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The Golden Bough captured the imagination of many artists in the early twentieth century. Eliot, certainly, was immersed in it, discussing it familiarly in his graduate school papers and book reviews and constantly alluding to it in his art. The most straightforward advice he offers to readers of The Waste Land (given in the notes to the poem) is, in paraphrase, that any serious reader of the poem must take into consideration modern scholarship in myth and anthropology, especially Frazer Golden Bough and Jessie Weston From Ritual to Romance. The poet says that he is indebted to this scholarship for his title, his plan, his symbolism, and many of his references to ancient religion and society. His claim about the title, taken from the monomyth of Frazer and Weston, his claim about the symbolism, associated with the birth-death-rebirth cycles of the myths, and his claim about the miscellaneous undergirding references have been discussed by Grover Smith and other scholars. We wish to focus more on Eliot's claim about being indebted to Frazer for the plan of the poem. We believe it refers, at least in part, to Frazer's use of the comparative method and to his practice of assembling many perspectives and allowing these perspectives to make his point. It must be noted at once that Eliot was quite selective in his admiration of Frazer. For example, he did not admire Frazer's positivism. Frazer put his faith in science and celebrated what he called the evolution from magic to religion to science. Nor did Eliot share Frazer's conclusions. In his 1913 paper on the interpretation of primitive ritual, he says that Frazer's interpretations of specific myths (the myth of the dying god is his example) are almost certainly mistaken. But Eliot did admire Frazer's erudition and his increasingly nontheoretical presentation of many angles of vision which in themselves tend to generate an overarching abstract primitive vision. In 1924, on the occasion of the publication of a condensed edition of The Golden Bough, Eliot wrote a review in which he lauded Frazer for having "extended the consciousness of the human mind into as dark a backward and abysm of time as has yet been explored." Eliot argues that Frazer's importance for artists is in his exemplary withdrawal from speculation, his adoption of the absence of interpretation as a positive modus operandi.

Jewel Spears Brooker
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