Eliot, Thomas Stearns

Eliot, Thomas Stearns (1888 - 1965)


Thomas Stearns Eliot was born on September 26, 1888, in St. Louis, Missouri. He received his education at Smith Academy there, at Milton Academy in Massachusetts, and at Harvard University, where he obtained a B.A. and M.A. in philosophy (1909-10) and taught briefly in 1913-14. His Ph.D. thesis on F. H. Bradley was approved in 1916 after some years of study abroad -- at the Sorbonne in Paris, in Munich, and at Merton College, Oxford -- but Eliot never presented himself to accept the degree. He married Vivienne Haigh-Wood in June, 1915. He separated from her in 1932, and she died in 1947, in an mental institution. His first books of poetry were Prufrock, and Other Observations (1917), Poems (1919), Ara Vos Prec (1920), The Waste Land (1922), and Poems, 1909-1925. At first Eliot drew from French symbolist poetry, especially the works of Jules Laforgue, but with the friendship and advice of Ezra Pound, his wife Vivienne, and others, he came fully into his own as a poet with Gerontion and The Waste Land. In London, Eliot earned his living as a literary journalist, as a teacher at High Wycombe Grammar School and Highgate School, London, and as a clerk in the Colonial and Foreign Department of Lloyds Bank (1917-25). From 1917 to 1919 he acted as assistant editor of The Egoist; and he founded and edited The Criterion from 1922 to 1939. In this way Eliot helped many younger writers, including W. H. Auden and Stephen Spender. About 1927 Eliot permanently converted to the Anglican Christian faith. His poetry from this time on reflected his religious beliefs: Journey of the Magi (1927), Animula (1929), Ash Wednesday (1930), Marina (1930), and especially the magnificent Four Quartets (Burnt Norton, The Dry Salvages, East Coker, and Little Gidding; 1935-1942), by many considered the greatest long poem of the twentieth century. Throughout his life Eliot enjoyed a delightful sense of humour, best exhibited in his popular Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats (1939), the source of the modern musical Cats. Late in his career, Eliot helped revive verse drama. His plays include both religious pieces, Sweeney Agonistes (1932), The Rock (1934), and Murder in the Cathedral (of the martyrdom of St. Thomas Becket; 1935), and the tragicomedies The Family Reunion (1939), The Cocktail Party (1950), The Confidential Clerk (1954), and The Elder Statesman (1959). Eliot also proved himself an important literary critic, from his first critical book, The Sacred Wood (1920) to one of his last, On Poetry and Poets (1957). He received many awards and honours in his lifetime, including the Nobel Prize for Literature and the Order of Merit, both in 1948. In 1957 he married his private secretary, Valerie Fletcher, a faithful friend, his beloved, and his literary executor. Eliot died on January 4, 1965, in London, and was interred in Westminster Abbey. Important reference works on Eliot's life and works include the following:

  • Ackroyd, Peter. T. S. Eliot: A Life. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1984. PS 3509 L4326Z13
  • Eliot, T. S. The Waste Land: A Facsimile and Transcript of the Original Drafts Including the Annotations of Ezra Pound Ed. Valerie Eliot. San Diego: Harcourt Brace, 1994. PS 3509 L43W3
  • Gallup, Donald Clifford. A Bibliographical Checklist of the Writings of T. S. Eliot. Rev. edn. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1970. Z 8260.5 G35
  • Handlist of Literary Manuscripts in the T. S. Eliot Collection Bequeathed to King's College, Cambridge by John Davy Hayward in 1965. Cambridge, 1973. end pam E546 Z6 C28 Fisher Rare Book Library.
  • The Letters of T. S. Eliot. Ed. Valerie Eliot. Vol. 1: 1898-1922. London: Faber and Faber, 1988. PS 3509 .L43Z48
Given Name
Thomas Stearns
Family Name
Birth Date
0, 1888
Death Date
0, 1965
Literary Period
Literary Movement