Critical Overview

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 264

Although Ezra Pound and a few other radicals were supportive from the start, critics tended to resent or ignore the early essays anthologized in SelectedEssays, 1917-1932. Arthur Waugh's ‘‘The New Poetry'' called his poems "un-metrical, incoherent banalities'' with "no steady current of ideas behind them.'' Waugh represents a group of critics who did not take Eliot's literary theory seriously.

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But, by the time Eliot published Selected Essays, 1917-1932 in 1932, he was already an extremely well-established critic. Some resented Eliot, as an American, telling the English what to think, and Delmore Schwartz points out in his essay ‘‘The Literary Dictatorship of T. S. Eliot’’ that many found Eliot far too overbearing and authoritative. All, however, found his thinking innovative and important. Richard Shusterman points out in his introduction to T. S. Eliot and the Philosophy of Criticism: ‘‘Whatever one thinks of the merit of Eliot's critical thought, its enormous influence on twentieth-century critical theory and practice cannot be denied.’’

Modern critical opinions on Eliot follow a similar formula. Recent critics, like Jean-Michel Rabaté in his essay ‘‘Tradition and T. S. Eliot,’’ discuss some of the more innovative ways to approach Eliot's idea of a constantly changing literary past. Anthony Julius famously attacks Eliot's attitude towards Jews in his book, T. S. Eliot, Anti-Semitism, and Literary Form:"Of the many different kinds of anti-Semite, Eliot was the rarest kind: one who was able to place his anti-Semitism at the service of his art.’’ But, as Shusterman goes on to argue, even such sharp attacks on Eliot's critical judgments are ‘‘powerful testimony to his lasting significance.’’

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Essays and Criticism

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