Damyata (Feb-July 1931)

08 Jan 2020 9:21 PM | Frances Dickey (Administrator)

It may not surprise readers of The Waste Land that Eliot often returns to the theme of control, especially self-control, in his letters to Hale from February to July 1931. He comments at least five times during this period either about how her influence helps him exert greater control over his desires, or about how he continues to struggle for self-control. In February (as alluded to in an earlier post), he tells Hale that since they began corresponding in October he has been freed from the mental strain of his celibate life by a new sense of control over his mind. He mentions that religious devotions and work are only partially effective in helping him achieve this end.

On March 19, however, he admits that he constantly battles against his own craving for whisky and the oblivion it brings, as well as against fits of anger and feelings of exhaustion. He has just enough will to keep fighting these temptations. In response, Hale seems to write something about the limits of will, and he agrees on April 20, saying that he has worked to subdue his will, continuing in the same vein as the previous letter about his efforts to free himself from dependence on whisky, tobacco, work, power, and activities that act as a drug on him. The motive of self-improvement is effective only up to a point. He wants to depend just on the essentials of life, especially his personal relationships. On May 2 he comments that he hasn’t been sleeping well for three weeks because he hasn’t had whisky at home.

Finally, in early July (after a month of few letters, due to her holiday travels), he urges her to practice resting her mind and her body completely. He tells her that when he was in Lausanne in 1922 under the care of Dr. Roger Vittoz, he did learn to control himself to the point of being able to fall asleep at will. Insomnia results from lack of self-control, he says, which is further undermined by sleeping medicine. In these letters, Eliot’s conscious attempts to control his thoughts and habits strike (at best) a brittle balance with his surging feelings of longing for Hale, helplessness over the deadlock of his marriage, fury over the constant interruptions of his day, and even his inability to control the coming and going of their letters. In July, Hale introduces him to air mail, whose quicker pace of delivery gives him some relief, as he has come to depend on her letters for his sense of well-being.

Tomorrow I will post on Eliot's letter of July 24, in which he relates how he first came to fall in love with Hale.

Comments

  • 08 Jan 2020 9:41 PM | Sara Fitzgerald
    That's quite a teaser, Frances!

    In the April 24 letter of this section, I was amused by Eliot's statement that he sometimes wished that Hale could loosen up (not his words, but the words he chose were very contemporary) and do the kind of manic things that seemed to me rather Vivien-like. But then he asserted he wasn't really urging her to do that because he knew she never would. Still he seemed to be saying that he thought she was too uptight, an amusing conclusion under the circumstances.
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  • 09 Jan 2020 10:37 AM | James Matthew Wilson
    Francis, can you convey whether the language he uses for these ascetical practices is more in the vein of "self-improvement" or spiritual in character? In a letter (to the Times, I believe) he draws an analogy between the rise of the Freudian talking cure and sacramental practices of confession and spiritual direction. I'm just curious whether he tries to distinguish, or even hold apart, modern practices of health and hygiene and more venerable practices of spiritual or religious discipline.
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    • 09 Jan 2020 10:38 AM | James Matthew Wilson
      *Frances, sorry.
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