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Becoming T. S. Eliot

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

T. S. Eliot's juvenilia were written by an adolescent who showed little inclination to question the social, cultural, religious, or domestic values he had inherited. By contrast, the poems of his early maturity were written by a roiling, divided self—enraged and poised, sarcastic and self-conscious, urbane and anguished. 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 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 rediscovered after Eliot's death. Stayer places Eliot's verses in the chronological order of their composition, teasing out the narratives of their making. Using the tools of rhetoric, he shows how the earliest poems begin as garbled performances: the unsteady apprentice at first curses and coerces his audience into the shape he desired, wincing from fear at its hostile judgments. But triumphs soon appear as Eliot gains control of his materials, shifting with trademark ease between tonal registers, masterfully constructing a sympathetic audience, and broaching daring themes.

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. By the end of the notebook, Stayer demonstrates, the poems' speakers are whispering—conspiratorially, hesitantly, in muted pain—into the listener's ear. With the workshop poems behind him as practice pieces, Eliot steps out onto the public stage with his best work, bearing the motifs and techniques that will define his maturity and giving birth to "T. S. Eliot," the poet and the man.

About the Author

Jayme Stayer (CHICAGO, IL) 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

"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—carefully, deliberately, and sometimes successfully—with how to fashion both an audience and a speaker for his unique and now-unmistakable 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, University of North Carolina at Greensboro, author of The Passions of Modernism: Eliot, Yeats, Woolf, and Mann
Johns Hopkins University Press
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