How The Waste Land was done | Research | How The Waste Land was done

You’d have thought it would be difficult to say anything new about The Waste Land but Prof Rainey appears to have done the impossible. In doing so, he has managed to confirm what I suspect many people have felt – that the poem is not a magisterially organised organic whole, but really is “fragments shored against my ruins”. The paradox in much criticism of the poem has been that in celebrating its quintessentially modernist attributes of ambiguity, uncertainty, provisionality, writers have then suggested that the unfinished feel of the poem is all part of Eliot’s master plan. Not so, according to Prof Rainey. Not sure whether I should point my students in the direction of these findings, as they could suggest that the poem really is what it appears to be – a rattle bag of half-finished bits and pieces. They are very superior bits and pieces, though.

CC BY-SA 4.0 How The Waste Land was done by Dr Rob Spence is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

4 Responses to “How The Waste Land was done”

  1. Erm..not to drench Rainey’s parade or anything – but isn’t it slightly well known that Ezra Pound was bothered by how cavalier Eliot was over Pound’s brilliant edits? Suggesting, therefore, that it’s not exactly news about the patchwork structure?

  2. Pound’s contribution is, as you say, well-documented. I think that successive generations of critics, though, have claimed some sort of organic unity for the whole piece.

  3. Rob,
    Point taken. I just recall being thoroughly jolted the first time I saw what Pound had removed from the manuscript – making him more a Max Perkins of poetry than a standard editor. And wondering whether Eliot ever felt the tiniest bit uneasy at how vastly his work was improved (possibly Val Eliot has “mislaid” Tom’s irate notes on the subject!). I suppose I just feel it’s an interesting question what we mean by organic unity when the editing – by another’s hand – is crucial to the whole.

  4. Yes, you are right – I’m sure there’s lots of stuff that Val won’t allow to see the light of day. Just heard Lawrence Rainey on the radio, and he made the point that his research showed that TSE produced tiny little 12 line bits which were then stiched together to form the whole. He says it was Eliot’s notes which led critics to see it as an organised whole – but his research suggests it really was just a series of fragments. If that’s so, then I suppose Pound’s arrangement is as good as anyone’s. Even Eliot’s…
    By the way, I had to google Max Perkins, but now I know. American Lit is a big blindspot for me. TSE is, of course, claimed by the English.

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