Reports from the Emily Hale Archive

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  • 03 Aug 2020 4:09 PM | Frances Dickey (Administrator)

    Eliot writes at high intensity throughout January 1936, floating on his newfound feelings of union with Hale. His output for the month includes thirteen letters to her—sometimes two on the same day—as well as nearly forty to other correspondents, along with “The Naming of Cats. These were merely background for the labor of “Burnt Norton”: far from working on it throughout 1935, as was previously thought, Eliot composed all but the first fourteen and the last few lines of his new poem in late December and January. His letters resonate with its language, such as on 6 January, Epiphany, when he wonders at the increase in meaning of the moments they have shared together: the meaning is greater now, on reflection, than it was at the time of the experience (“only in time can the moment in the rose-garden…be remembered”). He describes his desire to re-experience multiple forms of intimacy at once, such as being both close enough to feel her breath and far enough away to see all of her. He wants her to be childish with him, for he has a childish side that he can only show to her (“the leaves were full of children,/ Hidden excitedly, containing laughter”). He writes in the present tense of having her with him and resenting any interruption that takes his mind off thoughts of her—except for writing verse. He does not know if his poem is any good or if he will finish it in time for the publication of his new volume. 

    Eliot’s letter of 13 January reveals a significant intertext of “Burnt Norton”:  Shelley’s “Epipsychidion” (I have written about this connection in a short piece for the next T. S. Eliot Studies Annual and a longer article for the December issue of Twentieth-Century Literature). He tells Hale that his poem is a new kind of love poem, and very obscure, so that when it is published, she will fairly be able to say that she does not understand it or that she does, according to her convenience. He quotes the epigraph of Shelley’s “Epipsychidion,” written for a woman named Emilia: “My song, I fear that thou wilt find but few/ Who fitly shall conceive thy reasoning, / Of such hard matter dost thou entertain” (as it turns out, Shelley’s epigraph is—surprise!—from Dante). Eliot suggests that he has made his poem difficult on purpose to conceal its real subject matter, and he tells her that he has chosen two quotations from Heraclitus as his own epigraph, to make the poem even more obscure. This important letter was accidentally omitted from the digital scans at Special Collections, and I only found it by chance on a day when I was using the originals. 

    On 16 January 1936, Eliot continues his remarkable reflections on their poem (using the first person plural possessive adjective). It rounds off his Collected Poems and signals a fresh start, along with Murder in the Cathedral. He thinks of it as a quartet for strings, rather than a symphony, and he seeks the same effects as Beethoven achieved in his late quartets. It is similar to The Waste Land in having five parts, though in other ways is different and deeper. The poem includes passages from Heraclitus, St. John of the Cross, Flaubert’s Tentation de S. Antoine (this will be one for the scholars to investigate), and personal memories from the underground station at Gloucester Road and other incidents that only she will recognize. He also tells her that he is going to separate her love letters—written since 18 November—from those she sent before. He wishes to kiss the sole of her foot and run his fingers through her hair. He needs her to tell him what to do and what not to do (echoing Ash-Wednesday’s “Teach us to care and not to care”?). 

    NB: I have deleted reference to the photographs that I mentioned in an earlier version of this post. Katerina Stergiopolou tells me that these photographs were enclosed in Eliot's June 18, 1936 letter, but must have been misplaced into the digital scan for January. Thanks for the correction!

  • 13 Jul 2020 1:35 PM | Frances Dickey (Administrator)

    Hale’s departure from London on 11 December 1935 unleashes a flood of writing from Eliot: eight letters to her, as well as twenty-seven to other correspondents, before the end of the year. He is immersed in the agony of separation and the glory of love, he tells her on the 12th. He marvels in the new experience of their embraces that brought bliss while shutting out the rest of the world. Only in writing poetry does he find any relief from the pain of separation (this comment indicates he is working on “Burnt Norton”). He praises her spiritual and physical beauty, using a term of endearment for Hale that he will repurpose in “How the Tall Girl and I Play Together,” written for his wife. 

