The Poet in Prose
During a brief visit to his hometown of St. Louis, Thomas Sterns Eliot told reporters that he wasn’t, actually, all that keen on performing the literary labor that had made him famous.
“There are so many more pleasant things to do than writing,” he said. “Sun bathing, for instance.”
Self-deprecation, disingenuous as it may have been, came easily to T.S. Eliot, one of the English language’s greatest poets and playwrights. This was especially true when he described his work as critic.
These days, however, nearly all scholars agree that Eliot’s writings in prose — his literary criticism particularly — are among the most important of the 20th Century. Their chief concern, in fact, isn’t that Eliot’s prose work lacks weight or relevance. It’s that we’re not reading enough of it.
That could soon be changing, thanks to MU’s Frances Dickey, an associate professor of English, and fellow Eliot experts Ronald Schuchard of Emory University and Jennifer Formichelli of Boston University. Together the three have deployed digital tools to collect, edit, and publish Eliot’s neglected oeuvre, a body of work ranging from his graduate school papers to his last “letters to the editor.”
The collection is the first to present a complete set of corrected, annotated and searchable texts of Eliot’s prose. “The vast majority of his prose writings—essays, reviews, opinion pieces, lectures—have remained unknown. Like any author, he sometimes experienced writer’s block between his poetic endeavors; so, to pay the bills, he wrote articles—about one thousand of them. Through those essays, he made a tremendous impact on the way we study literature and the works we read,” Dickey says.
The Complete Prose of T. S. Eliot: The Critical Edition, Volume Three — Literature, Politics, Belief, 1927–1929 can be found at the Project Muse website of Johns Hopkins University Press.