Selected Essays, 1917–1932: 1917–1932

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Literary criticism from the Nobel Prize winner on subjects from Dante to Dickens.

Some one said: “The dead writers are remote from us because we know so much more than they did.” Precisely, and they are that which we know.
Celebrated poet and playwright T. S. Eliot was one of the twentieth century’s most influential literary critics. In Selected Essays, he compiled his most significant works of criticism and theory written between 1917 and 1932. Included here are what Eliot considered the best essays from The Sacred Wood; his essays on Elizabethan and Jacobean dramatists; Tradition and the Individual Talent; Dante; For Lancelot Andrewes; Homage to John Dryden; and many others.
This expanded edition is annotated with footnotes and includes a biographical note about the author.
“Mr. Eliot is a master of critical exposition.” —The New York Times
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About the author

T. S. Eliot was born Thomas Stearns Eliot in St. Louis, Missouri, in 1888. He moved to England in 1914 and published his first book of poems in 1915. Eliot received the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1948. He died in 1965.
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Published on
Mar 4, 2014
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Literary Criticism / Drama
Literary Criticism / European / English, Irish, Scottish, Welsh
Literary Criticism / Semiotics & Theory
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This critique of modern society argues that culture must be organic, and cannot be planned or imposed.
The word culture has been widely and erroneously employed in political, educational, and journalistic contexts. In helping to define a word so greatly misused, T. S. Eliot contradicts many of our popular assumptions about culture, reminding us that it is not the possession of any one class but of a whole society—and yet its preservation may depend on the continuance of a class system, and that a “classless” society may be a society in which culture has ceased to exist.
Surveying the post–World War II world, Eliot finds evidence of decay in cultural standards in every department of human activity, and expects the phenomenon to continue. He suggests that culture and religion have a common root—and if one decays, the other may die too. In observing the superpowers of his day and the course of recent history, he reminds us that “the Russians have been the first modern people to practise the political direction of culture consciously, and to attack at every point the culture of any people whom they wish to dominate.”
The appendix includes Eliot’s broadcasts to Europe, ending with a plea to preserve the legacy of Greece, Rome, and Israel, and Europe’s legacy throughout the last two thousand years.
“Behind the urbanity, the modesty, the mere good manners of Mr. Eliot’s exposition, one cannot mistake the force and significance of what he has to say, or ignore that it constitutes a fundamental attack on most of our assumptions on the subject.” —The Spectator
The choruses in this pageant play represent a new verse experiment on Mr. Eliot's part; and taken together make a sequence of verses about twice the length of "The Waste Land."
Mr. Eliot has written the words; the scenario and design of the play were provided by a collaborator, and the purpose was to provide a pageant of the Church of England for presentation on a particular occasion. The action turns upon the efforts and difficulties of a group of London masons in building a church. Incidentally a number of historical scenes, illustrative of church-building, are introduced. The play, enthusiastically greeted, was first presented in England, at Sadler's Wells; the production included much pageantry, mimetic action, and ballet, with music by Dr. Martin Shaw.
Immediately after the production of this play in England, Francis Birrell wrote in The New Statesman: "The magnificent verse, the crashing Hebraic choruses which Mr. Eliot has written had best be studied in the book. 'The Rock' is certainly one of the most interesting artistic experiments to be given in recent times." The Times Literary Supplement also spoke with high praise: "The choruses exceed in length any of his previous poetry; and on the stage they prove the most vital part of the performance. They combine the sweep of psalmody with the exact employment of colloquial words. They are lightly written, as though whispered to the paper, yet are forcible to enunciate. . . . There is exhibited here a command of novel and musical dramatic speech which, considered alone, is an exceptional achievement."
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