    On the 13th he looks back over highlights of the last three weeks, including a journey to Whipsnade, a smoky afternoon in the City (perhaps “the moment in the draughty church at smokefall”), and outings to Dulwich and Finchampstead, moments of intimacy in which he discerns a developing pattern. Similar patterns emerge in the evenings they spent together: under the yew-tree, on his birthday, on hers--when she requested a birthday kiss--and especially on the last night. He mentions the ring she has given him; he swears he will not take it off. 

    Eliot’s rush of emotion continues on 16 December in response to Hale’s own expressions of affection in recent letters. He feels overpowered by love when he writes to her; the experience of giving himself and being completely understood in return dazzles him. He reveals that his long-held desire to write for the stage came from wanting her praise. He would like to write a play with a role for her, and one for himself in the opposite part, but excess of feeling might prevent him from acting well.

    After her arrival in Boston, Eliot feels he should put more news in his letters, and he inquires how she is getting along with Miss Ware, an older Boston Brahmin with whom Hale often lived. He reflects on the great change that has come over them both, which binds them together for the rest of their lives, no matter what should happen. And he ventures to hope that they may one day find themselves in the same place.

    The violets she left behind in his rooms kept their fragrance through Christmas Day, he tells her, though now they have faded and lost their scent. He has moments of ecstasy when he reflects on the beauty of what has happened between them, and he misses the feeling of walking arm in arm with her. He is no longer the same person as he was a few weeks ago. In his last letter of the year, Eliot writes about the ring she has given him: it means all to him that a wedding ring can, and it will always bind his finger.

  • 22 Jun 2020 8:47 AM | Frances Dickey (Administrator)

    Many years in the making, a turning point for Hale and Eliot arrives on 18 November 1935, when she writes her first love letter to him. (In January tells her that he draws a line between all the letters she has written beforehand, and the true love letters she has written to him since the 18th). While they first exchanged kisses on his visit to Scripps in 1933, the physical dimension of their relationship has clearly become more passionate, and Eliot describes their recent kisses with tender amazement on 22 November. He delights in knowing that she needs his letters as much as he needs to write to her. They have been seeing each other frequently in London and writing less (there is a two-week break at the beginning of November), but something happens to precipitate her letter and a sudden intensification of their relations —perhaps Eliot's encounter with Vivienne on the 18th at the Sunday Times Books Exhibition (see Letters 7.841). Hale departs for America on 11 December.  The last three weeks they spend together are both consequential and somewhat mysterious. On 25 November, Eliot describes his excitement and a combination of agony and delight at receiving her most recent letter. (On 26 November, Virginia Woolf records her rather negative impression of Hale following tea at her house—again, like Ottoline, perhaps motivated by jealousy.)

    On 5 December, Eliot writes happily about the previous day spent together—from the Fuller’s shop in Walbrook to the cart-horse in Queen Victoria Street—assuring her that no other woman in the world could have done for him what she has done. He always thinks of her in the morning before anything else, and last thing at night. His next, dated 11 December, is a passionate love letter addressed to Hale at the Adelphi Hotel in Liverpool, her last stop in England before embarking on her transatlantic crossing. One of these two letters, I think the second, contains an important enclosure:  the first seventeen lines of “Burnt Norton.” Eliot wrote the first fourteen lines—up through “the door we never opened/Into the rose-garden”—the previous March for inclusion in Murder in the Cathedral, long before their visit to the gardens at Burnt Norton. The passage was cut from the play before its first performance, and Eliot repurposed it for this occasion with the addition of the following lines: “My words echo/Thus, in your mind.//But to what purpose/Disturbing the dust on a bowl of rose-leaves/I do not know” (lines 14-17). We will have to wonder whether the “dust on a bowl of rose-leaves” refers to Eliot’s twenty-year-old love for Hale, finally reciprocated.

    Eliot’s 11 December letter is one of his most ecstatic and explicit, describing the previous evening and the morning of her departure, when she came to say good-bye. After she left she came back a second time to reassure him that when she is gone, she is also there with him. He feels dazzled and humbled by the thought she loves him; he is a new person who belongs to her. He is in two places, just as she is also. He wishes that he could be with her now to brush her hair and help her get ready for travel, but instead he faces their love, a thing far greater than he is. He signs the letter by combining their names.

