Mixing Memory and Desire
The Waste Land and Modern British Novels
AUTHOR: Crawford, Fred D.
PUBLISHER: Pennsylvania State University Press
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The first comprehensive treatment of how "an American poet so profoundly shaped or affected the modern British novel," this--in the words of James E. Miller, Jr.--details "an extraordinary and even exciting literary fact, worthy of full documentation and exploration. "The book begins with an introduction describing how The Waste Land blew into England in 1922, as William Empson said, "not unlike an east wind." Although the critics disagree over what the poem means, all writers since 1922 have felt its influence in some degree, even if only in rejecting it. The author then traces echoes of The Waste Land in 17 major British novelists, confining himself to cases where the evidence is too strong to be explained as coincidence.
The authors are divided into three groups. Part I assesses the poem's early impact, as seen in the work of writers already established at the time of its publication. Novelists discussed in this section include E. M. Forster, D. H. Lawrence, and Aldous Huxley. There is also a chapter on Richard Aldinton that contains a fascinating revaluation, based on extensive research, of Aldington's personal quarrel with Eliot. Part II examines the different sort of influence The Waste Land exerted on novelists who came to prominence in the decade before World War II. For these writers--among them Evelyn Waugh, George Orwell, Christopher Isherwood, C. S. Lewis, and Graham Greene--the poem was a basic part of their literary education, and was therefore woven more deeply, and frequently, into the fabric of their work.
Part III focuses on two writers of the postwar era, Iris Murdoch and Anthony Burgess. With the rest of their generation they had been forced to recognize a horror more oppressive than the banality and blight of Eliot's "Unreal City," yet they found in the The Waste Land images and meanings so compelling that the poem retains an undeniable presence in their work. In his conclusion, Dr. Crawford attributes The Waste Land's uniquely powerful impact to four qualities: its timing in providing "prototypes for almost every modern problem"; its challenging elusiveness; its ambiguity, which "allows every reader to draw his own conclusion regarding the poem's meaning"; and its haunting symbols and descriptions. The "rhetoric of fiction" is especially sensitive to such qualities. The result is the British novelists "have helped to 'define' The Waste Land by their varied use of it."
PUBLICATION DATE: 5/20/1991
CATEGORY: Literary Criticism