From: Ken Armstrong <[log in to unmask]>
To: [log in to unmask]
Sent: Tuesday, November 8, 2011 3:55 PM
Subject: Re: Eliot's 4 English drawing room plays
On the other hand, the significant emotion of art was what Eliot was after, and some points could be raised in defense of his efforts. He was under no constriction to present emotions other than what he was interested in. If his plays were not fully successful, there
are other places to look besides to a deficiency in the poet's appreciation of human emotions, the claim of which is at best highly problematic anyhow. One large bit of territory to investigate might be what Katherine Anne Porter called "the failure of love in the Western world." For the poet or artist who perceives that overarching failure, religious ecstasy or despair may very well be the proper themes of his poetry/plays. And not assenting to this may well reflect much more on the critic than on the poet/playwright. Isn't this something that critics should keep in mind and be sensitive to, that there judgments may reveal more about them than about their alleged subject? Too, Eliot was trying to revive verse plays and wrote somewhere (don't remember whether it was about the plays or the poetry) about the advantage of having a form delivered developed into your poetic hands vs. the difficulties of trying to (re)establish a form. I think this is a more
promising area in which to look for Eliot's difficulties than to his appreciation of human emotion. Accompanying this lack of appreciation in Eliot criticism for these rather large factors, and possibly a part of it, is the strain of consumerism it exhibits, as if creating satisfactory verse or poetry were rather like turning on the hot and cold taps just right to get the most comfortable mixture for the bath water. While I suppose just about everyone would agree that that is not what creating art is about, I can't help wondering why then people persist in talking about it that way.
Nancy Gish wrote:
> That is not what I meant at all, that is not it at all. I wish this discussion could have remained a discussion, but that seems impossible.
> >>> Chokh Raj 11/08/11 7:18 AM >>>
> The significant emotion of art.
> *From:* Nancy Gish <[log in to unmask]
> *To:* [log in to unmask]
> *Sent:* Monday, November 7, 2011 1:55 PM
> *Subject:* Re: Eliot's 4 English drawing room plays
> Dear John,
> I agree with what you say, though as an actor ( English professor who acts for fun in a Shakespeare ensemble), I think one could do a fabulous and exciting performance of /Sweeney Agonistes/. I also saw a brilliant performance of /Murder in the Cathedral/ in the Cathedral at St. Andrews. It was performed all through and around the audience. That seems to affirm what you say about the comedies: //he really had not figured out that there are living humans with a much wider range of emotion than religious ecstasy or despair.// But I wonder why, then, you chose them. Do you think they could be directed and
acted in ways that would make them work now?
> P. S., of course he seemed much changed by human love when he finally experienced it.
> >>> John Angell Grant 11/07/11 1:31 PM >>>
> Hi Nancy,
> Thanks for the thought. I am a theater person myself, and have talked with other theater folk about the issue. Draw is always an issue. My sense is that Eliot's plays have a smug "I know the secret to life" feel to them, which is alienating and, in my view, paradoxically unchristian--a link to his Puritan heritage. Here's a 1950 review by of the The Cocktail Party, by William Barrett from the Partisan Review, which Jewel Brooker includes in her Contemporary Reviews book, which nails some of it, in my view. Barrett is referring to the 2 choices of life offered in The Cocktail Party (2 choices represented by the Chamberlaynes, and Celia):
> “Here we must remember that Eliot, the last great
product of the Puritan mind, has never shown in his poetry any real belief in the possibility of human love. The moment of love is presented always as the moment of withdrawal and renunciation, the awful daring of a moment’s surrender, one of ‘the things that other people have desired’; and consequently the beauty of the world is never present in the fullness of joy, but always with that painful clutch at the heart as at something taken away, lost, uncapturable. No doubt, resignation is necessary to get through life at all, and Freud himself stated that the aim of analytic therapy was to enable the neurotic to bear the sufferings inevitable in human life; but this is only half the picture, for the work of the analyst may also be to liberate the patient for the positive joys that life can hold, even perhaps for the possibility of love, and if the neurotic were told that he is to be resigned only for resignation’s sakes, it is very unlikely that
he would have the strength to go on.
> “I was surprised to read that one critic found in the play the gaiety that Stendhal recommends for all art, for it seems to me that at bottom the world of The Cocktail Party is the same empty world of Prufrock, except that 37 years ago Eliot did not disguise his contempt for this emptiness. So I feel at the heart of this play some immense tricherie [cheating], or at least self-deception, for I can’t believe that Eliot takes the Chamberlaynes as serious as he pretends to. Here again, comparison with Sweeney Agonistes becomes instructive, for in this earlier fragment Eliot fully realized all his hatred of human life and really enjoyed himself in the raucous company of Doris, Sweeney, Klipsteins, and Krumpacker—in comparison with whose vulgar vitality the characters at the cocktail party are genteel skeletons. As a writer Eliot has never really given us God’s plenty: the qualities of his genius are not
robustness and richness, but precision, terseness, and intensity; and the shadow which haunts these qualities is a certain tendency to thinness and brittleness that here in The Cocktail Party has at last caught up with him.”
> On Mon, Nov 7, 2011 at 9:57 AM, Nancy Gish <[log in to unmask]
<mailto:[log in to unmask]
> Dear John,
> I would think you could learn more about that from theater people
> than TSE enthusiasts. You might want to ask some theater faculty
> or directors.
> My guess is that they are not only rather outdated for
> contemporary audiences but are in verse. I imagine directors would
> doubt that they
would draw. That's only a guess based on what is
> >>> John Angell Grant 11/07/11 12:48 PM >>>
> I'm writing a Master's Thesis on Eliot's 4 drawing room plays
> (Family Reunion, Cocktail Party, Confidential Clerk, Elder
> Statesman). Does anyone have thoughts about why they are rarely
> performed these days. I set up Google Alerts for all 4 a few
> months back, and only one production popped up, and that wa 6
> rehearsed staged readings of The Cocktail Party by the
> English-language theater in Abu Dhabi! Donmar did a series a few
> years back. And there was an NYC production a year or so back.