T. S. Eliot, the Little Review, and Transnational Print Culture

8 November 2021

Zoe Rucker, University of Oxford

When the Little Review announced it was coming to the end of its fifteen-year lifespan in 1929, T. S. Eliot wrote to its editors expressing his distress and explaining that during the earlier part of his career, ‘The Little Review was the only periodical in America which would accept my work, and indeed the only periodical there in which I cared to appear in’.[1] In characteristically Eliotic fashion, such a comment contains both a compliment to the Little Review and an element of back-handed snobbishness towards other American periodicals. More interesting, perhaps, is Eliot’s use of the word ‘appear’, which, on one hand, simply means ‘to contribute work to’. On another, it implies a consideration for the reciprocal relationship between the self-fashioning and marketing of a public authorial image when an author is published in a periodical, and the shaping of that periodical’s own image and reputation within relevant networks of periodical culture. 

As we approach the centenary of Eliot’s landmark poem, The Waste Land (1922), celebrations of this influential modernist poet will undoubtedly include reflections upon the kind of authorial image he left behind. His snobbish comment regarding other American magazines points us back to the version of Eliot who became ‘more English than the English’ and was regarded by poets such as William Carlos Williams as a traitor to American literature for his 1914 expatriation, Anglophilic tendencies, and 1927 naturalisation as a British citizen.  In contrast, a number of scholars have attempted to situate Eliot under an American identity label in studies such as Eric Sigg’s The American Eliot (1989). The duality between the ‘American Eliot’ and the ‘English Eliot’ is still difficult for Eliot scholars to reconcile.  However, such strict distinctions begin to flatten when we consider that even thirty years after becoming a British citizen Eliot was signing himself as ‘metoikos’ or ‘resident alien’.[2] Recently, the transnational turn in modernist studies has encouraged more nuanced considerations of expatriate writers’ national and cultural identities and how they manifest in their writing. I want to further illuminate this angle of approach to a canonical modernist like Eliot by tracing his self-fashioning of a transnational identity through the periodical medium.

Print culture and the periodical medium were crucial to the development and self-definition of modernism’s avant-garde communities and movements. In his book-length study, Little Magazine, World Form (2017), Eric Bulson explores the ‘material aspect of transnationalism, and the publication mediums that facilitate such movement’.[3] He and Tara Stubbs have examined Eliot’s engagement with transatlantic culture using the case of The Waste Land’s original publication in America in the Dial magazine; yet, it is my contention that the Little Review, which published a greater volume of Eliot’s work, had more of an impact upon the development of his authorial image and its transmission across the ‘transatlantic divide’.

Although an American little magazine, in that it was Chicago- and later New York-based, the Little Review aimed to be truly international in terms of its self-definition and contents. Importantly, within the magazine’s first editorial, there is not a single mention of ‘American’, ‘American arts’, or any other adjectives that would suggest a focus upon the national artistic climate. The editorial line transcends concerns regarding national tastes in favour of aiming to freshen the international standard of the arts, without regard for where the new and most ‘vital’ work was hailing from.[4] When Ezra Pound was appointed the magazine’s Foreign Editor in May 1917, this internationalist theme was spelled out in even bolder terms in his first editorial. Pound writes, ‘I cannot believe that the mere geographical expanse of America shall produce of itself excellent writing’, before ending his ‘manifesto’ for the anti-provincialism of the magazine with an expression of detest for the [provincial] masses: ‘There is no respect for mankind save in respect for detached individuals.’[5] Aside from those who can afford to be relatively ‘detached’ from monetary concerns in their artistic production, there is another factor wound up in Pound’s classist idea of ‘detached individuals’. Many of the upper-middle class contributors to the Little Review enjoyed relative financial, and, therefore, creative freedom, but many were also ‘detached’ from America, either as expatriates or as foreign writers. With ‘exiles and émigrés’ such as Pound, Yeats, Joyce, and Eliot printed within its pages, the Little Review cultivated a kind of transnational sub-theme for itself.[6]

Publishing the young Eliot, who had been introduced to his first American audience through Poetry magazine as ‘[a] young American resident in England’, supported the Little Review’s desire to publish the most experimental and, indeed, the most cosmopolitan work.[7]  Three of Eliot’s French language poems appear in the June 1917 issue of the magazine.  Among these, ‘Mélange Adultère du Tout’ (‘Adulterated Mix of Everything’) reads as a humorously self-deprecating analysis of the transnational aspect of Eliot’s identity crisis, which is ironically underscored by the exhibition of his multilingualism.

