The War Years, 1940-1946: Introduction
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[ xi The War Years, 1940-1946 Introduction In the early morning of 23 June 1944, a German V-1 flying bomb fell in the middle of Russell Square, injuring no one but blowing out the windows and doors in the offices of Faber & Faber and hurling the ceiling down to the floor. Air Raid Warden Thomas Stearns Eliot, who spent one night a week spotting fires from the roof of the building, was not on duty that night; if he had been, this would be, very likely, a considerably shorter book. Eliot, fortunately, would survive the ordeal of World War II. And this volume, as it stands, offers a richly varied collection representing his response to the extraordinary pressures of total war. Much of the work included here was composed under circumstances or for purposes dictated by the war. And just as it underlies East Coker, The Dry Salvages, and Little Gidding in important ways even when they are not talking directly about it, the war remains the grim background for Eliot’s prose of this period whether he is writing on the ballet, the book trade, Kipling, Poland, or Poe. The first part of this volume includes 129 works under the heading “Essays, Reviews, Addresses, and Public Letters.” It is a sign of Eliot’s cresting reputation as a figure of cultural significance and of his consequent value as a speaker that fully a quarter of these works were written as lectures or radio broadcasts. Eliot accorded no less value to these pieces originally created to be spoken rather than read; in fact, of the seven prose works from this period that he would later collect in On Poetry and Poets, only one did not originate as a public lecture. Freed from the obligation to write commentaries and reviews for the Criterion, which he had shuttered in 1939, he was able to distribute his attention more widely – a fact that may help to account for the thirty-two letters he fired off to the editors of various periodicals during these years. The remaining items in Part I are exceptionally diverse generically, including not only the headlined essays, reviews, and addresses, but nine prefaces and introductions, five newsletters composed wholly by Eliot, three autobiographical documents, a controversial pamphlet, a telegram, an advertisement, a wry social comment in the form of a limerick, and one article written as cultural propaganda for a magazine air-dropped into occupied France by the Royal Air Force. Five The War Years, 1940-1946 xii ] more are position papers, three of these written for the Moot, a discussion group on culture, society, and Christianity organized in 1938 by J. H. OldhamthatstimulatedagooddealofEliot’sthoughtintheseyears,including a series of essays and lectures, included here, that would develop into Notes towards the Definition of Culture (1948). It should be mentioned, too, that twenty-seven of the works printed in Part I of this volume were unpublished in Eliot’s lifetime, and twenty-six of those are presented here for the first time.1 In addition to this wealth of new material, a further twenty published works that were unrecorded in Donald Gallup’s bibliography are likely to be unfamiliar to most of Eliot’s readers. Part II comprises transcripts and summary reports by others of four lectures for which Eliot’s original text is lost; Part III includes fifteen letters and documents of which Eliot is one of several signatories. None of the items in these latter sections of the volume is catalogued by Gallup; one was previously unpublished. I The effects of the war on Eliot’s literary life mounted rapidly once the Wehrmacht began its westward push in May 1940. Only days before Eliot was to embark on a two-week lecture tour in Italy, the British Council called off the plan out of fear for his safety. (In the end, Italy would declare war on France and Britain on 10 June, the day Eliot was to have returned to England.)InJuly,theannualAnglo-CatholicSummerSchoolofSociology, in which Eliot was to serve as a lecturer, was postponed due to the German invasion of Great Britain that was regarded as imminent in the aftermath of the Dunkirk evacuation and the fall of France. Beginning in September, the eight-month aerial Blitz annihilated lives and livelihoods throughout London. Citizens were urged to “Keep Calm and Carry On,” and Eliot strove to do just that at Faber & Faber. “Unless anything has happened since Friday,” he wrote to John Hayward on 22 October, “F. &. F. have not...