May 15, 2021

The 1,131 love letters that T. S. Eliot repudiated | Culture


The six researchers who waited impatiently from the first hour on January 2 to open the doors of the Firestone Library of Princeton University are not exactly groupies literary They share the passion of the fans, but it was not a living author that moved them, but the story of a relationship whose protagonists died half a century ago. They wanted to be the first to read the 1,131 letters, still inaccessible to the public, that the American poet and Nobel laureate T. S. Eliot He sent drama teacher Emily Hale between 1930 and 1957. “It’s a fiery correspondence. Eliot shows his most intimate and hidden side, ”says Lyndall Gordon, Oxford professor and author of biography enthusiastically T. S. Eliot, An Imperfect Life. “The other day another of the researchers and I hugged each other, it is very exciting to read this. They are very long letters from a complex person. ”

Eliot’s cousin introduced Emily Hale around 1912. The two came from the same circle of Boston families. He was studying at Harvard and had already published Love song by J. Alfred Prufrock. She had grown up with her uncles and aspired to be an actress or playwright, but her family did not see him well. Together they acted in a small function for friends in which they interpreted fragments of Austen’s novel Emma.

One of the letters that Eliot sent to Hale.


One of the letters that Eliot sent to Hale.

Shortly before leaving for Europe in 1914 to continue in Oxford with his studies in philosophy, Tom declared himself to Emily, but it does not seem to make him a firm marriage proposal, and he did not feel that she showed much enthusiasm at his words. Hale soon realized that he should earn a living and began teaching theater. His life has something of Jo, the character of Little Women.
A year after declaring Hale, at age 26 Eliot married the British, intense, dazzling and unstable Vivienne Haigh Wood. Entrances and exits of sanatoriums and infidelities (among others with Bertrand Russell), turned this marriage into a cross way. The poet, whose work began to be published by
Virginia Woolf at Hogarth Press, and that later he would work as an editor at Faber & Faber, resumed contact with Hale in 1927. Five years later he was a guest professor at Harvard, then visited Emily in California.

The trips and letters between the poet and his beloved follow one another. After Vivienne’s death in 1947, however, he does not propose marriage as she expected. The following year he won the Nobel Prize and later married a young admirer, Valerie, who had been his secretary at Faber. Finally, in 1957, Hale decides to donate the letters to Princeton where the husband of one of his best friends Willard Thorp worked, the teacher who also managed to get the papers of Scott Fitzgerald

Lyndall Gordon, who has written biographies of Virginia Woolf, Henry James and Emily Dickinson among others, is already preparing a new book about T. S. Eliot and women, which will be released in 2022 in the Anglo-Saxon market coinciding with the centenary of the publication of Wasteland. “Eliot depended heavily on women but was not promiscuous,” he says. The teacher stops at four of them: her mother, her first and second wives (Vivienne and Valerie), her English friend Mary Trevelyan, and Emily Hale, whom she considers fundamental, “the chosen one,” as the letters show. “You feel trouble reading such personal things. The relationship they maintained was almost exclusively through words, ”he says. “Sometimes I think that my work as a biographer is morally indefensible.”

On the letters that Gordon now reads in Princeton – to which cuts, photos, and a Hale text about the relationship are added – the prohibition of it being accessible to the public until 2020 has been weighed. There was much expectation before the opening of the ban. – in October the copper ribbons that sealed the boxes were broken – but it has turned out that, in addition, the public was awaiting a great rage in deferred.

Eliot, informed by Hale that he had donated his letters, wanted to have the last word and instructed that at the same time that the correspondence be made public, a communiqué was left written and kept in Harvard, where it is great Part of your file. From the precise instructions he left, it follows that the poet had no confidence that Princeton would comply with the embargo. “Emily Hale would have killed the poet in me; Vivienne was almost my death, but she kept the poet alive, ”he wrote. “When Vivienne died, I suddenly realized that I was not in love with Emily Hale. Gradually I understood that I had been in love only with a memory, with the memory of the experience of having been in love with her in my youth. ”

He clarifies that they never had sex and that he had Hale’s letters burned. His radical refutation and review of their relationship seems taken from a verse of The love song … “That was not what I meant at all / That is not at all.” Eliot couldn’t bear to imagine that more than half a century after his death, something of him that he did not control was made public.

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