The College Syllabi That Shaped ‘The Waste Land’

Longreads

Indeed, the famous eclecticism of “The Waste Land,” which incorporates quotations from multiple languages and literatures, can be seen as a tribute to the educational philosophy that governed Harvard during Eliot’s time there…

Yet as Crawford shows in the impressively researched Young Eliot, the “melange of topics” that Eliot explored in college “mightily enriched his poetry.” Eliot’s studies with the philosopher George Santayana planted the seeds of the idea that later emerged in his criticism as the “objective correlative”—the notion that poetic images function as a formula to evoke an emotion. In the recently founded Comparative Literature department, Eliot studied with scholars who “encouraged people…to connect literary works through anthropology to supposedly primitive rituals.” This would become a major technique of “The Waste Land,” which uses the Grail legend, as interpreted by scholars like James Frazer and Jessie Weston, as a structuring myth.

Crawford even manages to track down…

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