Where the Words Are Valid: T.S. Eliot's Communities of Drama

Where the Words Are Valid: T.S. Eliot's Communities of Drama

Where the Words Are Valid: T.S. Eliot's Communities of Drama

Where the Words Are Valid: T.S. Eliot's Communities of Drama

Synopsis

Treats Eliot's seven plays as central to the understanding of the rest of his work, and points out numerous literary and personal sources of Eliot's modernist sensibility.

Excerpt

My interest in T. S. Eliot's plays began ten years ago in graduate school, in a masterful seminar on Eliot taught by Jeffrey Perl. Under his direction, in a master's thesis entitled "The Importance of Eliot's Later Work: Society and Transformation in the Cocktail Party," I argued that Julia Shuttlethwaite represents a crucial development in Eliot's career, emblematic of a new outlook in terms of his treatment of women, human beneficence, and social interaction. That work sparked my interest in how Eliot's drama embodies a social agenda and how his movement in this direction relates to the overall trajectory of his literary career. a decade later, my rudimentary work seems surprisingly compatible with what has developed since then. I quote from the final paragraph of my master's thesis, both to indulge myself and because I think it is important to recognize and identify one's formative critical experiences.

Eliot has arrived, by 1949, at a visionary plateau that allows him to forgive the lady settling a pillow or throwing off a shawl that Julia might have been in her youth, and to forget the self-centered Aunt Helen that Julia was in Eliot's youth. Eliot has embraced the community that he simultaneously creates in the play, and has learned the need for spiritual guidance in every drawing room. . . . in such an egalitarian community of housekeepers, the one who best embodies the ideals that will protect the community is rewarded simply by being perceived as the guiding force of society. of course, it would be superfluous and counterproductive for the Guardians or their flock to acknowledge anything more than the nebulous outlines of their community, as Julia does when she calls the Guardians together to proceed to the next cocktail party. It is, rather, only the detached audience, which has observed the machinations of their society, that identifies Julia's importance, the recognition of which fulfills Eliot's desire that we apply to our own lives the values we have learned in making this identification.

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