INTRODUCTION

The lack of critical attention given to the important relationship between T. S. Eliot and Gustave Flaubert represents a surprising and concerning lacuna in the field of modernist studies, an oversight that this book undertakes to correct through an examination of the analogous manner in which each conceives of the ascetic saint as an emblematic figure for their aesthetic praxis. My analysis highlights the compatibility of the two authors, focusing especially on the works in which their interrelation is most prominent and most fruitful: La Tentation de Saint Antoine and The Waste Land.1 The comparison between these two texts is made not only on the basis of certain thematic and descriptive details that they have in common, but most crucially on account of the deep-lying structural kinship that bears testament to an enduring fascination on the part of both authors with the ascetic performance of the saint. The purpose of joining these two texts has three aspects: to establish the Tentation as a definitively avant-modernist text; to explore more thoroughly Lyndall Gordon’s suggestion, in her discussion of Eliot’s ‘The Death of Saint Narcissus’, that ‘it is crucial to see The Waste Land, indeed all of Eliot’s subsequent work, in the context of this early story of an aspiring saint’;2 and to set both works firmly in the context of the saint’s experience, showing the analogy that both writers explore between artistic and religious inspiration and the subsequent equation of the artist’s creative process with the saint’s via negativa. In support of my argument regarding these two texts, I make reference to a range of works from within the oeuvre of either author, where their interest in the ascetic exerts either an explicit or implicit influence: for Flaubert, Madame Bovary, ‘La Légende de Saint Julien l’Hospitalier’ and the scenario for an uncompleted work called La Spirale all make considerable contributions to my analysis, as do the insightful reflections of his Correspondance; meanwhile, Eliot’s early ‘saint’ poems, the later Four Quartets, ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ and the theoretical formulations of his criticism perform a similar function for my reading of The Waste Land. Michel Foucault suggests that Flaubert’s Tentation stands at the very origin of what we consider ‘modern literature’.3 Among the lineage he nominates of ‘Mallarmé … Joyce, Roussel, Kafka, Pound, Borges’,4 my argument insists on the

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inclusion of Eliot – The Waste Land especially – as another author whose mode of composition was governed by those same ‘fantasies … deployed in the hushed library’ that Foucault describes,5 one, moreover, for whom – like Flaubert – the saint held a special literary significance, as the medium and the metaphor by which such an imaginative setting was evoked. While the influence of Charles Baudelaire on Eliot has received a good deal of critical attention,6 his debt to Flaubert remains less documented – both within Eliot’s own writings and in subsequent critical and biographical work. David Ward justifiably links the two authors on the basis of their theories of impersonality, but Ward’s essay – which also discusses the influence on Eliot’s literary ideals of his reading of Saint Augustine – offers only a cursory and incidental analysis of the intrinsic similarities in the artistic instincts and outputs of the two writers.7 G. R. Strickland provides a more satisfying collocation of Flaubert with Eliot and Ezra Pound, crucially mediated by the critical influence of Remy de Gourmont, exploring ‘certain habits of thought’ inherited by the later authors8 – again, the posture of impersonality, and the promulgation of literature as a form of social elitism. Like Strickland, Enid Starkie emphasizes the role of Gourmont in formulating her observation that ‘many of Eliot’s aesthetic ideas came from Flaubert’;9 the scope of her study is too broad, however, for a detailed portrait of the intellectual transmission between the two to emerge, and she does not extend her observation to include Flaubert’s influence on Eliot’s aesthetic practice – an oversight when one considers how closely embroiled theory and praxis are in the output of either author. Stanley Sultan groups Flaubert with Baudelaire, Henry James and Dostoevsky as one of the most significant antecedents of the modernism exemplified by Eliot and Joyce, but he does not grant sustained attention to the specific relationship with which I am concerned.10 Edward J. H. Greene, meanwhile, includes material on Flaubert’s exemplary status in his useful overview of Eliot’s more general gravitation towards France and French writers.11 Similarities in the style, theme or attitude of the two authors have not infrequently been remarked,12 but critical developments have failed to expand upon these hints, and nowhere has the precise nature of their relationship taken centre stage in the sense that it does in the current study, where I delineate its importance for understanding the religious strain (in both senses of the word) within modernism.13 The book consists of five chapters. The first three chapters have a thematic and biographical emphasis, where the emotional and intellectual appeal of the saint to Eliot and Flaubert is defined, leading to the more specific and detailed analysis of the final two chapters, where the textual impact of such a figure – the authors’ shared fascination for the saint manifesting itself not only in their scenarios and certain descriptive details, but on a structural level also – is assessed. While the relation of the saint’s trial to the structure of Flaubert’s Tentation may

