“Animula” in St. Louis

14 Jan 2020 6:21 PM | Katerina Stergiopoulou

In response to a question from Hale, Eliot spends much of his letter of September 7-8, 1931, describing his childhood in St. Louis: he felt like an only child because his siblings were so much older, his father was too attached to his grandmother and she in turn wanted to remain in her old house, despite its being located in a slum. He also felt particularly isolated from other children of his age and social standing who did not live in the same neighborhood; he mentions his uneasy interactions with members of the opposite sex, espied only in the context of dancing classes, and recalls his envy of what appeared to him a natural community between all of the other children. Eliot attributes the contradictions in his character—both arrogant and shy, autonomous and in need of help—to this environment, and tells Hale that “Animula,” the Ariel poem of 1929, expresses these feelings (“the simple soul, / Irresolute and selfish” is a “Shadow of its shadows” that “Den[ies] the importunity of the blood”).

“Animula” reappears in the correspondence about two months later (November 24) when Eliot reports that he was not at all satisfied with the illustration of the poem (it was by Gertrude Hermes). More broadly he finds that an illustrator’s interpretation of a poem prevents readers from forming their own impressions; he would prefer designs instead. Thinking that he might yet finish “Sweeney Agonistes,” he is also open to having this dramatic poem illustrated since the pictures would function as theatrical sets—but only if they accord with his own vision. 

Comments

  • 14 Jan 2020 8:38 PM | CR Mittal
    //a “Shadow of its shadows” that “Den[ies] the importunity of the blood”)//

    A denial most manifest in Eliot’s relationship with Hale.
    Child is the father of man, indeed.
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  • 15 Jan 2020 6:10 PM | Henry Spencer
    What follows is a general comment about the Reports from the Emily Hale Archive.

    I think we all need to stand back and ask: what is it that you think you are providing? I have read the ‘reports’ so far with mounting unease. Surely the last thing needed – after six decades of silence and embargo – was a PA system of instant paraphrase, with all its crackle and distortion. For those readers with a research interest the letters themselves are now available for inspection, in situ. For everyone else there will be an edition of the letters, perhaps as early as next year. The rest is gossip.

    Paraphrase hardly offers a neutral window onto what it describes. It involves interpretation and substitution, your words for Eliot’s words. It homogenizes his meanings, sanitizes them and even censors them. I have the impression of Eliot being put through a blender. You justify this curious activity on the grounds that you are merely mentioning highlights (why do we need highlights?), which is another term for cherry-picking. Which is another term for distortion: the reader loses the contexts, the tonalities, the very rhythms of disclosure. Do we really need to have each and every instance fished out of the river of the correspondence and served up (Hagakawa = Okakura) on a platter? Does none of this strike you as reductive? Not to mention the plodding and pre-emptive summaries of a complex and slowly evolving relationship.

    Why is any of this needed? No bona fide researcher can make use of the service you are claiming to provide, in which case it is hard to understand whose interests are being served. It seems rather to be a waste of resources and a presumption. I am surprised that the Eliot Society is lending its authority to this unsolicited, misconceived and misleading initiative.
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    • 16 Jan 2020 7:46 AM | Jonathan Morse
      Is Henry Spencer under the impression that a reader with the time and money to consult the archive at Princeton will thereby be enabled to read that primary source through "a neutral window" and evade the inescapability of interpretation? Of course we'll read the corpus under a different interpretive regime when it becomes available in its entirety, but that regime too will undergo reinterpretation as the read historical entity called, for short, "Eliot" changes through time.

      So to the Eliot Society under the present regime, in the present moment and at a distance from Princeton, I say thanks.
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