- T.S. Eliot and the Art of Collaboration
Within the span of a few years, T. S. Eliot famously insisted on the necessity of the “individual talent” in artistic creation, while also joining with Ezra Pound, “il miglior fabbro”, in the most famous case of multiple authorship in twentieth-century poetry. These competing creative impulses spark Richard Badenhausen’s insightful study of Eliot and collaboration, a mode of production which Badenhausen views as the defining feature of Eliot’s career. Such an image of Eliot as socialized author still runs counter to many received notions of modernism, of course, in which the austere poet stands in for what Michael North calls in Reading 1922 the “mummified state” posed against analyses of avant-garde and postmodern literature (2000, 11). Like North, Badenhausen seeks to reinscribe Eliot within a fuller literary historical context, though in Badenhausen’s case that context is Eliot’s career itself, in which the shift from the “defining” modernism of the early poetry typically seems in conflict with the post-conversion Christian drama. At its strongest, T.S. Eliot and the Art of Collaboration argues convincingly for a joint—indeed, collaborative—reading of these seemingly opposed directions as of a piece with Eliot’s lifelong interest in and even dependence on collaborative partners who “could help fix experience in some definite form and bring the creative act to a close” (6).
Badenhausen’s recovery of Eliot as a collaborative artist proceeds largely from a biographical standpoint, focusing on collaboration as a means of “avoiding some of the excruciating suffering he associated with the (single) authoring” of the early poetry (149), as well as the contradictory descriptions of that process which Eliot advanced in his literary criticism. As Badenhausen notes, Eliot’s essays form various attempts at “refashioning collaboration into a simple, clean, mutually beneficial cooperation between equals”, while the “realities of Eliot’s collaborative alliances were much more complicated, [End Page 152] messy, and varied, depending on the personalities involved” (7). Following a chapter on Pound’s editing of The Waste Land, Badenhausen outlines a series of significant, though less studied, collaborators with whom Eliot worked at various points in the remainder of his career: Martin Browne, the director who helped introduce Eliot to the theater with the 1934 production of The Rock and who served thereafter as a sounding board for the poet’s increasingly confident contributions to the stage; John Hayward, Eliot’s flat-mate for more than ten years, who edited the prose and early poetry for British collections and French translations in addition to playing a key role in the composition of Four Quartets; and, more briefly, Eliot’s first wife, Vivienne, who offered various editorial suggestions and then collaborated with her husband in a series of essays exchanged in The Criterion.1 While Carol Seymour-Jones (2001) has detailed the tensions, creative and otherwise, of the Eliots’ marriage, Badenhausen points out the previously unnoticed Shakespearean allusions in Vivienne’s essays, in which she figures herself as Virgilia and Eliot as Coriolanus (with Eliot’s mother serving as the oppressive Volumnia). Badenhausen’s reading interestingly figures Vivienne as a more assertive collaborator, along the lines of Pound, and in contrast to the more acquiescent Browne and Hayward (both of whom therefore enjoyed much longer collaborations with Eliot).
Badenhausen’s other main contribution to the broad strokes of Eliot scholarship develops from his detailed readings of the poet as essayist, with such classics as Tradition and the Individual Talent or The Function of Criticism set against such lesser-known pieces as Marie Lloyd as well as several uncollected works. Given that Eliot’s poetic production averaged only about fifty lines per year, versus the thousands of pages of prose produced over his lifetime (37), Badenhausen argues convincingly for the significance of Eliot’s criticism to an informed understanding of his career as a whole. Of particular interest to editorial theorists is Badenhausen’s contention, through his joint reading of the images of collaboration offered in the...