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seem self-evident, the suggestion that it, rather than Eliot’s suggestion of the Grail quest, provides ‘not only … a good deal of the incidental symbolism’ but also – crucially – ‘the plan’ of The Waste Land requires greater explication,14 in which respect its similarities with Flaubert’s work will prove hugely elucidative. In Chapter 1 I identify, through an analysis of the ‘poetics of citation’ that each author employs in their rendering of ascetic experience,15 an enduring level of the text that is resistant to the divisive effects of its dominant discourse; observing a similar dynamic at work in Madame Bovary and ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’, I touch upon other themes – Flaubert’s travel and practice of reading, or Eliot’s use of time – pertinent to each author’s representation of the saint. The focus on language, as both deficient and excessive, provides a context in which certain established tropes of saintly literature are found to endure in Eliot’s and Flaubert’s radical contributions to the genre: the effect of a simultaneous embrace and eschewal of originality, which the technique of either text creates, is shown to replicate – as with hagiography’s own awkward attitude towards literary creation – the experience of the ascetic saint, whose tradition dictated that innovation was always contingent upon imitation. Chapter 2 continues the theme of transgression, introduced in the first chapter with the model of an escape that is also an immersion, through an overview of the authors’ attempts to intuit a type of knowing and a type of feeling that goes beyond ordinary experience. The analysis looks at Eliot’s and Flaubert’s attraction to systems of thought, exemplified by F. H. Bradley and Geoffroy Saint-Hilaire respectively, characterized by their aspiration towards a vision that is made comprehensive through the convergence of both scientific and religious approaches to knowledge – in a dynamic which reflects that of the two texts. The anti-Cartesian project of their urge towards an absolute also manifests itself in the extremes suffered by the ascetic body, which is associated by Eliot and Flaubert with both sexuality and nervous illness – conditions understood by each to be in some way connected to their creativity. In Chapter 3 the transgressive urge of the saint takes a more concrete form in my analysis of Flaubert’s and Eliot’s renderings of the desert landscape traditional to asceticism, where I review – always in conjunction with its necessary counterpoint, the city – its status as both a religious and a creative space. As the primary backdrop to both the Tentation and The Waste Land, the desert provides a theatrical setting for two works whose pronounced dramatic qualities create awkward stylistic hybrids within an ostensibly narrative framework. Despite their rejection of traditional narrative forms, however, both texts are characterized by the search for a sense of pattern. Drawing on my analysis regarding the systematic nature of their thought, the recurrence of desert and water scenarios, and the existence of ontologically distinct levels of the text from earlier in my analysis, I identify in the final two chapters the patterns achieved by the Tenta-

