Vol.4, No.1: About the Issue

Eliot and Woolf in June 1924

Eliot and Woolf in June 1924

The Criterion was a literary magazine created and edited by T.S. Eliot, and first published in Oct 1922 (Howarth 97). As a literary endeavor, it began modestly; because funding was limited mostly to the patronage of Lady Rothermere (Mary Lilian Share), circulation was initially limited to a cutting-edge, literary niche readership, with a print run of only 600 copies per issue (Harding 349-50). The magazine was nevertheless influential from its inception. In the first issue of The Criterion, Eliot published his landmark poem The Waste Land, signaling his intentions to make a serious literary force out of the magazine. However, Eliot also hoped to make The Criterion a cosmopolitan, inclusive journal, showcasing a diversity of literary activity. With this approach, Eliot intended to narrow the gap between modernist intellectuals and a much more general readership (Harding 349). The Criterion eventually became a cornerstone of literary life in interwar Britain, participating in passionate exchanges of ideas with rival journals such as The Adelphi and The Calendar (Harding 351-2, 355). While Eliot was often overwhelmed with his editorial responsibilities, and sometimes despaired of them (Harding 350-1), the journal gathered a powerful reputation based on the acuity and ingenuity of his deeply involved leadership. Contributors to the journal soon included both established literary giants like W.B. Yeats and Paul Valéry, as well as the leading figures in modernism, including James Joyce, Ezra Pound, and Marcel Proust. Concurrent with these contributions, Eliot’s own poetic star was rising, solidifying the Criterion as the most prestigious modernist magazine in London (Harding 351). Throughout, Eliot’s editorial style and the journal’s unique sensibility deeply influenced the structure, practice and style of literary criticism in the interwar years (Brooker and Thacker 345).

The January 1926 issue that is partially available on this blog marked a turning point in the history of the magazine. In 1925, production costs had put the magazine into its worst financial trouble yet (Howarth 97), and Eliot’s contract with Lady Rothermere was soon to expire (Harding 352). Eliot was persuaded of turning over the publication to an enterprising new publishing venture, Faber and Gwyer. Their firm overhauled The Criterion, changing its format to a longer 180 page quarterly, increasing the price, and adding advertising (Harding 352-3). Eliot had hitherto refused advertising on the principle of keeping the journal serious, austere, and self-contained in its own editorial context (Harding 349). However, without options and desiring the salary would become available to him, Eliot accepted the new format and rebranded the journal The New Criterion. (The advertisements that were included in the first issue, mostly pertaining to literary culture and intellectual life, are available as part of this blog’s downloadable files.) However, in the following issue of The New Criterion, advertisements for Luvisca brand shirts would appear, stirring controversy and straining the continued patronage of Lady Rothermere, who objected to such commercial intrusions (Harding 353).

In Eliot’s “The Idea of a Literary Review,” his definition of how not to edit a journal casts both thinly veiled and overt barbs toward John Middleton Murry’s editorship of The Adelphi (see Eliot’s footnote on page 6 of “The Idea of a Literary Review” in particular). These were responded to in turn, within that journals own pages (Harding 356). Of course, the article is invaluable as a manifesto of Eliot’s editorial practice, even if some of its points, such as those on “tendency,” resist simple explanation. While Eliot might have sometimes controverted the principles he outlines for the editing of a literary review, his statement of aspiration reveals that deep artistry inheres in the work of a great editor. Woolf’s essay similarly weaves artistry and criticism together, casting light on the illness that wreaked havoc upon her and that was always a context of her writing. These articles join a table of contents that retrospectively appears to us as a dazzling showcase of modernist talent – even though, ironically, Eliot introduces the issue by avowing that “it is not enough to present a list of distinguished contributors” (Eliot 1) to make a literary review.

The Criterion would continue publication, sometimes fitfully, until 1939 when Eliot retired the journal amid the outbreak of World War II (Howarth 97).


Works Cited

Brooker, Peter and Andrew Thacker. “Part IV: Editors and Programmes.” The Oxford Critical and Cultural History of Modernist Magazines : Volume I: Britain and Ireland 1880-1955. Ed. Peter Brooker and Andrew Thacker. Oxford: Oxford UP. 2010. 339-345.

Eliot, T.S. “The Idea of a Literary Review.” The New Criterion. 4.1 (1926): 1-6.

Harding, Jason. “The Idea of a Literary Review: T. S. Eliot and The Criterion.” The Oxford Critical and Cultural History of Modernist Magazines : Volume I: Britain and Ireland 1880-1955. Ed. Peter Brooker and Andrew Thacker. Oxford: Oxford UP. 2010. 346-63.

Howarth, Herbert. “T.S. Eliot’s Criterion: The Editor and his Contributors.” Comparative Literature. 11.2 (1959): 97-110.

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