cover image The Waste Land: A Biography of a Poem

The Waste Land: A Biography of a Poem

Matthew Hollis. Norton, $40 (544p) ISBN 978-0-393-24025-2

Honoring the centenary of T.S. Eliot’s modernist masterpiece, biographer Hollis (Now All Roads Lead to France) offers an illuminating account of the making of The Waste Land. Searching out the pieces “of the jigsaw puzzle that would become The Waste Land,” Hollis blends rich characterization and historical background to create a vivid picture of the London literary scene from the end of WWI to 1922 that takes in the writers, journals, and publishers that influenced Eliot’s work. Hollis allots great attention to Ezra Pound, who, he argues, is essential in a consideration of Eliot, as the “confluence that existed between the minds of the two poets” was central to Eliot’s work. Hollis also traces Pound’s influence in several of Eliot’s poems and examines in detail how The Waste Land was shaped by Pound’s editorial eye and “perceptive... direction.” The book gains traction when Eliot gets to the actual writing of the poem, as Hollis describes the laborious early drafts and deleted lines, as well as the sections he completed “almost whole, with barely any correction.” Hollis’s sharp prose sings and is poetic in its own right, and images of typeset pages and manuscripts in Eliot’s handwriting help bring the work to life. This fascinating and brilliantly researched history will delight Eliot’s fans. (Dec.)