T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land is one of the world’s most popular and most studied poems, published 100 years ago in October 1922 in the first issue of the literary magazine, The Criterion.
The 100 Years: TS Eliot’s The Waste Land exhibition celebrated the centenary of the publication of this remarkable poem with a display of archives and rare books from Special Collections and Archives. The exhibition was on display from December 2022 to July 2023.
The exhibition featured a rare first edition of The Waste Land printed by the Hogarth Press, alongside the extraordinary portrait of T.S. Eliot by Patrick Heron, and the bust of T.S. Eliot by Jacob Epstein.
The exhibition explored the history of the poem, what inspired The Waste Land, and how it was critically received. We also consider the role of the editor and contributions of Bonamy Dobrée and Ezra Pound to the manuscript of the poem; the role of Eliot as an editor himself; and the experimental poetry of T.S Eliot, Gertrude Stein and John Ashbery.
Examples from the works of T.S. Eliot were highlighted including unique material about his play “Murder in the Cathedral” with correspondence showing how the play was commissioned for the Canterbury Festival in 1935.
We were also delighted to be able to show a silent film of one of the first performances of the play, filmed by Sydney Bligh on Saturday 22nd June 1935. The film shows TS Eliot attending the performance, as well as the producer Mr E Martin Browne dressed as a monk as he also played the Fourth Tempter. (We are extremely grateful to Screen Archive South East for giving us permission to screen this film within our exhibition)
A selection of the T.S Eliot works were displayed alongside notable examples from the incredible Modern First Editions Poetry collection held in Special Collections and Archives. The items on display were selected to highlight the significance of the collection and showcase some of the rare and fascinating small press poetry that forms the nucleus of the collection. For example, the poem Romney Marsh by Peter Riley and Andrew Crozier.
The University of Kent has a close link with T.S Eliot, having named our first College – Eliot College – in 1965, the year that T.S Eliot died. We are displaying some unique items from the Eliot College Archives that reveal the history behind the T.S. Eliot Memorial Lectures and the University’s T.S Eliot Poetry Prize.
The exhibition has been co-curated with the Department of English at the University of Kent, and we are grateful to all our contributors for their help and support.
With thanks to Dr Ben Hickman, Professor David Herd, Dr Paul March-Russell, Miguel Santos, Beth Astridge, Christine Davies, Clair Waller, Karen Brayshaw, Matt Wilson and Fran Williams.
The caricature of T.S. Eliot that features in the logo for the exhibition is by John Jensen, and was donated to the University in 1973 as part of a series of four representing the names of the four Colleges – Eliot, Rutherford, Darwin and Keynes.