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Alexander Gonzalez on T. S. Eliot

Biography of T. S. Eliot

Home | Biography | Analysis of Eliot's Style | Themes of Eliot's Work | Themes, Analyzed | Eliot's Imagery | T. S. Eliot and the Modernist Movement | Eliot's Influence on Other Writers | T. S. Eliot's Influence on World Literature | Sample Work: The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock | Literary Criticism for "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock" | Quotes | Sample Work: Burnt Norton | Sample Work: East Coker | Sample Work: The Dry Salvages | Sample Work: Little Gidding | Favorite Links | Images | Works Cited

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"I am an Anglo-Catholic in religion, a classicist in literature, and a royalist in politics." T.S.  Eliot so defined, and even exaggerated, his own conservatism.  The ideas of this stimulating writer were perhaps traditional, but the way in which he expressed them was extremely modern.  Eliot was one of the first to reject conventional verse forms and language.  His experiments with free expression contributed to his reputation as one of the most influential writers of his time (Shrine).

Thomas Stearns Eliot was born in St.  Louis, Missouri, on Sept. 26, 1888.  His family had produced distinguished Americans since colonial days (Frenz).  He entered Harvard University in 1906, completed his bachelor’s degree in three years, and earned a master's degree in the next (Shrine).  After a year at the Sorbonne in Paris, during which he completed graduate work, he returned to Harvard (Frenz).  He studied further at Merton College, Oxford, and decided to stay in England (Shrine).  His first job was as a teacher and schoolmaster and then in a bank (Frenz).  Despite his revolutionary style, he was quiet and conservative in his habits: he devoted his evenings mainly to study and writing.  He liked cats and wrote “Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats,” published in 1939, about them (Shrine).  It became the basis for “Cats”, a famous musical comedy play of the 1980s.

In 1915, the verse magazine Poetry published Eliot's first notable piece, “The Love Song of J.  Alfred Prufrock” (Shrine)   He followed this with other short poems such as “Portrait of a Lady” and “The Waste Land” (Frenz). The latter, which was published in 1922, is considered by many to be his most challenging work, though its popularity might be less than that of “The Hollow Men.”   He founded and edited the influential and exclusive literary journal Criterion during its years of publication (1922-1939) (Frenz).  In 1927, Eliot became a British subject and was confirmed in the Church of England (Shrine).  His essays (“For Lancelot Andrewes,” 1928) and his poetry (“Four Quartets,” 1943) began to reflect this association with a very traditional culture (Frenz).

T. S. Eliot’s first drama was “The Rock” (1934), a pageant play (Frenz).  This was followed by “Murder in the Cathedra”' (1935), a play dealing with the assassination of Archbishop Thomas a Becket, who was later canonized (see Becket).  Despite the religious content of “Murder in the Cathedral,” T. S. Eliot had a tendency to disparage the power of poetry as a religious influence, and used religion mainly as convenient subject matter (Frenz).  “The Family Reunion” appeared in 1939.  “The Cocktail Party,” based upon the ancient Greek drama “Alcestis” by Euripides, came out in 1950 and “The Confidential Clerk” in 1953 (Shrine).  The dialogue in his plays is written in a free, rhythmical verse pattern.

Eliot won the Nobel prize for literature in 1948 and other major literary awards.  He was married twice and died on January 4, 1965, in London (Shrine).

Works Cited

T. S. Eliot - Biography. Ed. Horst Frenz. Nobelprize.org. 28 Jan. 2005 <http://nobelprize.org/literature/laureates/1948/eliot-bio.html>.

T. S. Eliot Biography. 20 Nov. 1997. The T. S. Eliot Shrine. 28 Jan. 2005 <http://www.geocities.com/Paris/LeftBank/9824/bio.html>.

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This web site is a project for Coral Gables Senior High School's International Baccalaureate Programme.  (C) Alexander Gonzalez and Gables IB.