Katherine van Wyk

T.S. Eliot and Political Non-conformism: A Contextual Analysis of Eliot’s Poetry and His Characterisation as a Conservative
Interdisciplinary: Literature, Politics, European History
Volume 7 | Issue IV | December 2023
St Paul’s Girls’ School ’25
London, UK
Though I plan to study English literature at university, I have always been interested in modern history, and remain fascinated by the profound influence that personal, political, and historical contexts shape the way we approach the world. After reading T.S. Eliot’s The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock in my free time, I became fascinated by the idea of linking my existing knowledge of early twentieth-century European politics to a poet whose ideology I found frustratingly elusive. In Eliot’s later poetry, each line seemed imbued with contemporary political gravity I did not yet understand, leading me to pursue research into the knotty history of Eliot’s political ideology. I explored ideas of Conservatism, Fascism, Liberalism, and what I termed as Eliot’s ‘intellectual non-conformism’, as I dug into archival materials like newspapers and letters to gain a better understanding of the period. My research led me to search for links between Eliot’s poetic and critical work that might prove a continuous ideological thread through the surrounding shifts in the contemporary zeitgeist. My research engages with works of 20th-century American intellectuals like W.E.B. Du Bois as well as modern political theorists, which helped me shape my view of Eliot’s veiled political poetry. My paper published in The Schola led me to apply academic theory productively, as well as develop my understanding of the role literature plays in shaping political opinion. In the future, I plan to continue looking into Eliot’s work, while delving into other fields like gender studies and theology.
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