T.S. Eliot and the Search for the Disciplined Self
Date: 6 November 2014
University of Exeter
MbyRes in English
This thesis aims to explore the cogency of Eliot’s claims for discipline in relation to the selves and personae depicted in his poetry from 1907 to 1920. Eliot maintained a lifelong affiliation with the classical ideals of order, discipline and authority. These models were the cornerstone of his sensibility, and Eliot devoted his ...
This thesis aims to explore the cogency of Eliot’s claims for discipline in relation to the selves and personae depicted in his poetry from 1907 to 1920. Eliot maintained a lifelong affiliation with the classical ideals of order, discipline and authority. These models were the cornerstone of his sensibility, and Eliot devoted his literary career in tirelessly expounding and reinforcing the importance of these virtues in art, literature and all spheres of one’s public and private life. This study attempts to explore the relationship between the individuals depicted in Eliot’s poetry, and discipline. It considers whether the personae in the poetry are capable of a similar allegiance to an external authority, and whether the disciplined self, fully in control of its passions and desires, emerges in the poems after such a connection. This study argues that Eliot’s poetics contradict the standards of these classical ideals, even while his literary criticism strives forcefully to assert them. In his poetry, this is translated in the creation and depiction of individuals trapped in the prison of their ego, unable to transcend themselves or act meaningfully in the social world. The chapters in this thesis chronologically study various personae, such as the ‘Mandarins’, ‘J. Alfred Prufrock’ and ‘St. Sebastian’ to explore their efforts to realize an association with an external authority. The final chapter considers whether ‘tradition’ and the ‘historical sense’ enable ‘Gerontion’ to realize the self-transcendence which his predecessors found so elusive. This study shows that while the individuals in Eliot’s poetry (1907-20) feel the necessity for an affirmation with an external authority, such as a philosophical system, religion or history, they are unable to form this desired relationship. This results in the portrayal of negative models of selfhood in the poetry, which, in turn, poignantly emphasizes Eliot’s urgency for just such a classical discipline.
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