Yet, Eliot’s essay, ‘The Hawthorne Aspect’, is perhaps the most illustrative case of how he utilised the Little Review or, reciprocally, how the Little Review used Eliot to further develop and market this transnational literary theme. In the August 1918 issue, a special number on Henry James (a writer of the previous generation who embodied the cosmopolitan American ethos), Eliot uses this platform to subtly dictate how he wishes to be received by his American audiences. In ‘The Hawthorne Aspect’, Eliot’s discussion of James’s writing and expatriate identity are essentially a thinly veiled discussion of his own writing and expatriatism.  Eliot writes of James:

that the soil of his origin contributed a flavour discriminable after transplantation in his latest fruit. We may even draw the instructive conclusion that this flavour was precisely improved and given its chance, not worked off, by transplantation.[8]

James’s immigration did not dilute his ‘Americanness’ but refined it. As Eliot moves into a discussion of what he means by ‘American flavour’, he turns this national label into a regional one by explaining that ‘James is positively a continuation of the New England genius’ while locating that genius within Nathaniel Hawthorne as a predecessor to James.  However, in comparing Hawthorne to James, Eliot declares fault in too strong a regional flavour: ‘the difficult fact [is] that the soil which produced [Hawthorne] with his essential flavour is the soil which produced, just as inevitably, the environment which stunted him’.[9]  This condescending remark underhandedly elevates Eliot’s own position as an expatriate who, like James, has escaped the ‘stunting’ effect of the ‘soil which produced him’. It is also an aesthetic value judgement between localist and cosmopolitan writing, in which Eliot’s and James’s cosmopolitan styles are promoted as ‘better’. In his disparaging comment on the quality of literary material which America offers, Eliot also divulges the recipe behind James’s success: an American stylistic flavour applied to the more cosmopolitan content which Europe offers. Eliot implies that in order to reach an international standard, a [good] American author must become ‘detached’ from singular national identity tags — they must be transnational.

Ultimately, ‘The Hawthorne Aspect’ serves two purposes which demonstrate the importance of the periodical medium to the development of Anglo-American modernism.  Resituating the essay within its original print context in the Little Review shows us that the space provided by the magazine allowed Eliot himself to negotiate his own transnationalism while also craftily promoting the writing he and other expatriate writers associated with the Little Review were producing. These intersections between modernist print history and transnationality, thus, highlight the centrality of print culture to the intercultural exchanges and discourse that are so central to the period and are now moving to the forefront of modernist studies.


[1] T. S. Eliot, ‘To the Editor of The Little Review’, in The Complete Prose of T. S. Eliot ed. by Frances Dickey, Jennifer Formichelli, and Ronald Schuchard, 8 vols, (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 2015), III, pp. 612 – 613 (p. 612).

[2] Eliot, ‘Full Employment and the Responsibility of Christians’, in The Complete Prose of T. S. Eliot, ed. by Ronald Schuchard and David E. Chinitz, 8 vols (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2017), VI, pp. 595 – 602 (p. 601).

[3] Eric Bulson, Little Magazine, World Form (New York: Columbia University Press, 2017), pp. 79 – 80.

[4] ‘Announcement’, The Little Review, 1.1 (March 1914), pp. 1 – 2  (p. 2).

[5] Ezra Pound, ‘Editorial’, The Little Review, 4.1, (May 1917), pp. 3 – 6.

[6] See Terry Eagleton’s Exiles and Émigrés: Studies in Modern LIterature (London: Chatto and Windus, 1970).

[7] ‘Notes’, Poetry: A Magazine of Verse, 6.3, ed. by Harriet Monroe (June 1915), pp. 158 – 159 (p. 159).

[8] Eliot, ‘The Hawthorne Aspect’, in The Complete Prose of T. S. Eliot, ed. by Jewel Spears Brooker and Ronald Schuchard, 8 vols (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2014) I, pp. 736 – 743, p. 736.

[9] Ibid., p. 736, 738.

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