  • 13 Jun 2020 3:06 PM | Frances Dickey (Administrator)

    Eliot begins the month of October 1935 in the glow of his recent birthday celebration, writing on the 3rd(exactly five years since the renewal of their correspondence) that the words of their letters have gained in value and meaning as their relationship has deepened. He takes pleasure in using the pronoun “we” rather than “you and I.” He tells her that he has preserved the different flowers she has given him for his buttonhole, but he now particularly treasures the sprig of yew that she picked for “us.” This is the first of numerous references to the yew, a tree that memorably appears in “Burnt Norton”: “Will…Chill/ Fingers of yew be curled/Down on us?”

    From 8 October 1935, Hale stays in London with her aunt and uncle, with many opportunities for seeing Eliot. (For his mixed feelings about her family ménage, see his published letter to Jeanette McPherrin, 7.791.) Despite frequently meeting in person, Eliot continues to send regular letters, for writing is not the same as talking, he tells her, and when he forgets to write something, he can always add a postscript, while an omission in conversation can never be remedied. He invites her to a performance of a Bach Brandenburg Concerto by the Busch Quartette and a Group Theatre production (not Sweeney, he says, which was playing at the Westminster Theatre in double billing with Auden’s Dance of Death), plans a tea party with Ottoline Morrell, and hopes to take her to see Virginia Woolf (this occurs on Nov. 26). He tells her that he is at her disposal and wants to see her as much as possible. Later in the month he offers to take her to hear Jelly D’Aranyi (a celebrated Hungarian violinist who was also a friend of Georgie Yeats) play Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata. These invitations underscore Hale’s appreciation of music and her influence on Eliot’s taste in the time of his writing Four Quartets.

    Hale accompanies Eliot to a poetry reading on 13 October, where he is more conscious of her than of the young people in the audience; her presence—he tells her the next day—gives him the dizzying sense of living on two planes at once. He remarks that wherever she goes, people become dependent on her; of the four people currently drawing support from her (presumably the two Perkins, Mrs. Hale, and himself), he feels he takes the most from her and worries that he gives little or nothing in return—adding that her face becomes more and more beautiful to him as he studies it (perhaps this is an attempt to give something back). On the 17thhe is glad to hear her say that she also receives from him, but he suspects that he gains the most from the relationship. He adds in French that he kisses her hands.

    For another, perhaps jealous perspective, Ottoline Morrell’s diary records a chance encounter with Eliot on 20 October when she sees him with “a very obvious severe mouthed, American Parson” and three American ladies including “the dominating efficient Hales” at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle. She continues to complain on 24 October after a gathering at her house how Eliot brought “that awful American Woman Miss Hales with him—she is like a Sergeant Major quite Intolerable—How can Tom take her about everywhere—She has perhaps been a School mistress” (quoted in Letters7.816). 

    On 22 October, with Murder soon to open at the Mercury Theatre, Eliot enjoys a feeling of collaborating with her on a production, though he feels he isn’t qualified to take part, and she is too modest to do so. On Monday, 30 October, he thanks her for supporting him socially at dinner with the Maritains, whom he particularly wanted her to meet, praising her charm, grace, and ease. Sunday evening marked yet a further stage of progress in their relationship, entailing a feeling of self-surrender and of responsibility to her for all he does and thinks. This is not a feeling of the moment but a permanent change, as if he were possessed by her.

  • 30 May 2020 8:20 AM | Frances Dickey (Administrator)

    Over the weekend of 26-29 September 1935, Eliot celebrates his birthday in Chipping Campden with Hale and the Perkinses. He writes on Monday to his hostess, thanking her for a "perfect weekend" and "the happiest birthday party I have had since I was a boy" (L 7.781). Hale's aunt and uncle are leaving Stamford House, and he tells Mrs. Perkins that he had "come to feel 'at home' at Campden in a way in which I had not felt at home for some twenty-one years, anywhere." (See also the poem Eliot writes to her during this weekend, "A Valedictory/Forbidding Mourning: to the Lady of the House," praising her gardening skills and declaring, "since you came, /Nothing in Campden is the same" [L7.780]). 

