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When people read works of literature, they often dont know the influence behind it. Writers can be influenced by many things such as their time period, surroundings, and real life experiences and so on. But a very important influence on writers is the impact of their literary contemporaries. Two writers that lived during the same time period and were influenced by their contemporaries are Virginia Woolf and T.S Eliot. Although they wrote different genres of fiction, they were part of the same group that came to "practically control the cultural life of London" (Moss 3).
Virginia Woolf was born on January 25th, 1882 and many people regard her as an important figure of both modernism and feminism writing in the twentieth century (Bell 22 & 221). One thing that influenced her was her family summer vacations to St. Ives as a child because it was the creative influence behind her books To the Lighthouse, Jacob's Room, and The Waves. (Bell 32). She grew up with 6 siblings and her father was the first editor of the Dictionary of National Biography. She had freedom to her father's library and was determined to be a writer from a young age. Woolf never went to school and trained to become a painter. She kept journals since a young age and wrote in them a lot. She lost her mother when she was 13, it was a devastating loss but she was close to her sister Vanessa and her brother Thoby. Thoby introduced her to his Cambridge University friends. In 1904, the siblings moved to the Bloomsbury section of London. The siblings accommodated artists, writers, and intellectuals. The Bloomsbury Group was made up of Clive Bell, Roger Fry, John Maynard Keynes, Duncan Grant, Thoby Stephen, Lytton Strachey, Leonard Woolf, Desmond MacCarthy, Adrian Stephen, and Saxon Sydney-Turner. They were an influential group in London and dominated the literary world. (Moss 3). She married Leonard Woolf on Aug 10, 1912 and together they created the Hogarth Press Her three most accomplished modernist works are Mrs. Dalloway (1925), To the Lighthouse (1927) and The Waves (1931) (Moss 2). Woolf knew Eliot because he would visit her at her summerhouses (Bell 234). Their circle of writers and philosophers enabled Woolf and Eliot to create new and interesting ideas to the literary world since they would read each other's works and criticize each other's works. According to Moss, "Virginia set the type for Eliot's famous poem The Waste Land herselfâ€¦" (2). This shows how literary contemporaries can have an important impact on a writer's work since they were able to read and criticize each other's works at their gatherings.
T.S Eliot was born Sept 26th, 1888 in St. Louis, Missouri and was an important poet of the 20th century. Eliot went to Harvard and studied philosophy at the Sorbonne, Harvard, and Merton College, Oxford (Bush 1). T. S. Eliot and Virginia Woolf were contemporaries and critics of each other's work. They were also good friends for over twenty years. At Harvard, he read The Symbolist Movement in Literature by Arthur Symon's, which was influential since it introduced him to poetry of Jules Laforgue. Jules Laforgue influenced his poem "The Love Song of Alfred J. Prucock" (Wilson 1) Ezra Pound was also an important and essential person in Eliot's life. He encouraged Eliot to write and gave him advice on personal aspects of his life. According to David Daiches, Eliot rearranges the ideas of Ezra Pound and others (Curley 343) Another influential person in Eliot's life was Bertrand Russell who was a famous philosopher and a teacher of Eliot at Harvard. Russell introduced Eliot to his intellectual friends and expanded Eliot's foundation of support and gave him access to people that Ezra Pound did not know. Russell also offered financial help when he needed it. Vivien Haigh-Wood was also an important figure in Eliot's life. Eliot married her in 1915 with the encouragement of Pound.
Most critics can agree that The Wasteland is the most influential English-language poem ever written. By 1917, Eliot had great success by publishing Prufrock and Other Observations. He was also influenced by H.F Bradley because "the study of Bradleyâ€¦solved his critical problem, providing him with a point of view towards history and so with the scenario for his most comprehensive essay, "Tradition and the Individual Talent"" states Hugh Kenner (Curley 336) Eliot states, "Poets must develop or procure the consciousness of the past and that he should continue to develop this consciousness throughout his career." (6). All the writers that influenced Eliot contributed to his idea of "historical sense" because he believes that it is very important for writers to have ideas of their own and not be compared to old writers that are similar to them. He was also unique in his writings since "all poets and critics are products of their age, but all do not interact with their age so vigorously or so publicity as did Eliot (Curley 337). This shows how Eliot believes in the sense that writers must learn from the past and the present to learn from it and be able to create new elements. Literary influences played a large role in his development because he had to read their works to create his own individual ideas. Without learning from contemporaries, writers don't know how to contribute new ideas to the literary world.
Virginia Woolf and T.S Eliot both benefitted from the people in their life and predecessors. Woolf wrote many feminine works and her novels included the theme of modernism. She also discussed how important it was for a woman to have resources to be able to write fiction (Woolf 2). During Virginia Woolf's time, women were still oppressed and their ideas weren't able to reach the literary world. According to Moss, Woolf suggests that women novelists "will, as Jane Austen did, naturally develop a syntax more reflective of their way of thinking. This idea, and the way in which she put it into practice in their writing of her own novels, is perhaps Woolf's most enduring legacy to English literature" (1) This shows how literary influences and predecessors can impact a writers style. Both writers learned from their contemporaries and used their works to better understand their own generation.
In Traditional and the Individual Talent, Eliot discusses how writers have to learn and have an understanding of the past generations. Eliot also believes that having "historical sense" is "a sense of the timeless as well as the temporal as well as of the temporal and the timeless and temporal together, is what makes a writer traditional" (Eliot 4). According the New World Encyclopedia, "Woolf's technique treats the past as intimately involved with the present" (4). This is an idea that T.S Eliot also explains in his essay Tradition and the Individual Talent. Eliot wrote many famous poems and he has a distinct style which he generated from his study of the work of his contemporaries.
Woolf had breakdowns throughout her writing career but she was able to make significant recovery and continue writing. In her essay A Room of One's Own, she insists "speaks to those women-and men-on the verge of a new world of gender relations, addressing the uncertainty of how to behave, think and write at the foreseeable end of this history of female oppression" (Moss 2). This quote shows how her writing created a revolution and helped women who were oppressed to write. During her childhood, she never went to school but was able to obtain influential books from her father's library. (Bell 51) He let her choose any book she wanted to read and it helped her mind grow. T.S Eliot also had breakdowns that caused writers block but he regained his popularity and reaching out to the church helped him recover. T.S Eliot's aim is to show that applying his traditionalist principles to social life is as just as it is correct to apply them to literature. He "seems to feel that unless he can prove this, he is, in his work an individualist: not a traditionalist radically connected with the historic process but isolated original, personal, in the sense that he is writing about his own beliefs which are "home-made," and so make him eccentric and different from the people around him" (Curley 334.) His views are displayed in his works and poems that he wrote. His poems are the product of a constricted emotional experience, which led him to rely on books for experiences that he wasn't able to illustrate from his own life. This shows how additional works and writers have influenced him.
T.S Eliot was also influenced by European poets such as Dante Alighieri, Charles Baudelaire, and Jules Laforgue. His professors Josiah Royce and George Santayana also impacted his work. (Wilson 1) But Jules LaForgue had the most important impact because T.S Eliot says that LaForgue was "the first to teach me how to speak, to teach me the poetic possibilities of my own idiom of speech" (Soldo 1) T.S Eliot died on Jan, 4th, 1965 (Bush 1) After his death, the church of St. Michael's in East Coker made a plaque for his epitaph that was a line chosen from his work Four Quartets and it says, "In my beginning is my end. In my end is my beginning." T.S Eliot and Virginia Woolf both show how learning from their contemporaries can have a lasting impact on their works. By learning from literary influences, writers can develop their own ideas and create their own individual style.