That’s Not Typing, It’s Writing: How T. S. Eliot Wrote “The Waste Land”
lithub.com – Monday January 9, 2023
When an interviewer said in 1959 that he’d heard that TS Eliot composed on the typewriter, he received a qualified reply. “Partly on the typewriter,” Eliot responded, and offered an insight into his recent play, The Elder Statesman, saying that it was initially produced in pencil on paper, before he transferred it to the machine. “In typing myself I make alterations,” he said, “very considerable ones.”
The early poems of the Prufrock years were mostly begun in manuscript and occasionally transferred to typescript (Conrad Aiken possessed a sheet produced by Eliot in splendid purple italic on a Blickensderfer). But for the poems of the “French” style—the Hogarth, Ovid and Knopf editions—and for the period of The Waste Land—a run of five years and perhaps sixteen poems—Eliot appears to have altered his approach.
In August 1916, he told Aiken that he was composing on the typewriter and enjoying lucidity and compression as a result. Most likely, he was thinking of his prose when he wrote this, but it may not be a coincidence that from that moment no draft manuscripts at all survive until the pages of The Waste Land in 1921. Some papers may have been written and destroyed in the act of transfer onto the machine, a moment which, to Eliot, marked the end of their practical value; but the condition of some initial typescripts—many in states of reasonably heavy revision—suggests that at this time Eliot was making his first drafts directly onto the typewriter.
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