    On the same day, Eliot also writes an ecstatic letter to Hale, addressing her as his nightingale. He begins by describing a scene from the previous evening when they stood in the garden together in their raincoats, her hair touching his face. His evokes this moment in lines similar to Ash-Wednesday's “Blown hair is sweet, brown hair over the mouth blown,/ Lilac and brown hair.”  His happiness was so great that he felt it as pain—suffering for her, for himself, and for them both together. His heart sang and is still singing, even as he is aware of her present situation. Emily must have traveled to Oxford on Monday, for he imagines her sitting in cold lodgings pumping her energy into her other aunt, Irene Hale, with a feeling of weariness towards the future. (Perhaps this letter attempts to warm her from a distance.)

    Eliot recalls a moment on Thursday evening, his birthday, when she stroked his face. Afterwards, he was awake during the night with a vision of her beauty, which radiates from the inside out. In this vision he saw her face as a transparency revealing her spirit; unlike other women, her beauty is the embodiment of her spirit. What she calls his idealization of her is not detached from reality.  He describes how she appears to him: human and humorous, intelligent without being bookish, modest and humble (a virtue he struggles to achieve, being given to arrogance and disdain himself). Her good taste and sense of right and wrong are unerring; she is a perfect companion whose conversation moves smoothly from large questions to small ones and back again. She is a true patrician, so superior to the common people that she is not even aware of her superiority (again, he says, unlike himself).

    On Sunday night he felt more united to Hale than ever before. He apologizes to her for any words of bitterness that might have come from him last year, which were unjustified. He wants her to know how his life and work have been shaped around her.  If she realizes what she has done for him, that may help her to realize what she is herself.  He recalls his emotions of the evening—his own, and another feeling of union with her.

  • 24 May 2020 1:14 PM | Frances Dickey (Administrator)

    Our narrative of Hale and Eliot left off in early August 1935, with his rhapsodic description of their day spent walking the countryside near Chipping Campden and lingering in the garden of Stamford House at night. Through the rest of the month, Eliot enjoys the afterglow of their last evening and wonders how he will feel when he sees her again. He will be both tender and awkward, he predicts. He recalls how she put her head on his shoulder, in a moment so meaningful and dazzling that “my eyes failed” again (Eliot quotes himself). He feels that she brings out the best in him, and he hopes that it will prove so, though he is not afraid of her seeing his faults. He chides her not to feel inferior nor suppress her wonderful sense of humor. On 23 August he sends her “Rannoch, by Glencoe,” the fourth of his “Landscapes.”

    After not seeing each other for five weeks following their time in Chipping Campden at the end of July, Eliot and Hale get together at least three times in September. The first is something of a disappointment. Hale comes up to London to dine with Eliot and the Thorps—Willard, the Princeton English professor who will eventually secure Hale’s donation of the letters, and his wife Margaret, an author and Hale’s longtime friend. Eliot says that he felt like a wax model on display, and Willard in turn was a skeleton at his feast. He blames his paralysis partly on the emotions he felt in the aftermath of their last visit, and partly on his sense that Willard finds him lacking. Then on the weekend of September 6-8, Eliot returns to Chipping Campden, where there seems to be some tension between Emily and her aunt, perhaps exacerbated by comments from Eliot. He reminisces about being in the rose-garden at Burnt Norton with her, one of the permanent moments for him; probably, as mentioned in my previous post, he refers to his visit at the end of July. By the middle of the month, Eliot is planning another trip to Chipping Campden for his birthday on the 26th, and he mentions that he wants to have a few new poems to add to the edition of his work that is to appear in the spring (that new poem will be “Burnt Norton,” not yet written).

    Readers of Vol. 7 will have noted the inclusion of a sixteen-page letter from his brother Henry, analyzing the motives for his conversion and sharply criticizing his repudiation of Unitarianism in a “fanatically intolerant and shocking tirade” delivered to the Boston Association of Unitarian Ministers in 1933 (7.754). Eliot receives this letter on 20 September, telling Hale that he is already aware of many of the criticisms, and others may be true or misunderstandings; Henry knows much about him, but not the essentials of his private life. Not seeming offended by his brother’s letter, but wearied by it, he tells Hale that Henry blames his faults partly on his friendship with Bloomsbury group members.  Perhaps Eliot has this criticism in mind four days later when he regales Hale with the names of Woolf and Bell family members whom he has just seen at Vanessa’s house for dinner, and at the Keynes’s a few days later. Maynard is building a theatre in Cambridge for his wife, the former ballerina Lydia Lopokova, and has offered to produce Eliot’s next play there; they discussed Mussolini and Italy. He writes that the only Bloomsbury members who truly interest him are Virginia (though he never reads her work) and Keynes, whose brilliance exceeds his character. He concludes his letter of 24 September by looking forward to spending his birthday in her company.

