"An Overwhelming Question"

15 Jan 2020 6:09 PM | Katerina Stergiopoulou

Eliot’s very first letter to Hale on October 30, 1930, makes reference to their meeting in Eccleston Square years before (1924 by Eliot's account; Hale's narrative accompanying her bequest puts the date at 1922). At that meeting she asked him a question which he did not answer; neither does he seem prepared to fully answer it in 1930, professing his love instead (as Frances wrote in her post on January 2). Hale must have returned to this topic because on September 18, 1931, Eliot attempts to explain his state of mind. She assumes, Eliot quotes, that "the night at Eccleston Square was too confusing, too painful, to make reasonable action possible.” Eliot insists that his own feelings about her were not confused, but, having not expected such a question, he did not know the right way to respond. To answer it, he would have had to tell her the whole story (about what he does not say). He would then either have to lie by denying that he still cared for her, or put her in a difficult position by declaring his love. Why, then, did he change his mind in 1930? He still agonizes over the decision to write to her so explicitly at that time, though he does not regret it. They were both older and more mature in 1930 than they had been six years earlier. But, also, when he saw her again he felt such a profound bond between them that he could no longer suppress his feelings.


  • 16 Jan 2020 11:24 AM | CR Mittal
    I would meet you upon this honestly.
    I that was near your heart was removed therefrom
    To lose beauty in terror, terror in inquisition.
    I have lost my passion: why should I need to keep it
    Since what is kept must be adulterated?
    I have lost my sight, smell, hearing, taste and touch:
    How should I use it for your closer contact?
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  • 16 Jan 2020 7:55 PM | Sara Fitzgerald
    Rereading my transcript of the letter you referenced, I assumed that the question Hale posed was, "Why did you marry her?" Her own memoir suggests that the letters and flowers that Eliot sent her in 1914-15 led her to imagine they might have a future when he returned. Because she was friends with Eleanor Hinkley and others of his Harvard circle, she undoubtedly got reports that his marriage was not going well.
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  • 17 Jan 2020 10:05 AM | CR Mittal
    Maybe Hale’s demand for a “reasonable action” suggests divorce. The overwhelming question then could be, “Why don’t you leave her? Do you not love me enough?”
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  • 17 Jan 2020 11:34 AM | CR Mittal
    Let me modify the second question. “Are you not sure of your feelings for me?”
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