In 1975, a contributor to the short-lived T. S. Eliot Review characterized the state of Eliot scholarship as an incomplete mosaic, with “the primary materials for research [. . .] either in jumbled disarray or missing entirely.” While a glut of memoirs flooded the literary marketplace, serious scholars lacked the “fundamental research tools” to fill in the gaps in the fragmentary tableau: “No Complete Works of Eliot [. . .] no critical edition of Eliot’s poems (save The Waste Land Facsimile) [. . .] and no Complete Letters of Eliot” had appeared in the decade following the poet’s death. Nearly a half-century later, comprehensive, award-winning critical editions of his letters, poetry, and prose have at last permitted scholars to see Eliot whole.
These landmark editions are the fruit of the T. S. Eliot Editorial Project, a multi-year endeavor launched a decade ago at the Institute of English Studies, University of London. Thanks to the indefatigable efforts of an international team of editors, scholars now have access to nearly the full record of Eliot’s writing life, with the balance scheduled for publication over the next several years. As of January 2019, the editorial project had published more than 7,600 pages of brilliantly annotated letters in eight volumes supplemented by an online gallery; nearly 5,500 pages from Eliot’s prolific prose writings in six monumental volumes featuring more than 700 previously uncollected items; and two richly contextualized volumes of his complete poetry, including 200 poems not featured in Faber’s original Eliot’s Collected Poems 1909–1962. More is on the way: two additional volumes of prose; perhaps a dozen volumes of correspondence, including 1,131 letters to his paramour Emily Hale still under seal in Princeton’s archives; and a critical edition of Eliot’s complete plays are currently underway. The editions have prompted a renewed appreciation for Eliot as a man of his time, as a discerning critic of both literature and of the twentieth century, and as a poet whose art and ideas cross cultural, media, and linguistic barriers.
Scholars have now embarked on the decades-long task of coming to terms with more than a million words previously inaccessible or unattributed to Eliot. The T. S. Eliot Studies Annual provides a venue for this ongoing critical reassessment, and essays in the first two volumes draw on newly available primary materials to revise longstanding critical narratives, to place Eliot’s work in fuller historical contexts, and to ensure his enduring presence in the new modernist studies.
Volume 2 of the Annual, recently published by Clemson University Press in association with Liverpool University Press, celebrates the T. S. Eliot Editorial Project in a cluster of essays contributed by esteemed members of the editorial team: Jewel Spears Brooker (coeditor of volumes 1 and 8 of the Complete Prose), Anthony Cuda (coeditor of volume 2 of the Complete Prose), Jayme Stayer (coeditor of volume 5 of the Complete Prose), David E. Chinitz (coeditor of volume 6 of the Complete Prose), and John Haffenden (general editor of the Letters). Each editor recounts a particular challenge or unique discovery from their editorial experience, providing a small sense of the enormity of their task and of the tremendous implications their work has for our understanding of the twentieth century’s preeminent poet and critic.
Volume 2 also marks the centenary of Eliot’s first poetry collection, Prufrock and Other Observations. The volume opens with articles that provide new contexts or entry points for the poems collected in Prufrock. The first essay in volume 2, Frances Dickey and Bradford Barnhardt’s “My Madness Singing”: The Specter of Syphilis in Prufrock and Other Observations,” provides both. When Faber released the revised first volume of Eliot’s correspondence in 2009, it included a letter drafted by his father, Henry Ware Eliot, Sr., which reaffirmed for early reviewers the family’s puritanism as a source of the sexual dysfunction commonly ascribed to Prufrock (and to the poet ventriloquizing behind him): Henry Ware, Sr. expressed his “hope that a cure for Syphilis will never be discovered,” calling the virus “God’s punishment for nastiness.” Dickey and Barnhardt place this remark, and much of Eliot’s first collection, in the context of a transatlantic public-health campaign that aspired to contain the spread of venereal disease by instilling fear in young men. Allusions in Prufrock to pox marks, madness, and even hair loss (all symptoms of venereal disease) illustrate the deep mark this fear campaign left on the young poet and provide a common context between Eliot’s early verses and other literary responses to the public campaign, including Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray and Robert Louis Stevenson’s Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Elisabeth Däumer (“Prufrock’s Gestures”), Rachel Trousdale (“The Right to Smile: Humor and Empathy in Prufrock and Other Observations”), and Christopher McVey (“T. S. Eliot, Modernism, and Boredom”) likewise offer previously overlooked contexts and fresh readings of these early poems. Together, these essays demonstrate the potential for Prufrock to delight and surprise even the most learned readers well into its second century in print.
For the full list of contributions to volume 2 of The T. S. Eliot Studies Annual, please visit our website. To learn more about the Annual or to submit your work for consideration in a forthcoming volume, please visit the Annual online.