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tion and The Waste Land – focusing first on the internal consistency of my two principal texts, and then providing a rich portrait of the various interrelations formed via the figure of the saint throughout the authors’ respective oeuvres and within modernism more generally. Having suggested its relation to the body, mind and habitat of the saint in the preceding chapters, the ‘ascetic text’ itself receives concerted attention in Chapter 4, where I present an exposition of the structural similarities wrought by the Tentation’s and The Waste Land’s shared relation to the saint’s trial – brought into relief most significantly by the pivotal episodes of Phlebas and the Queen of Sheba, each of which possesses an influence that extends far beyond the allotment of the individual incidents within the texts. The coincidence of the vortex in these latter episodes, as a means of encapsulating the dynamic of the saint’s act, is expanded upon in Chapter 5, where it is shown to provide a principle of resolution not only for the sense of disconnection suffered by the saint – from which stems the fragmentary impression created by both texts – but for the various strands of my analysis, which it allows me to unite and set against the larger context of some precursors and peers for the ascetic modernism exemplified by Flaubert and Eliot. While each has a strong sense of theme and focus, the chapters form many points of intersection, and the recursive nature of my material is something that I will indicate at relevant points – but also something that I hope the reader will gain an appreciation for in response to a discursive style that looks to be sympathetic to the character of texts that are allusive, even elusive, with regard to the ascription of meaning. Taking as my lead Martin Turnell’s description of Flaubert as the master of the ‘recurring image’,16 and conscious also that Eliot was himself adept at using both visual and verbal echoes within individual pieces and throughout his poetry as a whole, I build an intricate picture of the associations that cluster around the central imago of the ascetic saint. Although the analogy between them is insistent, the temptation to elide – for the sake of convenience – either the two authors or the two texts is not one to which I have succumbed. Implicit in the structure of my analysis, which bases itself in part on the conflict and complicity of apparent antitheses, is the intention to define the differences as well as the similarities of Eliot’s and Flaubert’s artistic instincts and outputs: in the first chapter I examine the common structural feature of a withdrawn element that complements and contrasts with the dominant discourse of the respective works – speech in Eliot’s poem and image in Flaubert’s text. This latter distinction forms a consistent point of emphasis, not only characterizing the dramatic forms that each author uses to disturb their narrative – as I describe in Chapter 3 – but also dictating the nature of the sign that they receive at the climax of their respective trials. In Chapters 4 and 5, meanwhile, I provide readings of the Tentation and The Waste Land that empha-

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size their independent status, albeit relating the particular idiosyncrasies that mark the respective texts to the common paradigm of the saint’s trial. Part of the work of my analysis involves not only pointing to the analogous nature of my two principal texts, but also defining both the broader relation between their authors and the more specific similarities of the protagonists that stand for them within their work. While a likeness between Prufrock and Frédéric Moreau has been noted on the basis of a negative identification – they share ‘an awareness of the spiritual decay of society but lack the necessary will and passion to counteract it, preferring introspection to action’17 – the relation between Anthony and Tiresias, of greater significance for both Eliot and Flaubert studies, remains uninvestigated. Eliot’s suggestion of Tiresias as the poem’s ‘most important personage’ (note to l. 218) grants him a status synonymous with that of ‘protagonist’, in which function he does not – as Eliot acknowledges – assert himself as a ‘character’, but rather stands for the consciousness of the poem; Eliot writes that ‘what Tiresias sees is the substance of the poem’ and that the poem’s diverse personae ‘meet in Tiresias’ (note to l. 218). In this he mirrors the role of Anthony, whose ‘pure passivity’ is both incongruous with and symptomatic of his importance as the originary and terminal point of the visions that constitute the text.18 The analogy between Tiresias and Anthony is further strengthened by the former’s relationship to other, more overt ‘saint’ figures in Eliot’s early poetry, where – as Gordon writes – ‘a bold convert, a passionate martyr or saint displaces the frustrated philosopher of the 1910–12 poems’.19 In terms of Eliot’s creative output, the saint’s first notable appearance is in a nexus of early poems that, as I describe in the course of my argument, all relate in some way to The Waste Land – ‘The Love Song of St. Sebastian’, ‘The Death of Saint Narcissus’ and ‘The Burnt Dancer’ – and later recurs, affirmed by faith, in such works as Murder in the Cathedral and the Four Quartets. Even if Eliot renounced some of the ‘dubious mysticisms’ that he associated with him in The Waste Land,20 the saint’s status as a fixture in his work is evidence of a persistent engagement with the question of faith – providing a sense of continuity that persisted despite outward changes of bearing. As the apotheosis of his earlier experiments, particularly those in which the saint was prominent, The Waste Land functions as a mise en abîme of themes and styles from the first phase of Eliot’s poetic career; Gilbert Seldes writes that ‘it develops, carries to conclusions, many things in his remarkable earlier work, in method and in thought’.21 Franco Moretti’s portrayal of The Waste Land as not the beginning of a new era but the end of an old one is affirmed by Eliot’s reflection, described by Peter Ackroyd, that ‘1926 was the year in which the features of the post-war world emerged and that the intellectual and artistic work of the previous seven years “had been the last work of an old world, not the first one of a new”’.22 What

