Introduction

In 1932, in London, T. S. Eliot published a selection of essays from among the prose he had written since 1917. By 1932, he was almost universally recognized as one of the most important living poets and critics of English literature, and Selected Essays, 1917-1932 provided an in-depth overview of a theory that had fundamentally changed literary thinking.

Bound with a complex argument for a new theory and laced with allusions to almost every period of literary history, Selected Essays, 1917-1932 may seem inaccessible or perhaps intended only for stuffy academics. But, it is important to remember two things while reading the book. First, Eliot was an American who had recently been baptized into the Church of England and who found it extremely important to sound civilized, learned, and authoritative in the grand role he had assigned himself. Second, since the success of Eliot's literary theory requires a vast knowledge and sweeping understanding of the whole of literature, the book needs to supply its reader with a broad variety of examples and parallels. After this is accomplished, the reader can go back and immerse him/herself in Eliot's idea of the classics of English literature.

Eliot revised and supplemented Selected Essays, 1917-1932 in 1951, but this entry deals with the original version of the book. The earlier version presented then-vibrant and new material, which represented the beginnings of a shift in Eliot's thinking and which at times may seem contradictory. It is important to treat the work as a whole, with examples supporting a grand and unified yet complex and subtle theory, to understand the book's profound influence and value.