T. S. Eliot and the Essay
Studies in Christianity and Literature
160 pages, 6.00 x 9.00 in
- Published: September 2010
G. Douglas Atkins here offers an original consideration of T. S. Eliot's essay as a form of embodied thinking. A combination of literature and philosophy, the genre of the essay holds within itself a great tension--that between truth and creative prose. And, as Atkins explains, these conflicting forces of truth and creativity exist not only within the literary format itself but also within the writers and their relationships with the genre, making essay writing a wonderfully enriching "impure art."
Exploring the similarities between Eliot's prose and poetry with the art of essay writing, Atkins discovers remarkably similar patterns of Incarnational thinking that emerge in each. In so doing, he establishes for the first time the essayistic nature of the great poem Four Quartets and provides an eloquent reflection on how the essay in all its impurity functions as Incarnational art, an embodiment of truth.
Introduction: Eliot the Essayist
1. Against (Pure) Transcendence: The Essay and Embodied Truth
2. Eliot, Montaigne, and the Essay: The Matter of Personality
3. Turning the Essay: "Tradition and the Individual Talent"
4. The Perfect Critic and Imperfect Critics: The Essay, Criticism, and Impurity
5. Eliot's Prose Voice: The Critical Essayist as Medium
6. "Restoring / With a New Verse the Ancient Rhyme"
7. Four Quartets: The Poem as Essay
8. The Impure Art of Four Quartets: Where Literature and Philosophy Meet Conclusion—Faring Forward, Exploring Still: Participation Instead of Puritan's Progress
Douglas Atkins' T.S. Eliot and the Essay offers a compelling argument for rethinking the common understanding of Eliot's essayistic writing as cold and pedantic. Instead, Atkins argues—and his argument is a good one—we should recognize the Eliot who moves gracefully between verse and prose as a poet-essayist driven to discover the crucible in which Incarnational truth can provisionally be found. A fine stylist, Atkins' book extends his substantial contribution to scholarship on the essay, while also further solidifying his reputation as a wide-ranging thinker and perceptive writer.~Tod Marshall, Associate Professor of English, Gonzaga University
Nuanced and perceptive. A marvelous exposition. Atkins takes the reader on a leisurely walk, carefully comparing Montaigne and Bacon, Pope and Dryden, Thoreau, Belloc and modern essayist Scott Russell Sanders. Refusing to accept criticism that marks Eliot as a puritan, Atkins instead sees both Eliot’s prose and poetry as essays that express the ‘impurity’ of the genre and of Eliot’s work.~Dr. Steven Faulkner, Assistant Professor of Creative Nonfiction, Longwood University