The Waste Land (First Edition) by T. S. Eliot



2015-06-26 10:27:01

The Waste Land is a poem by T. S. Eliot (1888-1965). The first edition of this work was published in 1922, first in the UK in Eliot’s own literary magazine The Criterion, a month later in the US magazine The Dial, and the same year in book form by Boni and Liveright, New York. The first UK edition in book form was in 1923, by the Hogarth Press run by Leonard and Virginia Woolf London.


Eliot probably worked on various parts of The Waste Land for years before its initial publication. He was working at Lloyds Bank, but had applied for leave as he was on the break of a nervous breakdown. He stayed at the coastal resort Margate to convalesce, and worked on The Waste Land. In 1921 he and his wife travelled to Paris to stay with fellow Modernist writer Ezra Pound, and then on to Lausanne in Switzerland for psychiatric treatment, and here, in the lead up to 1922, produced a significant draft of the poem.

The Waste Land is considered to be one of the most significant poems ever written, particularly as a 20th century work.

Plot, Characters, Themes

There are five parts to The Waste Land. These are titled: The Burial of the Dead, A Game of Chess, The Fire Sermon, Death by Water, and What the Thunder Said.

The poem is a representative Modernist work of literature. Dramatic monologue is experimented with, a cacophony of voices clamouring to be heard within what is suggested as one central consciousness, including historical literary quotes, biblical and Buddhist writings, and contemporary references. The boundaries between high and low literature are blurred, various cultures, ideologies and languages are combined, and both satire and prophecy are employed and examined.


T. S. Eliot is considered among the greatest 20th century writers, and definitive of the Modernist era of literature.

Notable auction sales and collecting tips

One of the first 500 copies of the first American editions of The Waste Land are often more valuable. These can generally be spotted as they have an error in the spelling of ‘mountain’, and if they retain their original bindings, possess flexible cloth rather than the stiff boards with a dust jacket. Copies increase in value enormously when signed by Eliot, and particularly when inscribed to other famous literary and Modernist figures. Copies of the two magazines in which they were printed, The Criterion and The Dial, are also highly valuable. The English first edition is just as valuable, if not more, than the American first.

First English editions (1923, Hogarth Press, London) were sold by Bonhams, inscribed, for £27,000 in September 2005, by Christie’s, inscribed, for $101,575 in October 2002, and by Sotheby’s, inscribed, for £91,250 in November 2001.

A first edition (1922, Boni and Liveright, New York) was sold by Swann Auction Galleries for $13,000 in November 2004, and by Christie’s for $13,800 in October 1995 and $47,800 in October 2002.

A first edition of The Waste Land in The Criterion magazine sold for £12,000 by Sotheby’s in July 2003.

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