T.S. Eliot
August, 1922

Published in The Dial magazine
September, 1922

About the work:

In 1921 and 1922 T.S. Eliot was the London correspondent to The Dial magazine published in New York by his Milton Academy and Harvard University schoolmate Scofield Thayer. The Dial published eight letters written by Eliot about the cultural scene in England. Although Eliot continued to have articles published in The Dial he no longer had time to keep up the London Letter series as he started editing his own publication, The Criterion, the first issue being printed in October, 1922.

The first four "London Letter" essays (the ones that were published in 1921) are also available in print in the book The Annotated Waste Land with Eliot's Contemporary Prose edited by Lawrence Rainey (see below.) Rainey has added extensive notes on the people, books and events written about by Eliot.

In Donald Gallup's bibliography of Eliot's works this essay appears with the code C134.


For more information about T.S. Eliot and The Dial see the "Notes" section on the Table of Contents page.

The page numbers from the original edition of The Dial have been inserted into the HTML markup of this file. Use your browser's "view source" feature (or equivalent) to view them.

Additionally, information about linking to specific headers or paragraphs in this letter are supplied in the "Hyperlinking" section on the Table of Contents page.


Eliot, T.S.   'London Letter,'   The Dial,   New York, vol. LXXIII, no. 3, (September, 1922) pp. 329-331

Eliot, T.S.   The Annotated Waste Land with Eliot's Contemporary Prose.   Lawrence Rainey, ed.   New Haven and London: Yale University Press (2005)   ISBN 0-300-09743-3

Gallup, Donald.   T.S. Eliot: A Bibliography, A Revised and Extended Edition.   New York: Harcourt, Brace & World (1969)

About the copyright:

Having been published in the U.S. prior to 1923, it is my understanding that this work of Eliot's is in the public domain in the U.S. but perhaps not in other countries (particularly in the U.K. and E.U.) Be careful about republication.

About this webpage:

Revision date (y/m/d h:m:s):
$Date: 2004/12/03 22:50:31 $
Rickard A. Parker    (


August, 1922

The Novel

It is sometimes supposed, when any new and excellent work of art appears, that a new era of creative work will be directly propagated. Certainly, great works of art do in some way mark or modify an epoch, but less often by the new things which they make possible, than by the old things to which they put an end. After Shakespeare, very little; after Dante, nothing; after Henry James, nothing in that kind. So the intelligent literary aspirant, studying Ulysses, will find it more an encyclopaedia of what he is to avoid attempting, than of the things he may try for himself. It is at once the exposure and the burlesque of that of which it is the perfection. And Ulysses is not a work which can be compared with any "novel." And it is almost as difficult to compare what are called "novels" with each other. When a novelist is worth the pains, the only task is to find his particular topography, the characteristics of his universe, and judge their consistency; he can only be compared with others for the purpose of illustrating the general differences. Only in detail is comparison possible. 'There are at present, so far as my knowledge extends, three main types of English novel. Whether anyone type has a future is doubtful, but a future novelist may still learn something from each. And so I do not know how to compare them with each other. I must mention them, separately, without the shadow of a comparison between any representatives of each.

There is first the old narrative method, the tale, traditional in English fiction. The novelist has depended for his success upon a gift of invention, in plot, and an accurate knowledge of a social milieu. As Wells knows the Cockney (whom he has lately abandoned) as Bennett knows his Midlander (whom he has abandoned) so Mr Compton Mackenzie knows a certain theatrical world of London. Mr Mackenzie lays on, not so much sentiment, as coloured detail; and the reader has to accustom himself to the calcium light by which the actor is made visible. But a clever writer of this type, 330 LONDON LETTER" like Mr Mackenzie, simply because he is satisfied to write about what he knows not complicating it with any striving to attain a point of view not his own, may produce an interesting or even valuable document. Mr Mackenzie is better worth reading than many more pretentious and sophisticated writers. He is not admired by the intellectuals, but on the other hand there is a popularity which he will never attain. No book of his will ever have the success of If Winter Comes.

I should be sorry to see this type of novel disappear, unless it is to be replaced by something better. Another interesting type, but of a very short ancestry, is the psychoanalytic type, notably illustrated by Miss Sinclair's Harriett Frean and by a less finished, but commendable book, Miss E. B. Stern's The Room. In Miss Sinclair's book a method seems to have been carried about as far as it will go; and because it is a scientific method, and rests upon a dubious and contentious branch of science, I doubt whether even Miss Sinclair can carry it much further. Miss Stern does not reduce us to quite the state of lucid despair of Miss Sinclair, but that is because she does not carry tile method so far. The conclusion of Miss Sinclair's book (it has already been reviewed in The Dial--I only refer to it in describing a type) extracts as much pity and terror as can be extracted from the materials: but because the material is so clearly defined (the soul of man under psychoanalysis) there is no possibility of tapping the atmosphere of unknown terror and mystery in which our life is passed and which psychoanalysis has not yet analysed. So that if I may predict, it is that Miss Sinclair will find herself forced to proceed from psychotherapy even to the supernatural, or at least to that transfinite world with which Henry James was in such close intercourse.

Both Miss Sinclair and Miss Stern--this type of fiction would appear to be practised rather by women, and rather by extremely intelligent women--are too shrewd, I imagine, to pass on to the third or Dostoevsky type of novel. I recall one very interesting essay in this kind, Mr Murry's Still Life revolting form of spiritual corruption: but the method has produced more failures than successes. All novelists are dangerous models for other novelists, but Dostoevsky--a Russian known only through one translation--is especially dangerous. For the method is only permissable if you see things the way Dostoevsky saw them. I would not disparage a great writer by pointing to the fortunes of his offspring. One reason of Dostoevsky's appeal to the British mind is that he appears to satisfy the usual definition of genius; that is, an infinite capacity for taking no pains. On the other hand it is no good making a gospel of taking pains, either; if a writer has not the standard of perfection in himself, he will not acquire it from public agitation in favour of "technique." (I have even read in a newspaper article in this country, that the highest form of literary genius is indifferent to very careful execution. It is truer to say that every good writer will be careful about what is important for his purpose--but purposes vary indefinitely.) My own view is that Dostoevsky had the gift, a sign of genius in itself, for utilizing his weaknesses; so that epilepsy and hysteria cease to be the defects of an individual and become--as a fundamental weakness can, given the ability to face it and study it--the entrance to a genuine and personal universe. I do not suppose that Dostoevsky's struggles were fundamentally alien to Flaubert's. I cannot believe, at all events, that Dostoevsky was a muddle-headed soul-struggler anymore than I can believe that Plato was an Oxford don. Of course, he sometimes parodies himself (his parodies are instructive); but anything, unless it is as well done as it can be done, may be ridiculous.

One writer, and indeed, in my opinion, the most interesting novelist in England--who has apparently been somewhat affected by Dostoevsky, is Mr D. H. Lawrence. Mr Lawrence has progressed--by fits and starts, it is true; for he has perhaps done nothing as good as a whole as Sons and Lovers. He has never yet, I think, quite surrendered himself to his work. He still theorizes at times when he should merely see. His theory has not yet reached the point at which it is no longer a theory, he still requires (at the end of Aaron's Rod) the mouthpiece for an harangue. But there is one scene in this book--a dialogue between an Italian and several Englishmen, in which one feels that the whole is governed by a creator who is purely creator, with the terrifying disinterestedness of the true creator. And for that we can forgive Mr Lawrence his subsequent lapse into a theory of human relationships.

T. S. Eliot

To navigation menu ]