Representative Authors

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1605

T. S. Eliot (1888–1965)
Thomas Stearns Eliot was born in St. Louis, Missouri, on September 26, 1888. He attended Harvard, the Sorbonne and Oxford, studying philosophy and writing a dissertation on the logician F. H. Bradley. While in college, Eliot began writing poetry, but in 1908 he discovered French Symbolist poetry and his whole attitude toward literature changed. Ezra Pound read some of Eliot’s poetry in the 1910s and immediately decided that Eliot would be a member of his own literary circle. Pound advocated for Eliot with Harriet Monroe of Poetry magazine and got Eliot’s poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” published in that journal in 1915. Eliot had settled in London at the same time, and married the emotionally unstable Vivian Haigh-Wood. Eliot struggled to make a living, working as a teacher and later at Lloyd’s Bank until 1925.

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In 1922 Eliot broke through with his brilliant and successful poem “The Waste Land, ” although the manuscript of the poem demonstrates that Ezra Pound played a large role in the editing of the poem. “The Waste Land” brought Eliot fame and a place at the center of the burgeoning modernist movement. For the rest of the 1920s and 1930s, Eliot used his fame and his position as editor of a prominent literary journal (The Criterion) and as managing editor of the publishing house Faber & Faber to argue for a new standard of evaluating literature. In critical essays and his own poetry, he denigrated the romantics and neoclassicists and celebrated Dante and the Elizabethan “metaphysical” poets. He argued for the central role of “Tradition” in literature and downplayed the cult of individual genius created by the romantics.

For the remainder of his life, Eliot occupied the role of literary elder statesman. He continued to produce poems such as the Four Quartets but was never prolific. He became the very model of the conservative, royalist, High Church English gentleman. He died January 4, 1965, the very embodiment of the literary establishment.

William Faulkner (1897–1962)
William Faulkner was born in New Albany, Mississippi, on September 25, 1897, to a family with deep Mississippi and Confederate roots. He grew up in Oxford, Mississippi, and briefly attended the University of Mississippi before leaving the state to seek his fortune as a writer. Settling briefly in New Orleans, Faulkner came under the tutelage of Sherwood Anderson and published his first book, The Marble Faun, a collection of short stories, in 1924. In 1929 he published the novel Sartoris, his first work set in the fictional Mississippi county of Yoknapatawpha. Others followed, including his masterpieces The Sound and the Fury and As I Lay Dying.

In the 1930s and 1940s, Faulkner received a great deal of critical attention for his works, but he never obtained the kind of financial success that he sought. Attempting to remedy this, he wrote two sensationalistic books (Sanctuary and Requiem for a Nun) and briefly moved to Los Angeles to work as a screenwriter in Hollywood. Faulkner died on July 6, 1962, in Byhalia, Mississippi.

James Joyce (1882–1941)
James Joyce is the most important writer of the modernist movement. He produced relatively few works, but these books ranged from poetry to drama, to short stories to the novel that the Modern Library publishing imprint named the most im- portant novel of the twentieth century. His life, too, became the embodiment of many of Modernism’s most central themes: exile, the presence of the past in one’s life, familiarity with a broad range of cultures and historical periods, and self-destruction.

Joyce was born in Dublin, Ireland, on February 2, 1882, to a lower middle-class Catholic family. His father died when Joyce was young. Joyce attended Catholic schools in Ireland and matriculated at University...

(The entire section contains 1605 words.)

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