Enclosures: Virginia Woolf (March-April 1931)

08 Jan 2020 10:48 AM | Frances Dickey (Administrator)

Eliot frequently encloses handwritten notes from other authors in his letters to Hale; too many to describe them all, but I will mention those of particular interest. Eliot discusses his friendship with Virginia Woolf in letters of March 31 and April 8, enclosing two notes (which will need to be added to her published correspondence). After a lunch with Clive Bell, Leonard, and Virginia, he writes to Hale about the novelist’s distinguished family (Leslie Stephen and Vanessa Bell), whom he predicts she would like. With their literary accomplishments, sense of humor, and tact, the Stephens and the Stracheys are not unlike their own Cambridge, Massachusetts social set. He remarks that his own family connection to Charles Eliot Norton, a friend of Leslie Stephen, first opened the door to Virginia’s society. On April 8, Eliot identifies Woolf as one of the few people in London he trusts, although he finds a distance between them due to his failure to esteem her work as much as she would like him to. Apparently someone has asked Hale about one of Woolf’s books, and Eliot answers that it might be Jacob’s Room or A Room of One’s Own (the latter is quite good, he adds in the margin), but he is not sure, and he doesn’t want to expose his ignorance by asking Woolf. 

The two enclosures mainly concern Eliot and Woolf’s dealings with periodicals; Eliot has attempted to support Woolf with a letter to the editor of the Nation (see Eliot’s Dec. 30, 1930, letter in Vol. 5) that they refused to print. She consoles him, “the bug [Cecil] Beaton is scarcely worth squashing, delighted as I should be to have him squashed by your august fingers.” Perhaps Eliot showed this note to Hale because Woolf praises his portrait and closes by saying that she is about to read his pamphlet on Dante. (Just as a scholarly aside, in Woolf’s published letters to Eliot she often remarks that she has his book in her hand or is about to read it, rather than mentioning the contents, so perhaps the reluctance to read each other’s work went both ways.) 

Looking ahead to October 1931, apparently Hale has been reading Woolf and giving Eliot her impressions, which he says would please the author. He confesses that he doesn’t read contemporary fiction because it interferes with his own imagination. However, he promises to send Hale The Waves as a birthday present.


  • 08 Jan 2020 12:51 PM | LeeAnn Derdeyn
    Frances, I join the other voiced and not yet voiced comments to say thank you so much. What a gift you are giving those of us not there.
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  • 08 Jan 2020 2:53 PM | Frances Dickey (Administrator)
    In the end, he didn't send "The Waves" but rather the letters of Ellen Terry and George Bernard Shaw. Maybe he didn't want her to get any dangerous ideas from Woolf.
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  • 08 Jan 2020 9:25 PM | Sara Fitzgerald
    Frances--Two little side notes, reading behind you from this box and a later one. Eliot notes that Hale has been careful about returning to him his enclosures, in this case a letter from Aldous Huxley. He says that if he sends it to her, he doesn't need it anymore and she doesn't need to return it. (Considering all the focus on finding letters and determining who owns them, I wondered how many of these letters would have disappeared, if she had not hung onto them for close to 30 years.)

    Second, in later letters from 1935, when Hale has started her journey back to the United States on a ship from Liverpool, Eliot expresses his hopes that she will have a berth in a [PLUG IN NAME OF VIRGINIA WOOLF WORK] so she will be free to think about him, not necessarily what Woolf had in mind.
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  • 08 Jan 2020 9:36 PM | Barbara Emmert-Schiller
    My husband Alden and I often tell the story of how we met in an undergraduate 20th century poetry class. Specifically, we "saw" each other while engaging in discourse about a T.S.Eliot poem. How delightful to have this new information about T.S. Eliot's own love life.
    Many thanks for including a broader audience as you journey into this important, intimate past!
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