The Classroom In The Canon: T. S. Eliot’s Modern English Literature Extension Course For Working People And "The Sacred Wood"

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Literary critics have long imagined that T. S. Eliot’s The Sacred Wood (1920) shaped the canon and methods of countless twentieth-century classrooms. This essay turns instead to the classroom that made The Sacred Wood: the Modern English Literature extension school tutorial that Eliot taught to working-class adults between 1916 and 1919. Contextualizing Eliot’s tutorial within the extension school movement shows how the ethos and practices of the Workers’ Educational Association shaped his teaching. Over the course of three years, Eliot and his students reimagined canonical literature as writing by working poets for working people—a model of literary history that fully informed his canon reformation in The Sacred Wood. This example demonstrates how attention to teaching changes the history of English literary study. It further reveals how all kinds of institutions, not just elite universities, have shaped the discipline’s methods and canons.


English literature, 1500-1999, canon, working class, pedagogical approach, T. S. Eliot (1888-1965), The Sacred Wood (1920), 1900-1999, Twentieth Century, criticism, teaching of literature, history of teaching of literature

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