Preview: TS Elliot – Into “The Wasteland”

TS Elliot - Into the Wasteland

A new documentary film to celebrate the centenary of The Waste Land, uncovering the hidden personal story behind Eliot’s creation of his enduring poem, directed by Susanna White and produced by Rosie Alison.

For decades, Eliot actively discouraged biographical interpretations of his work, developing an ‘impersonal theory’ of poetry in which the private life of a poet was deemed irrelevant. But in 2020 there were dramatic new revelations which uncovered that, behind Eliot’s mask, there was a much more personal story to be found within The Waste Land.

In January 2020, more than 1,000 of Eliot’s private letters were unsealed at Princeton University Library, 60 years after they were first deposited there. These letters to his confidante and muse Emily Hale have finally unveiled Eliot’s hidden heart, and the personal breakdown behind the creation of his most famous work. Eliot’s letters illuminate what appears to have been a complex, yet unspoken emotional triangle within the poet’s life in which he was pulled between his troubled relationship with his first wife Vivien and his enduring feelings for his first love, Emily Hale.

Both women appear to have played key roles in the genesis of the poem.

Moving through all five sections of the poem, the documentary explores many different facets of The Waste Land, from Eliot’s state of mind during each phase, to the different places where it was composed. Featuring contributions from actor and director Fiona Shaw and composer Max Richter; poets Hannah Sullivan and Daljit Nagra; Eliot’s biographer Lyndall Gordon, Vivien’s biographer Ann Pasternak Slater and Faber Poetry Editor Matthew Hollis. Simon Russell Beale performs specially recorded readings of the poem, in conjunction with Eliot’s own hypnotic reading of his work.

TS Elliot Into the Wasteland – Thursday at 9.00pm on BBC Two.

Image: Alamy/Sophia Smith Collection, Smith College Archives.

Advertisement