Liturgical influences of Anglo-Catholicism on "The Waste Land" and other works by T. S. Eliot

A. Lee Fjordbotten, Fordham University


T. S. Eliot became a baptized Anglican in 1927 and, in the preface to For Lancelot Andrewes, declared himself an “anglo-catholic in religion.” This dissertation examines Eliot's works in the light of his Anglo-Catholicism. The first chapter is introductory, discussing some of the biographical and psychological background of Eliot's conversion. Chapter two presents the Unitarian religious background of Eliot's family and sets that background into the context of the larger American religious scene. The chapter goes on to outline the history of the Anglican Church and includes a discussion of the nineteenth-century Oxford Movement. That movement was largely a high-church, liturgical reform movement of the Anglican Church that helped to define Anglo-Catholicism as Eliot would have understood it in his day. Chapter three concentrates on Eliot's critical writings as they show increasing evidence of Eliot's religious orientation. Eliot's later essays go into the social implications of religious faith in the larger community. Chapter four looks at The Waste Land, the central work of the dissertation. The Waste Land reveals a spiritually searching and developing Eliot in anticipation of his formal conversion in 1927. The poem's structure is similar to the traditional process of conversion, especially as seen in the Christian Lenten season. Thus, the poem becomes the chronicle of Eliot's own spiritual journey to conversion. The five sections of The Waste Land are analyzed liturgically, in relation to the five Sundays of Lent and their respective themes. Chapter five continues this liturgical approach with “Gerontion,” Ash-Wednesday , the Ariel poems, Four Quartets, and Murder in the Cathedral. Chapter six concludes with a discussion of “Little Gidding,” the final poem of Four Quartets. “Little Gidding” focuses on communal faith and makes reference to the liturgically oriented religious community of the seventeenth-century Ferrar family. Finally, Eliot traced his family heritage to East Coker, where his remains are buried, so both his family and his religious roots can be seen as starting and ending there. In his own words, in his beginning is his end and in his end is his beginning.

Subject Area

Literature|British and Irish literature|Religion

Recommended Citation

Fjordbotten, A. Lee, "Liturgical influences of Anglo-Catholicism on "The Waste Land" and other works by T. S. Eliot" (1999). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI9955962.