The American poet TS Eliot arrived in Britain in August 1914. Life was quickly moving away from austere Victorian values, and Europe was embarking on a war which would change it fundamentally. Eliot became a key member of the revolutionary artistic movement known as “Modernism” – and he has been called the greatest poet of the 20th Century. His poems – notably, The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock (1915) and The Waste Land (1922) – explored the feelings of confusion and isolation that came with this new age. Although the poems can be difficult and their meanings elusive, they captured the spirit of a difficult and volatile time.
Eliot’s iconic works were written at the beginning of the 20th Century, as Europe dealt with the trauma of a devastating world war, and came to grips with a rapidly changing society. Gender, class and technology were all transformed. One hundred years later, society is once again asking the question: what does this new century have in store?
Cities on course to get bigger and smarter
The cities of tomorrow are being built today, as architects hurry to house more and more of the world’s population. The future is urban — but will it be greener or gloomier?
You’ll work to 100, expert tells 11-year-olds
A futurologist says today’s children will work until they are a century old. Is this a welcome opportunity to lead enriching lives or a prospect which should fill us with dread?
USA still the world’s only leader, says Obama
In his final landmark speech as president, Barack Obama forcefully claimed America as still the most powerful nation on the planet. By far. But is a ‘unipolar’ world a good thing?
Just as 20th-Century society was finding its new identity, so too were its citizens. Traditional Victorian ideas and standards were evaporating – so where did that leave the individual? Isolated, detached and lonely, some see Eliot’s poetry as a self-conscious meditation on what it means to be an “I”. The rise of online identities has made this question more relevant than ever.
Storm over racial identity of US campaigner
A woman who lived as an African American and worked as a civil rights advocate is under fire after revelations about her Caucasian heritage. Is she lying, or is the reality more complicated?
2015: The age of the individual gathers pace
Amid war, terrorism and economic wrangling, we increasingly emphasised our differences from each other in 2015. But should we celebrate our individuality or emphasise our common humanity?
Loneliness ‘epidemic’: modern life under fire
A BBC analysis last night exposed the rise of loneliness in Britain. Are technological, social and working changes making us isolated, or should we take more responsibility for ourselves?
Eliot watched women progress from the confinement of Victorian social norms to the freedom of bold and independent-minded individuals, well on their way to equality with men. His poems consider the emotional effects of this dramatic shift in gender roles, which is still being felt and explored today.
Men failing at life, controversial book claims
In work, at school and at home, men are being overtaken by women. Soon, they could be left behind. Now, a new and controversial book asks: is this the end of the road for the world’s men?
Society under attack for ‘crisis of masculinity’
A British politician is claiming that modern men are in crisis, ‘isolated and misdirected’ by social change. She says it is time for a basic rethink about what it means to be a man.
Men’s fashion shows herald ‘peacock’ revival
After decades of wearing sober colours and similar shapes, can men be convinced to rediscover the dandyism of previous eras? We explore the men’s style debate at London Fashion Week.
Eliot was writing during and after the horrors of World War One and, like many of his generation, he was no less horrified by the atrocities of WW2. The trauma that follows conflict can have a lasting and damaging effects on a population – sadly, not limited to Eliot’s era.
War artists expose true horror of warfare
To mark the centenary of World War One, Britain’s National Portrait Gallery has announced a major exhibition on wartime painting, film and photography. Does trauma breed creativity?
Global war: after the battle
When the guns fall silent, war-torn nations face an even tougher challenge: keeping a stable peace. What problems do countries face in the aftermath of conflict?
Twenty years on, Sarajevo still scarred by siege
In the 1990s, Sarajevo was home to the longest siege of modern times, and one of the bloodiest. It began twenty years ago this week – and though it is over, many still suffer from its effects.
In 1927, Eliot converted to strict Anglo-Catholicism. Although his new belief was mocked by his fellow Modernist writer Virginia Woolf – “Did he go to church? Did he hand round the plate? Oh really!” – he seemed to find comfort in the traditions and structure of religion.
Anglican church in crisis over protest camp
Yesterday, after an embarrassing series of U-turns, top Church of England clerics said they would let protests at St Paul's continue. Is Christianity about politics or people power?
Church anger as prayer ad banned in cinemas
A Church of England advert featuring the Lord’s Prayer will not be shown in most cinemas after an agency refused to use it. Is it acceptable for religious institutions to advertise?
Cameron declares UK is a Christian country
David Cameron insists on Christianity’s value in public life, but many say he is excluding those of other faiths and those of none. Is religion a helpful guide to running a modern country?