In his preface to For Lancelot Andrewes (1928) Eliot styled himself a classicist, royalist, and Anglo-Catholic. His conservative penchant for literary tradition, monarchist politics, and ritualistic religion gives tone and direction to Notes Towards the Definition of Culture. It may seem odd that Eliot, whose impetus toward modernism in poetry was great, should identify himself as a classicist; he did not, however, oppose classicism to Romanticism or modernism but upheld the literature of the past as the tradition from which no poet can exclude his work. His royalism entailed the favoring of a class system determined by birth and wealth and limited to upper and lower, unbothered by middle. His religious preference culminated in his exaltation of Christianity as the true cultural determinant of Western civilization.
Consistent in his beliefs and preferences, although not always strictly logical in his presentation of them, he emerges in his attitude as part of a civilizational rearguard. This attitude underscores the pessimism of his poetry, which, although aggressively vanguardist in structure, idiom, and rhythm, is defensively expository of what he takes to be a true culture that has been rendered effete and moribund by the decline of Christianity.
In “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” Eliot personifies waning Western culture as an anxiety-ridden, stultifyingly middle-class, and middle-aged man who is no longer...
(The entire section is 1482 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of Notes Towards the Definition of Culture Critical Essays. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!