For T. S. Eliot’s birthday this week, a new book trailer and a look at his Complete Prose

Guest post by Jewel Spears Brooker and Ronald Schuchard

eliot-portrait-webDigital editions of the first two volumes of The Complete Prose of T. S. Eliot, a monumental work shepherded for many years by general editor Ronald Schuchard, will be officially published this week on Eliot’s birthday (September 26; he was born in St. Louis in 1888).  To mark the occasion, we are pleased to share a new book trailer along with a portion of the introduction to volume one, Apprentice Years, 1905–1918, which “returns readers to the beginning of Eliot’s intellectual life.”

“The token that a philosophy is true,” T. S. Eliot argued in a 1914 student essay, “is the fact that it brings us to the exact point from which we started.” Three decades later, in the final lines of his last major poem, “Four Quartets,” he echoes the idea: “And the end of all our exploring / Will be to arrive where we started / And know the place for the first time.” This volume, the first to assemble Eliot’s early prose, much of it previously unpublished and none of it previously collected and edited, returns readers to the beginning of Eliot’s intellectual life, enabling them to experience the depth and range of the prose from his years as a student and literary journalist. The material here included is from the most formative period in Eliot’s life.

In the spring of 1905, he was sixteen and in his last year of day school in St. Louis; at the end of 1918, he was thirty and established in London as a poet and essayist. In between, he spent almost a decade at the world’s premier institutions—Harvard and Oxford Universities, the Sorbonne—and in cultural centers that were both sordid and fascinating—Boston, Paris, and London. In 1914 and 1915, he wrote a doctoral dissertation on idealist philosophy, and then abandoned a promising career in philosophy for a precarious one in literature.

These tumultuous years took him from the cocoon of a loving family to a world in which he struggled to create his own circle of friends, occasionally bonding, as with Conrad Aiken at Harvard, Jean Verdenal in Paris, and Ezra Pound in London. These years include his precipitous and disillusioning marriage to Vivien (Vivienne) Haigh-Wood, severe economic distress, and alienation from family and country. Between 1915 and 1918, living in a city ravaged by war, he supported himself as a teacher and journalist, slowly emerging as a respected man of letters.

He published his first book, Prufrock and Other Observations, in 1917, and in the following two years, composed the poems that were to appear in his second, Ara Vus Prec (Ara Vos Prec), published in 1919. Beginning with essays related to his credentials in philosophy and then with reviews and articles on literary topics, he launched himself as a prose writer. By the end of 1918, he had come a long way from St. Louis, but it is to St. Louis, his first world, that he must be returned.