29 October 2007

The Waste Land. T.S. Eliot 1922 / 1923

O the moon shone bright on Mrs. Porter
And on her daughter
They wash their feet in soda water
Et O ces voix d'enfants, chantant dans la coupole!
Twit twit twit
Jug jug jug jug jug jug
So rudely forc'd.
Unreal City

T. S. Eliot. THE WASTE LAND. Boni & Liveright, NY 1922 / Hogarth Press, London 1923.

Current Selling Prices
$2500-$10000 /£1200-£5000

The most famous long poem of the 20th century. Seen by many (inc Cyril Connolly) as the greatest triumph of literary modernism. There is a scene in the TV version of Brideshead where the effete Anthony Blanche proclaims the poem through a megaphone to his languid fellow students at Oxford - 'o o O that Shakespehearian Rag- It's so elegant /So intelligent ' - the scene gives an idea how the poem was received at the time. The anthem of a generation. Waugh took the title of his novel 'A Handful of Dust' from the poem. An old poet I used to buy books from (George Barker) had known the great man when he worked at Faber. He said that Eliot told him that when he wrote 'The Waste Land' he always had the seedy Praed street area of Paddington in mind. Not so shabby now but there are still vestiges of it's former squalor.

The Harry Ransom Center at University of Texas, endowed with billions, has the dedication copy (below) as well as Evelyn Waugh's entire library (4000 books) + Joyce's library from Trieste (632 books) +Coleridge Family library, W.H. Auden, E.E. Cummings, Ezra Pound, Anne Sexton, Wyndham Lewis, J. Frank Dobie, Christopher Morley, Sir Compton Mackenzie and Oliver La Farge.

The poem was first published, without the author's notes, in the first issue (October 1922) of The Criterion, a literary magazine started and edited by Eliot. The first appearance of the poem in the USA was in the November 1922 issue of The Dial magazine (actually published in late October). Both periodicals have sold for over $1000 each at ebay - they love literary periodicals there. In December 1922, The Waste Land was published in the US in book form by Boni and Liveright, the first publication to print the notes. It is said they were demanded by the publisher to bulk the book out a bit.

In September 1923, the Hogarth Press, a private press run by Eliot's London champions Leonard and Virginia Woolf, published the first UK book edition of The Waste Land in an edition of about 450 copies, the type handset by Virginia Woolf. (She wrote in August 1923: 'I have just finished setting up the whole of Mr. Eliots poem with my own hands: You see how my hand trembles'.) Some copies have hand written corrections by her.

The Boni NY edition was 1000 copies, the first 500 being bound in the publisher's flexible black cloth, the remaining 500 or so copies of the first edition were bound in a more solid cloth. The first issue has a dropped “a” in mountain on page 41. In the second sate 'mountain' reads 'mount in' a misprint that persists in the quite valuable NY 1923 second edition.

VALUE? Both the US and the UK are basically $10,000 / £5000 if in decent condition. No jacket assumed on the US edition, (although it can have one.) Copies in compromised condition can be had in the low thousands. The 1971 signed limited Faber edition in vellum (300 copies only) printed by Giovanni Mardersteig on the hand-press of the Officina Bodoni in Verona goes for circa £2000 in nice nick and has been that price for a decade. The Duke of Windsor's copy made $3000 at the Al Fayed sale in Paris. The preferred edition aesthetically is the rather fragile UK edition from Hogarth Press (1923) although it doesn't tend to last well so that clean intact copies are valuable. Many copies have been sophisticated or restored.

A copy turned up at a US book fair around the turn of the century inscribed by Eliot thus "au grande poète français Paul Valéry hommages de l'auteur T. S. Eliot. 1.xi.23.". It had been brought over by a very high end Parisian dealer and was snapped up at circa $10,000 and winged it's way around the fair adding $10K or more each time. It made $95,000 at the Rechler sale and was last seen at $250,000, about what it takes to stop it selling entirely. Another copy presented by Eliot to Geoffrey Faber with a great inscription in Italian (from Dante) can be had for £85K, another inscribed to Richard Aldington with a few corrections made £90,000 in 2001. Nice copies of the US first in jackets have made as much as $45,000 in auction this century. The outlook is probably healthy, there won't be a TV series or a George Clooney movie but unless we are in for some apocalyptic dumbing down it will always be known and celebrated as the supreme achievement of 20th century poetry.

The text can be found online sometimes with extensive annotations e.g. at the Tripod site. However clicking on the links in the poem takes one to commercial sites - when you click on 'Starnbergersee' in line 9 it tries to book you a holiday in Bavaria; I guess these academic sites have to pay for themselves.

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