T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land at 100

Course Dates: 02/06/23 - 07/07/23
Time: 10:15 - 12:15
Location: Keeley Street
100 years ago this autumn an extraordinary poem was published that changed the literary world in ways we are still processing today. T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land was a modernist masterpiece, a broken hymn of despair, a collage of voices from different cultures and histories – and a poem that soon became iconic. From its memorable opening line – ‘April is the cruellest month’ – to its closing prayer, it takes us through a rich cast of characters and settings, evocations of myth and religion, and references to modern life. In this course we will look at the poem’s politics, its attitude to religion and sex, its many allusions, and the great writers it influenced.
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Full fee £139.00 Senior fee £111.00 Concession £90.00

Course Code: HLT254

Fri, day, 02 Jun - 07 Jul '23

Duration: 6 sessions (over 6 weeks)

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What is the course about?

Through this 6-week course, we’ll see that The Waste Land both responded to and shaped the twentieth-century mind. The Waste Land encapsulated the fears of a generation: war, financial collapse, sex, broken relationships, and the futility of modern life. In this course we examine the influences that made the poem unique, the cultures that shaped its writing, and the extraordinary shadow it has cast over modern literature.

We will explore and discuss the extraordinary influence of T.S. Eliot’s ground-breaking poem. We’ll see how Eliot’s understanding of economics (he worked in the international department of Lloyd’s Bank at the time) made him acutely aware of the danger of another European war - a fear that fed into the anxious atmosphere of The Waste Land. We’ll think about Eliot’s personal life and its impact on the poem, what the poem ‘means’, explore critical debates, look at how the text was made, and ask what its relevance is today.

What will we cover?

We will start the course by looking at the personal stories and struggles that created The Waste Land. Eliot had something close to a breakdown and was in recovery (in Switzerland, and then in Margate) when he wrote the poem. His marriage was in turmoil, and he was in a constant state of nervous exhaustion. This psychological background shaped the poem in untold ways – it’s possible to read it as a record of a patient in therapy.

We’ll think about the politics and economics of the poem. Eliot was working at Lloyd’s Bank on the way that war debt was organised, and his work in finance gave him a unique insight into the economic and political tensions of inter-war Europe. Again, this played a part in creating the cracking, fragmenting geography of the poem. In the third session we’ll look at the making of The Waste Land – a poem that went through multiple drafts, some of which are very different to the finished article! We think about the other people who shaped the poem – Eliot’s mentor, his fellow poet Ezra Pound, and Eliot’s wife Vivienne Haigh-Wood, whose comments on the draft were invaluable.

In the second half of the course, we turn to think about the meaning of the poem, and the critical debates that have raged on the poem’s implications, before looking at The Waste Land’s many literary fans – from W.H. Auden and Evelyn Waugh to Jeanette Winterson, and how they used or were inspired by the poem in their very different ways.

Finally we ask what use this poem of economic collapse, environmental crisis and political fragmentation should mean to us today.

What will I achieve?
By the end of this course you should be able to...

- Have the chance to take a deep dive into this iconic and complex poem
- Gain a deeper understanding of the cultural, social and political contexts of The Waste Land
- Be able to talk confidently about the poem and a range of other literary texts
- Understand how the meaning of a text might change over time
- Better understand the role of economics, politics, psychology and society in shaping literary texts
- Be comfortable understanding critical debates and different interpretations of the text
- Be able to develop your own ideas on the topic eloquently and creatively.

What level is the course and do I need any particular skills?

Some literary study might be an advantage for this course, but the most important skills needed are: 1) enthusiasm about literature and willingness to read! 2) good listening skills, and openness to free-flowing discussion and 3) preparedness: devoting some time to thinking about the topics beforehand.

How will I be taught, and will there be any work outside the class?

Mini-lectures each week, followed by small group work and discussion. Work outside class is to do the reading for each session.

Are there any other costs? Is there anything I need to bring?

Extracts from texts will be provided by the tutor via online links.

You may find it useful to buy or borrow a copy of Selected Poems of T.S. Eliot (Faber), and read The Waste Land in advance. Other poems in the Selected Poems volume that might be useful (but not essential) to read are ‘The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock’, ‘The Hollow Men’ and Four Quartets.

When I've finished, what course can I do next?

Look for other Literature courses under History, Culture & Writing/Literature at www.citylit.ac.uk.

David Barnes

David Barnes is an academic who has held lecturing positions at the universities of Birmingham and Oxford. His teaching specializes in modernist literature, with additional interests in Victorian writing and contemporary fiction. He held a visiting research fellowship at the University of Virginia and recently produced, wrote and presented the radio series, ‘Weird England’ for Radio 3. David’s essays and criticism have been published by Penned in the Margins, Slightly Foxed Quarterly, Times Literary Supplement, Times Higher Education, The Times, and The Guardian. His poems and short fiction have been anthologised in The Wolf, Intercapillary Space, and the Henningham Family Press. He is currently at work on a major writing project on the city and human-animal encounters in modern London.

Please note: We reserve the right to change our tutors from those advertised. This happens rarely, but if it does, we are unable to refund fees due to this. Our tutors may have different teaching styles; however we guarantee a consistent quality of teaching in all our courses.