twenty-four prose pieces. During this time Eliot also wrote three of his Ariel poems – Journey of the Magi, A Song for Simeon, and Animula; the six poems that comprise Ash-Wednesday; and a translation of St. John Perse’s poem Anabasis, each published individually between covers. The nine essays that he collected in his third critical volume, For Lancelot Andrewes (1928), represent only a fraction of his writing from this period. Eliot’s Life, 1927-1929 The question during these years is how Eliot was able to keep up such a pace of writing while editing the Criterion, working full-time at Faber & Gwyer, and surviving the strains of his personal life. One answer is that his religious conversion focused his interests and gave new purpose to his writing . His turn to the church was not sudden; hints of his private spiritual search can be found in his early poetry, his study of Bradley’s Absolute, his years of immersion in Dante, his acceptance of the doctrine of original sin, and his more recent interest in the sermons of English divines from Andrewes to Donne. It was a surprise to his brother and sister-inlaw , however, when he fell to his knees before Michaelangelo’s Pietà during their journey to Rome in the summer of 1926 (2.xxxvi). That winter, in a review of I. A. Richards’s Science and Poetry, he stated to the public: “If I believe, as I do believe, that the chief distinction of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him for ever, Mr. Richards’ theory of value is inadequate ” (3.46). In November...


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