Although born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1888, Thomas Stearns Eliot is remembered more as an English author than an American one. While a doctoral student in philosophy at Harvard, Eliot was influenced by F.H. Bradley, who taught about "'immediate experience' as a means of transcending appearance and achieving the 'Absolute'"-a theme apparent throughout Murder in the Cathedral.
With the outbreak of World War I, Eliot abandoned philosophy for poetry; he had already written his first "mature" work, and one of his most enduring, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufock," in 1910 (although it would not see print for another five years, and then first in England). He also decided to emigrate to England, a decision based in large part on Ezra Pound's contention that England was better suited for living the literary life. To support himself, and his new wife (although their marriage was a troubled one), Eliot taught school and also worked at Lloyds of London. He wrote poetry and criticism by night.
What is probably Eliot's crowning achievement, The Waste Land, was published in 1922. In the work, "Eliot brought together various kinds of despair, for lost youth, lost love, lost friendship, lost value." Clearly, these themes-definitive of the "modern"era and so characteristic of British literature, especially, after the great disillusionment of World War I-continue to resonate in such later work as Murder in the Cathedral.
"After The Waste Land it was incumbent upon Eliot to choose between immobile lamentation, never his mode, and a new journey of the spirit"-neatly analogous, readers might well argue, to the choice facing Becket in Murder in the Cathedral. Eliot was confirmed in the Anglican Church in 1927. His Christian faith surfaces in such work as "The Hollow Men" (1925), "Ash-Wednesday" (1930), and Four Quartets (1944). In addition to his poetry, Eliot established and edited the acclaimed literary journal, The Criterion.
Eliot's wife, from whom he was now permanently separated, died in 1947; he would remarry a decade later. In 1948, Eliot was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. The Presentation Speech praised him for his "capacity for stimulating a reconsideration of pressing questions within intellectual and aesthetic. [I]t can never be denied that in his period he has been an eminent poser of questions, with a masterly gift for finding the apt wording, both in the language of poetry and in the defence of ideas in essay form." He died in 1965, and is commemorated in the Poets' Corner of Westminster Abbey.