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Becoming T. S. Eliot

The Rhetoric of Voice and Audience in Inventions of the March Hare

How did an ordinary, if intelligent, boy who wrote unremarkable poems become—with no help, and in record time—the author of one of the most significant and beloved poems of the twentieth century?

T. S. Eliot's juvenilia show little inclination to question the social, cultural, religious, or domestic values he had inherited. How did a young man who wrote uninspired doggerel about wilting flowers transform himself—in a mere twenty months—into the author of "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock"? In Becoming T. S. Eliot, Jayme Stayer—praised by Christopher Ricks as a scholar who is "scrupulous in acknowledging the contingencies that will always preclude perfection"—explains this staggering accomplishment by tracing Eliot's artistic and intellectual development. Relying on archival research and original analysis, this is the first book dedicated entirely to Inventions of the March Hare, Eliot's youthful notebook, which was once thought lost but was rediscovered after Eliot's death. Stayer places Eliot's verses in the chronological order of their composition, teasing out the narratives of their making. Focusing on the period from 1909 to 1915, this incisive portrait of Eliot as a budding writer is as much a study of Eliot himself as it is a study of how a writer hones his voice.

About the Author

Jayme Stayer is an associate professor of literature at Loyola University Chicago and the president of the International T. S. Eliot Society. He is the editor of T. S. Eliot, France, and the Mind of Europe and the coeditor of Tradition and Orthodoxy, 1934–1939, the fifth volume of The Complete Prose of T. S. Eliot: The Critical Edition.

Endorsements

"The major critical breakthrough of Becoming T. S. Eliot comes through Stayer's masterful rhetorical analysis of Inventions of the March Hare. Stayer meticulously delineates how Eliot's botched rhetorical experiments between 1909 and 1911 negatively affected his desired clarity of meaning before he reached poetic maturation in 'The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.' This highly innovative and compelling study goes on the permanent must list for students of Eliot and the creative development of other modernist poets."

- Ronald Schuchard, general editor of The Complete Prose of T. S. Eliot: The Critical Edition

"This indispensable companion to Eliot's early poetry analyzes his transformation from a schoolboy seeking his elders' approval to a truth-telling iconoclast and the poet of modern suffering. Stayer's deeply researched and comprehensive study is essential for understanding how Eliot wrote Prufrock and Other Observations and why these poems succeed."

- Frances Dickey, author of The Modern Portrait Poem: From Dante Gabriel Rossetti to Ezra Pound

"Inspiringly thorough and well-researched, Becoming T. S. Eliot is argued with force, finesse, and great eloquence. A full-scale reexamination of the poems in the poet's March Hare notebook, the book reveals Eliot experimenting with how to fashion both an audience and a speaker for his unique poetic voice. Stayer's prose is jaunty, elegant, and incredibly readable. This is the guide to Eliot's early poems for which we've been waiting."

- Anthony Cuda, author of The Passions of Modernism: Eliot, Yeats, Woolf, and Mann

"Stayer's sharpened and complete chronology of Eliot's earliest writings, as well as his analysis of their audience, will be helpful to readers, as will the impressive way he sheds new light on a neglected poem, 'The Engine.'"

- Lyndall Gordon, author of Outsiders: Five Women Writers Who Changed the World
Johns Hopkins University Press
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October 5, 2021
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