T. S. Eliot and Anglicanism: Incarnation in the post-conversion poems

Gayle Rachelle Baldwin, Marquette University


This study was an attempt to find and use a method that could investigate a particular theological theme in a literary work without relying merely on symbol and content, both of which can be misinterpreted by the critic's own biases. The post-conversion poems of T. S. Eliot were chosen for this project because they are heavily laden with theological themes, the principal one being the Incarnation. Although, these works have been studied extensively by literary critics, little has been done by theologians to address the particular theme of the Incarnation. The second objective of this project was to use the chosen method as a way of testing the hypothesis that the basic understanding of the Incarnation expressed in these works by Eliot is a platonic interpretation of "descending" christology. This platonic interpretation of the Incarnation seems to be prevalent even today in that particular faith expression of the Anglican Communion called "High Church," the form which Eliot chose. The method found most appropriate to the attainment of both these objectives came from the Russian philosopher and literary critic, Mikhail Mikhailovich Bakhtin (1895-1975). The procedure was then to apply Bakhtin's "dialogic" method to Eliot's use of words in his post-conversion poems, particularly in terms of the interplay of voices, noting the presence and characteristics of dialogue and/or monologue as each was manifested in the changing styles of the text. It was discovered that indeed the dialogue between voices was revelatory of a theological understanding of the Incarnation; furthermore, that this understanding reflected a platonic interpretation of "descending" christology. Whether or not the method proved to completely avoid the pitfalls of subjective misinterpretation was difficult to ascertain. However, it was concluded that Bakhtin's philosophy, which undergirds his dialogic method as well as his literary criticism exalting dialogue as a means to discovering truth, offers a challenge and quite possibly a new way of approaching cross-disciplinary studies involving theology and literature.

Recommended Citation

Baldwin, Gayle Rachelle, "T. S. Eliot and Anglicanism: Incarnation in the post-conversion poems" (1993). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI9411497.