  • 25 Apr 2020 9:12 PM | Frances Dickey (Administrator)

    One of the highlights of the Eliot-Hale correspondence is his description of their time together in Chipping Campden at the end of July 1935. Eliot’s first letter of the month sets the date for this visit—22 July—and continues to negotiate the terms of their meetings.  He would like her to come back to London, but only at his expense. He appreciates her sense of duty, which is one of the qualities that attracts him to her but wishes she would direct her principles at the right objects. Their consciences do not always align. He promises to enclose a poem that I. A. Richards liked, “Cape Ann” (first published December 1935), with its notes of yearning and resignation. 

    On 5 July, Eliot thanks Hale for her compliments on the conclusion of Murder, while expressing anxiety about the use of his own poetic powers. Sometimes he feels like a child playing with dynamite. With all his faults, he is not the same as the cause he stands for; also, it is a delicate operation to keep his love of the cause pure from the taint of power.  Likewise, he hopes that she will not be distressed by her feelings of inadequacy, a temptation only for noble minds, but dangerous. Eliot seems to be reflecting on temptation in connection with both Hale and his play.

    In his letter of 9 July, Eliot confesses to missing Hale’s company and feeling low since Canterbury. He likes merry old ladies and is looking forward to seeing Olivia Shakespeare tomorrow, but international news is depressing, especially Mussolini’s maneuverings in Africa (on this day, talks at the Hague between Italy and Ethiopia broke down, a step towards the war that broke out on 2 October). Eliot does not write again in the month of July except a note on the 15th, indicating that they briefly saw each other again in London. On 22 July he travels to Chipping Campden and stays until the last day of the month. He writes to his hostess, Edith Perkins, on 1 August thanking her for “a very happy and unforgettable week” (7.708). This polite letter is the only published hint of what transpired. On the same day, Eliot writes to Hale expressing his intense emotions, both ecstasy and pain; he experienced a sense of glory, a sense of transport to another world, when she rested her head on his shoulder.

    Eliot’s letter of 11 August describes the incidents of their week in vivid detail. They went to Tewkesbury to see the Abbey and a performance of Samson Agonistes, which he enjoyed, but even more so, their ride home in the back of the car and the half hour they spent together in the garden. One day they walked round and through Stanton and Stanway, eating lunch under a hawthorn tree in a field and having tea at the Crown in Blockley (these are all locations within a few miles of Chipping Campden, and the Crown Hotel is still operative). His memory preserves snapshots of the innyard, the iron tea-table and the hollyhocks there. On the last evening they sat together in the garden for an hour, coming in at midnight, and she said what he most craved to hear. It was a moment of glory, for which he feels unworthy. Well done, he tells her, calling her a princess descended from kings. He thanks her for her letter of August 8 in which she displays her sense of humor, one of the things he loves her for, if he loves her for anything. 

    Eliot only mentions Burnt Norton once, on September 10, leaving unclear when they visited the manor house and garden. However, no other day receives the same ecstatic review as the one spent sightseeing in the little villages near Chipping Campden, so it seems likely that their “moment” in the rose garden took place on this walk.

    My apologies for the long break in posting; the semester ends in a few weeks and I hope to go back to writing more regularly.

  • 08 Apr 2020 11:26 AM | Frances Dickey (Administrator)

    Eliot’s letters to Hale in May and June 1935 weave together his impressions of the rehearsals and first performances of Murder in the Cathedral with plans to see Hale and reflections on their visits, including one evening that he says was the most wonderful of his life. 

