This page contains a description of the book:

T.S. Eliot's Personal Waste Land

Exorcism of the Demons

by James E. Miller Jr.

This is one of my T.S. Eliot pages.

This web page is not an official publication of Pennsylvania State University.

Table of contents to this page

The reason for this page

Since the 1922 publication of T.S. Eliot's poem The Waste Land this poem has been viewed as a commentary on the post-war social order although Eliot himself had stated that it had personal meaning. In a college poetry class I was going crazy trying to understand the social meaning to the poem, so off to the library I went. I had the good fortune to pick up Miller's book. The author clearly showed that The Waste Land was a poem with personal meaning. Miller was able to get a clearer view of what Eliot must have been feeling when he was composing this poem because the original manuscript for the poem had been discovered and published a few years prior to the writing of T.S. Eliot's Personal Waste Land.

In 1996 I bought a copy of the book (over fifteen years after first reading it). This book had made The Waste Land so beautiful to me I found that I simply had to buy it to go over the details again. I created this web page at that time to make it easier for others to find the book.

The description from the book jacket

I will let the blurb from the dust jacket give a description of the book.

A major reinterpretation, T.S. Eliot's Personal Waste Land: Exorcism of the Demons takes Eliot at his word in his reiterated statements that The Waste Land was not a "critism of the contemporary world" but a personal "grouse against life." It is the first critical work to investigate in depth the sources of the poem in Eliot's life, with particular attention to Eliots "Calamus"-like attachment to a French youth during Eliot's graduate year in Paris, his subsequent precipitate (and disasterous) marriage following the death of his young French friend in World War I, and his 1921 nervous breakdown (suffering from what he called "an aboulie and emotional derangement which has been a lifelong affliction") that led to the writing of The Waste Land. Yet the main thrust of this work is not on Eliot's life, but on his poetry, exploring ways in which the fragmentary details of his life shape and illuminate the poems.

While some consideration is given to the early, confession-like "Ode" (later suppressed), and to the famous "familiar compound ghost" of the later Four Quartets, primary attention is focused on the original drafts of The Waste Land. The poem emerges from a meticulous and detailed reading of the manuscripts as indeed a kind of elegy for a dead friend, with links to Tennyson's In Memoriam and Whitman's "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd," and thus not a piece of "social criticism" but an expression of anguish and pain and despair working toward resignation, resolution and reconciliation. It becomes clear that this interpretation is not dependent on biographical conjecture and reconstruction, but flows inevitably from simple close scutiny of the intricate evolution of The Waste Land; therefore the firm establishment of the full facts of Eliot's early life is unnecessary to this "meaning." In following Eliot's own frequent hints, this book offers a vital corrective to all the previous readings (or misreadings) of The Waste Land, and has important implications for the entire Modernist Movement.

Some additional items of interest


Since first writing this page I have created a number of other T.S. Eliot pages including a page about Jean Verdenal Eliot's friend, about whom Miller writes. I have also created a web site entitled Exploring The Waste Land at


When Miller wrote his book it was prior to the publication of the personal correspondence of T.S. Eliot. Although he tried to see the letters at Harvard's Houghton Library permission was withheld at that time. Since then we have seen that that are are number of letters from Verdenal to Eliot in the collection.

From a paper by James Miller, T. S. Eliot's Personal Waste Land Comes of Age, presented at the December, 1999 Modern Language Association meeting:

Just recently, I was invited to contribute to an Eliot issue of the American Notes and Queries. I proposed an examination of the Verdenal letters to which I was denied access by Valerie Eliot before the first volume of the Eliot letters was published... My essay appeared in ANQ (Fall 1998) under the title T. S. Eliot's 'Uranian Muse': The Verdenal Letters.


The T.S. Eliot letters were finally published in the book

T.S. Eliot - The Letters of T.S. Eliot : 1898-1922 (Vol 1)
(1988)   Valerie Eliot (Editor)   Harcourt Brace & Company,   ISBN 0-151-50885-2

This first volume of Eliot's correspondence covers his childhood in St. Louis, Missouri on through 1922. The contents have been assembled by his widow, Valerie, from collections, libraries, and private sources worldwide.

The letters from Verdenal to Eliot are reprinted in this book both in the original French and in English translation.

Library of Congress cataloging in publication data

Miller, James Edwin, 1920-

T.S. Eliot's personal waste land.

Includes bibliographical references and index.
1. Eliot, Thomas Stearns, 1888-1965.
The waste land. I. Title.

PS3509.L43W373   821'.9'12   76-40424
ISBN 0-271-01237-4

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