"They called me the hyacinth girl" : T. S. Eliot, masculinity, and the Great War Public Deposited

http://ir.library.oregonstate.edu/concern/graduate_thesis_or_dissertations/h415pf13s

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  • This thesis traces the relationship between the First World War, constructions of masculinity, and the life and poetry of T.S. Eliot. Central to this relationship is a study of homoeroticism, which the author characterizes as different from homosexuality but not exclusive of it, in late 19th and early 20th century poetic traditions. The argument begins by establishing a critical framework that draws on contemporary paradigms of Modernist literary gender studies but also seeks to revise them by shifting the focus to issues surrounding masculinity. With this framework in place, the thesis goes on to discuss the tradition of male homoeroticism in artistic movements preceding World War I, including Symbolism, Uranianism, and Aestheticism, then moves on to an examination of the war itself, its effect on soldiers' notions of masculinity, and the intensification of the homoerotic element in the poetry composed by soldier poets. I then reexamine the relationship between Eliot's poems, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock and The Waste Land, arguing that both are significantly inflected by the changing masculine consciousness of the war era and that both are largely personal in nature despite their author's insistence on the impersonality of poetry. An explication follows of Prufrock and Eliot's other verse written between 1914 and c.1920, focusing on passages that suggest the homoerotic. The bridge between this and the section on The Waste Land is a commentary on the relationship of Eliot and his friend Jean Verdenal, a Frenchman who was killed in the war, and the import of this friendship to Eliot's work. The possibility of their homosexual involvement is entertained but not insisted upon, the point being reemphasized that homoeroticism, not homosexuality, has the more meaningful impact on the masculine artistic consciousness. All of these ideas culminate in the Waste Land chapter, which highlights passages of the poem dealing with a range of human possibilities for intimacy-male and female, sexual and non-sexual. The study concludes that the poem ought to be read as a representation of an embattled masculine consciousness drawn to the homoerotic but uncomfortable with changing 20th century sexual mores.
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