'"Prufrock and other Observations": A Criticism' by May Sinclair, from the Little Review

Description

This is a review of T S Eliot’s collection Prufrock and Other Observations (1917), published in the Little Review in December 1917.

Who wrote it?

May Sinclair (1863–1946) was an English novelist and philosopher. In 1916 she was elected a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, and hailed as ‘the foremost living writer among English-speaking women’ by William Lyon Phelps.

What does the piece argue?

On the whole, the piece is a ‘criticism’ in the sense of literary-critical appraisal rather than an attack. Sinclair begins with a review of other criticism published on the subject. She says that she has read a dismissive, anonymous ‘Shorter Notice’ in the New Statesman, and a positive review by Ezra Pound in the Egoist, which itself quotes from a negative review by Arthur Waugh in the Quarterly. Waugh’s review was in fact written in 1916, and refers to Eliot’s poetry before it was collected in Prufrock.

May expresses her surprise at the New Statesman’s approach, but does some dismissing of her own by declaring herself unsurprised that Waugh is continuing the ‘good old manly traditions of the Quarterly’ by not appreciating the modernity and realism of Eliot’s work. One of the reasons she perceives for approaches like Waugh’s is that ‘the comfortable and respectable mind loves conventional beauty, and some of the realities that Mr. Eliot sees are not beautiful’. Even Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809–1892), who became a Poet Laureate read by Queen Victoria, had been considered obscure at points in his career.

Sinclair admits that this poetry ‘is elusive; it is difficult; it demands a distinct effort of attention.’ But she believes that it should be praised for showing us ugly, unpleasant reality through sights, smells and sounds:

Mr. Eliot is careful to present his street and his drawing-room as they are, and Prufrock's thoughts as they are: live thoughts, kicking, running about and jumping, nervily, in a live brain.

Quoting from various sections of the collection, she argues that Eliot cannot properly be called obscure; his thoughts move ‘not by logical stages and majestic roundings of the full literary curve, but as live thoughts move.’ In a 1918 essay on Dorothy Richardson's Pilgrimage, Sinclair would be the first to take the term ‘stream of consciousness’ from the work of the philosopher and psychologist William James and apply it to literature.

Full title:
'"Prufrock and other Observations": A Criticism'
Published:
December 1917, Chicago
Format:
Periodical
Creator:
The Little Review, May Sinclair
Usage terms

Reproduced with permission of Curtis Brown Group Ltd, London
on behalf of The Beneficiaries of the Estate of May Sinclair
Copyright © May Sinclair 1917.
Except as otherwise permitted by your national copyright laws this material may not be copied or distributed further.

Held by
British Library
Shelfmark:
Cup.503.ee.1.

Full catalogue details

Related articles

Among friends: little magazines, friendship and networks

Article by:
Richard Price
Theme:
Art, music and popular culture

Looking at examples such as The Germ and Blast, Richard Price examines the defining characteristics of little magazines and their legacy within literature, art, and culture.

'The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock': fragmentation, interruption and fog

Article by:
Roz Kaveney
Themes:
Capturing and creating the modern, Literature 1900–1950

Roz Kaveney considers 'The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock' as a poem that both grapples with the modern world and looks back to the work of writers such as Dante, Robert Browning, Henry James and Stéphane Mallarmé.

Cities in modernist literature

Article by:
Katherine Mullin
Theme:
Capturing and creating the modern

The alienated modernist self is a product of the big city rather than the countryside or small town. Katherine Mullin describes how an interest in the sensibility associated with the city – often London, but for James Joyce, Dublin – developed from the mid-19th century to the modernist period.

Related collection items

Related people

Related works

'The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock'

Created by: T S Eliot

‘The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock’ is a poem by the poet and critic T S Eliot, and a key document of ...