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was saved from the whirl of destruction in which the poem ends were certain symbolic motifs that Eliot was to retain and rework throughout his career, and foremost among these were the saint and his desert environment.23 In the same way that The Waste Land exhibits a double function as both a repository on which his later works draw and a distancing device that closed a chapter not only on his personal and poetic development but also – as he saw it – on a phase of history, so Flaubert’s engagement with the figure of the saint was a lifelong preoccupation that linked the disparate themes of his earlier and his later work. The Tentation’s relation to the rest of Flaubert’s fiction is a recurrent point of discussion in this book; the work’s protracted period of production allows it to insinuate itself among his entire oeuvre – from minor youthful productions such as La Danse des Morts and Smar to his unfinished masterpiece Bouvard et Pécuchet, encompassing all of his major fiction in between. Like The Waste Land, the Tentation occupies a problematic position within Flaubert’s oeuvre: Foucault defines its ambivalent status, remarking that ‘it influenced all his works … standing behind them’ while being at the same time ‘unlike all his other books’.24 The Tentation’s at once anomalous and typical status is a persistent theme in my analysis, where the relation of my two principal texts to the rest of each author’s oeuvre is itself regarded as analogous to the position of the saint – as exemplified by Anthony and Tiresias – in relation to the drama of their trial: both central and peripheral, the two protagonists are situated awkwardly between observer and participant. Having first defined the terms that form the conceptual hub of my enquiry, in the remainder of my introduction I would like briefly to touch upon Flaubert’s more general status among Eliot’s modernist peers and provide a glimpse of the manner in which his influence presented itself to Eliot. It will become evident that the insistent compatibility that I observe between the two authors is predicated not on the terms upon which Eliot himself bases his professed admiration for Flaubert. My thesis is rather that the significance of this under-explored relationship – which epitomizes so many of the themes, attitudes and influences of modernism – resides in the similarities, both incidental and fundamental, that the Tentation and The Waste Land establish through their common derivation from the model of the saint’s trial. Asceticism – a concept derived from, but not exclusive to, religious practice – is used here to indicate a strategy of empowerment based on renunciation, characterized by self-reflexivity and a concern with process. As with its religious application, where it describes both a lifestyle and a body-centred discourse, so in the literary field it refers to not only an attitude on the part of the writer but also a quality of the text itself. Indeed, this constitutes one respect in which asceticism and modernism reveal themselves to be surprisingly compatible:

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the ascetic’s insistent attention to the body as both an object of scorn and an instrument of pleasure is mirrored by the modernist attitude to the text. More generally, each has in common the cultivation of a certain aloofness or austerity, combined with a contrasting quality of playfulness, as well as sharing particular paradigmatic scenarios: the dark night of the soul or the temptation, with their accompanying sensation of alienation and doubt, is a staple of both. While modernism is undoubtedly characterized by a sense of the newness of the age and a (perhaps rather studied) sense of the unprecedented nature of the experiments in style and content of those writers who responded to ‘cataclysmic upheavals of culture’ with an overhaul of their craft,25 Ezra Pound’s injunction to ‘make it new’ in fact describes – on closer inspection – renovation as much as innovation.26 Therefore, even if the attempt to define an ‘ascetic modernism’ may seem like a paradox when, as Gavin Flood suggests, ‘asceticism goes against the spirit of modernity’,27 it is nevertheless a characteristic one: asceticism, which – Flood continues – ‘looks both back to the past and to a future that reinstates that past purity’,28 is itself, like modernism, framed by the paradox of a discovery of the new through an exhaustive reprisal of the old. My focus is on the Anglo-American branch of High Modernism for which Eliot’s Waste Land functioned as a calling card. In the course of my analysis I touch upon the work of such authors as James Joyce, Ezra Pound, W. B. Yeats and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Although modernism represents a broad, rather ‘indeterminate’ category,29 the writers to which this study refers all conform in varying degrees to the precepts that Michael Levenson observes as ‘common devices and general occupations’ of the movement: ‘the recurrent act of fragmenting unities … the use of mythic paradigms, the refusal of norms of beauty, the willingness to make radical linguistic experiment, all often inspired by the resolve (in Eliot’s phrase) to startle and to disturb the public’.30 That these qualities should apply equally to Flaubert as they do to that group which Wyndham Lewis referred to as the ‘Men of 1914’ is not surprising,31 since Flaubert’s writing has frequently been situated at the point of origin for the modern literary consciousness: as Roland Barthes suggests, ‘the whole of literature, from Flaubert to the present day, became the problematics of language’.32 My work does not undertake to broaden the parameters of what is already a diverse and somewhat nebulous literary movement, and in fact pursues what Malcolm Bradbury and James McFarlane refer to as a fairly standard ‘emphasis on the Anglo-American achievement’ at the root of which ‘stand two prime initiators, Baudelaire and Flaubert’;33 however, within that field I explore in depth the important relationship between Eliot and Flaubert, which brings modernism’s ascetic dimension into relief. It can be surmised from those rare occasions where he mentions Flaubert by name that Eliot held his predecessor in high regard: he describes him, for

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example, as ‘un maître à la fois d’art et de pensée’,34 and classed the Éducation Sentimentale with Aeschylus, Shakespeare and Aristotle as an example of ‘permanent literature’.35 In a letter from 1922, he expresses his wholehearted endorsement of J. M. Robertson’s essay on Flaubert, which Eliot published in the Criterion – a reassertion of Flaubert’s ‘genius’ in the face of John Middleton Murry’s attempts to question his standing.36 The full extent of his influence on Eliot is, however, more discernible in the implicit use of themes, models and attitudes derived from the earlier author’s oeuvre, rather than on the basis of the few explicit references we can glean from Eliot’s criticism or correspondence. David Ward offers the defeatist suggestion that ‘it would be unwise to stress the affinity between Eliot and Flaubert too much’ when ‘there are a score of poets, dramatists, philosophers, divines and even novelists whose influence is more direct and easier to trace’.37 Nevertheless, it is my impression that the link is an insistent and elucidative one, even if the connection between the two authors is often best explored indirectly, by reference to other authors. This may, indeed, have constituted a large portion of how Eliot absorbed Flaubert; he was well read in French literature of the mid- to late nineteenth century and had particular affinity with authors closer to his own literary fields – Paul Valéry, Remy de Gourmont, Baudelaire, the Symbolists and Jules Laforgue – for whom Flaubert was an important figure.38 Eliot’s appreciation of Flaubert, and the manner in which it was absorbed, seems to conform to the latter’s more general modernist legacy. Unlike the protagonist of J.-K. Huysmans’s A Rebours, who ‘preferred Flaubert’s Tentation de saint Antoine to his Éducation sentimentale’,39 modernist favour largely fell on the latter work, along with Madame Bovary and Bouvard et Pécuchet. The progenitor of this tendency was Remy de Gourmont, a critical icon for both Pound and Eliot, who grouped the Tentation together with Salammbô as the works that were ‘les moins purs et les moins beaux’ in Flaubert’s oeuvre, recommending that they be excluded while the rest of his major fiction was read in its correct temporal sequence.40 Where Eliot lauds a specific work of Flaubert’s, it is most commonly the Éducation Sentimentale – the most ‘engaged’ of all his novels with a specifically contemporary milieu – that commands his praise. Indeed, it was likely this engagement with a known and knowable outer world that Eliot considered most laudable; Gourmont had made the distinction between the factions of Flaubert’s fiction that he posits on the basis of his accord for works ‘où un écrivain s’est raconté lui-même en racontant les moeurs de ses contemporains, leurs rêves, leurs vanités, leurs amours et leurs folies’.41 Eliot paraphrases this remark – acknowledging the derivation of his statement – in ‘Shakespeare and the Stoicism of Seneca’, where he comments that ‘the great poet, in writing himself, writes his time’;42 it is certain, therefore, that he was aware of the division Gourmont posits in Flaubert’s work and thought its premise justified.