    On May 20, Eliot responds to a letter from Hale in which she has humbly offered some criticisms of Murder; praising her dramatic instinct, he reassures her that even if she takes no credit for her good qualities, she is beautiful, charming, intelligent and spiritual. A few days later, Eliot reports that rehearsals for the play have begun, and he has secured tickets to The Gondoliers, which they plan to see together in London, along with a ballet. On May 30, Eliot writes that he and Yeats see eye to eye on modern poetry—i.e., poets more modern than themselves. In the first week of June, Hale comes to London for a visit and they return together on the train to Chipping Campden for a birthday party (maybe one of the Perkins or her aunt Irene Hale). Their train ride together provided a great and unique thrill, he writes. On his return, she gathered some flowers for him in the garden of Stamford House (where she was staying with the Perkins), flowers whose fragrance he is now enjoying in his rooms.

    Hale must have come back up to London between June 7 and June 13, the day on which Eliot writes to her that he has just experienced one of the most wonderful evenings of his life. She had a headache, and he stroked her forehead. This gave him the opportunity to observe her beautiful nose. He also went out to get some medicine for her, and she kissed him when he left. He has always wanted to take care of her during an illness, and she was kind to allow him to think that he was doing something for her. She responds with a letter that he says (on June 16) is too precious to place in the metal box where he normally keeps her correspondence. She has corroborated what he felt. He wants her to know that their evening together was the great event of his life, symbolizing all that he wants to do for her. The memory of it is sublime. Every meeting with her is more exciting than the last.

    Eliot’s June 16 letter also reflects on the premiere of Murder, performed the previous evening. He is very pleased, especially with Robert Speaight’s rendering of Thomas à Beckett’s sermon, and with the solemnity and silence with which the performance ends. He wants Hale to meet the producer Martin Browne and his Jewish wife—Eliot takes the time to explain that his objection to Jews is religious, not racial. He also doesn’t think that women in shorts should be allowed into the Cathedral. Hale has her own opportunity to see Murder some time before June 26, when Eliot writes that their time at Canterbury was too public, though better than not seeing her at all. They walked the Cathedral grounds as if being watched through a telescope, pursued by chorus girls and autograph-seekers. He likes to see her in the anonymity of London, like the time they rode in a taxi down Ludgate Hill, or—best of all—the evening of her headache.

  • 30 Mar 2020 2:15 PM | Frances Dickey (Administrator)

    In early March 1935, Hale receives word that she will not be returning to Scripps, from which she took a leave of absence at the end of the academic year 1933. Eliot’s letters of 16 and 25 March clarify, to some extent, the reasons why she did not return: either she has lost her position because she delayed in renewing her contract, he surmises, or perhaps administrators have maneuvered her out. She has wasted time trying to find a position closer to her relatives on the East coast and now seems unhappy about the prospect of another year spent with the Perkins. In his attempts to console her, Eliot sympathizes with her desire for a more active and useful life, and he hopes she will not resign herself to serving her relatives, for whom (he thinks) she has sacrificed her job opportunities. As unfortunate as her lack of employment seems in March, it makes possible an extended period of time together in the same country—a unique interlude in their lives.

    Eliot sees Hale briefly on two occasions in April as she passes through London on her way to other destinations, towards or away from Chipping Campden. On 11 April, Eliot and Hale see each other for three and a half hours (see Letters 7.592). He accompanies her on her errands and she gives him a cigarette case; he tells her that she looked beautiful in her blue costume. On April 17th, he meets her train from Campden and they have dinner together before he sees her off again on her way to Guernsey for an Easter holiday with Jean McPherrin. He wishes her a peaceful crossing and tells her that waiting for her at the station was exciting. In the meantime, he is off to Inverness for his holiday; both are back in London by May 1, when Hale and McPherrin stay in his rooms in Kensington while he stays at Russell Square. He writes to her afterwards (3 May 1935) that it is a delight to think that she has been in his rooms; the scent of her roses still reminds him of her.  He recalls with pleasure the time they spent together, including an evening alone at the theatre (they saw Henry IV). 