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Even if Eliot had absorbed Gourmont directly, it is also the case that his judicious partiality reflects the forceful influence of Pound in this respect, whose review of Eliot’s Prufrock and Other Observations had cited appreciatively Gourmont’s observation of the ‘incontestable’ superiority of Bouvard et Pécuchet, the Éducation Sentimentale and Madame Bovary over the Tentation and Salammbô.43 Pound, following Gourmont’s example, expressly excludes the latter works in the ‘Vaccine’ section of ‘How to Read’, recommending ‘Flaubert (omitting Salambô [sic] and the Tentation)’.44 The basis for their omission is clarified in Pound’s review of Joyce’s Ulysses, where he conjectures that Flaubert had been ‘interested in certain questions now dead as mutton, because he lived in a certain period’, expressing relief that ‘he managed to bundle these matters into one or two books and keep them out of his work on contemporary subjects’.45 Pound goes on to quote a remark from Joyce that ‘we might believe in it if Flaubert had first shown us St. Antoine in Alexandria looking at women and jewellers’ windows’.46 The moderate reproval, and suggestive image, that Pound attributes to Joyce here only serves to make apparent the fact that his exclusion of the Tentation from the canon is based on a matter of window-dressing through which the prescriptive pill might be sugared. The Tentation may not have seemed palatable to Pound’s regard for the ‘exact presentation’ that he perceived elsewhere in Flaubert’s fiction;47 similarly, Eliot’s esteem for the Éducation Sentimentale on the basis of its technique of ‘purification, in keeping out a great deal’ marks it as the stylistic antithesis of Flaubert’s most teeming and unruly work.48 It is my contention, however, that – from Eliot’s perspective at least – such ‘questions’ as broached by the Tentation were far from irrelevant, particularly in the case of The Waste Land, where the comparative approach to religion,49 the crisis of faith, and the analogy between artistic and religious inspiration traced in Flaubert’s Tentation are prominent themes. The work’s method was also far from redundant, and the example of Joyce – misused by Pound – is important here: Richard Ellmann mentions it as having been specifically the Flaubert of ‘Saint Julien’ and the Tentation that Joyce was interested in,50 and it is from the model of the saint’s trial in the latter work especially that certain points of contiguity between Joyce and Eliot are in part derived. In his own essay on Ulysses, Eliot had ascribed to Joyce the discovery of the ‘mythical method’,51 which sought to establish the continuity of past and present. The exposition of such a method by either Joyce or Eliot has a definite precursor in the Tentation, where the identification of the present with the past, in both a personal and a cultural sense, is an important feature. In spite of its more emblematic retreat from the modern world, the Tentation is more continuous with Flaubert’s work on ‘contemporary subjects’ – as I elaborate in the course of my argument – than Pound allows; similarly, the ‘impersonality’ of the artist espoused by both Joyce and Eliot reflects in either case the influence

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of Flaubert, who not only propounds an analogous theoretical position but also frames it in similar conceptual metaphors. During my analysis I elaborate the importance of Flaubert to a proper understanding of Eliot’s theory and praxis, on the basis of their shared fascination with the figure of the ascetic saint. Both of the theoretical formulations I have introduced here are addressed in Chapter 1, which takes as its theme the citational style that both Eliot and Flaubert practice in their portrayal of the saint: citation is a necessary feature of the recourse from a sterile present to an idealized past that constitutes an integral motive behind the ‘mythical method’ that Eliot describes; similarly, the abundance of allusion, quotation and paraphrase in the Tentation and The Waste Land participates in the attempted erasure – or concealment – of the author from the text. More generally, their citational techniques are shown to be consistent with the model of the saint’s experience, both within the tradition of saintly literature from which each author derives aspects of their own depiction and in the more particular features that each develops in their conception of the ascetic act.

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