    These brief visits in London continue throughout the summer, with the scent of her perfume or flowers making a leitmotif in his follow-up letters. On 9 May, she has just departed for Campden, leaving a faint odour of sanctity behind in his rooms. He reminisces on the weekend just spent together, including a delightful ride on the back of a taxi and a walk down Whitehall and through the Parks. His memory has taken several snap shots, he says, which he will keep always. For the context of this weekend, see his published letter to McPherrin written on the same day (7.614-15), with plans to “influence [Emily’s] arrangements for the winter,” and to his aunt Susan Hinkley on 11 May: “Emily has been up to town, and seen the King & Queen, and we took a taxi-ride to see the flood-lighting.  I encourage her to come up as often as she can afford to” (7.623). He closes his 9 May letter to Hale by enjoining her to think of their taxi-ride around St. Paul’s Cathedral.

  • 25 Mar 2020 9:32 AM | Frances Dickey (Administrator)

    Invited in November 1934 to write a play about St. Thomas À Becket for the Canterbury festival in June, Eliot works swiftly on his drama during the months of Hale’s absence. In his goodbye letter on 7 December, he tells her that he hopes to write something worthy of her. On 14 December, scorning the art-loving Anglo-American expatriates of Florence, he asserts that he is interested not in Art but in people--although they are pigs and rats--and in writing plays about them. He isn’t sure about the Canterbury deal, which may fall through and won’t bring him any money, but he finds the subject good. A month later, he has written five pages of his play and is depressed by his pedestrian dialogue; he thinks his choruses are better. In two days, Becket will arrive (in his play) and Eliot will have to find something for him to say. 

    On 24 January Eliot announces that he must finish his play by 1 April in order to get a £125 advance from Faber, and he begins trying titles out on Hale; he will propose three different titles before hitting on the final one.  The first is "The Archbishop Murder Case" (mentioned in several published letters of later date, e.g. 7.523). By 30 January, Eliot says he has brought the Saint to Canterbury and has no trouble making him talk, but none of his characters do anything; only talk and generalize about Church and State. He hopes the second part, in which the Archbishop is murdered, will be easier, but even the murder may turn out only to be talk. He wishes Hale could tell him how to get people to move about more on the stage. The next day he tells her that he is not taking any more engagements until after the Archbishop is murdered.

    Reporting on 7 February that Group Theatre director Rupert Doone likes his lyrical and choral passages but finds the recitative parts dull, Eliot plans to make his play more formal. He explains on 12 February that he is choosing an alliterative middle-English verse, like that of “Everyman," to show his strengths and conceal his weaknesses.  Currently, the Archbishop is being tempted by Spiritual Pride, but he will prevail. Eliot wants Hale to be in London for the performance of his play. On 14 February he tries out another detective-fiction title on her in the form of a question about who killed the archbishop, but four days later confesses he is completely without ideas for what to call his play. He wants a title that suggests a murder mystery, not a conventional church drama, and appeals to all kinds of theatre-goers and readers. He is cautiously optimistic about the success of his play but admits he finds the experience humbling, because the most beautiful poetry cannot save a dull drama. On 27 February he proposes "Fear in the Way" (drawing on Ecclesiastes 12.5; see Letters 7.526). But she doesn’t like this, nor does anybody else, apparently, and in March he wants to avoid titles that imply either a detective novel or an Elizabethan tragedy. He begins the revision process.

    In a long letter of April 2, Eliot intertwines thoughts about his spiritual state, his family, and the play he has been writing. He seems to be responding to Hale’s frustration with her relatives and desire to reach a more tranquil state. His own family, he says, set higher standards for themselves than other people; it was assumed that the Eliots were more favored by God and had to behave accordingly. They believed the rich were wicked to have made so much money and not to have given it away. His Grandfather Eliot dominated their world from his grave and continues to force him to serve on committees and meddle in public affairs. But it is the shade of his mother who wants him to make retreats and keep vigils. He finds it difficult to relinquish the illusory goal of an emotional and spiritual equilibrium that will make life easy, but there is no reaching this goal; one simply must go on trying. This reflection makes him think about the paradox that if one became aware of being a Saint, one would no longer be one. 

    The play is finished, he tells her, and it will be called Murder in the Cathedral

    March 29: Thanks to the arrival of vol. 7 of Eliot's letters at my doorstep, I was able to amend this post to include more information about the working titles of his play.

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