Public honor, private dilemma

17 Jan 2020 8:00 PM | Frances Dickey (Administrator)

In the fall of 1931, Eliot receives an unexpected honor: an invitation to deliver the Charles Eliot Norton lectures at Harvard in the following academic year. He announces the news to Hale in a letter of October 27, explaining that there are three reasons to take the position: the unprecedented salary of $10,000; his desire to visit St. Louis, Boston, and New England again; and the possible advancement that might follow from it. He also foresees that if Vivienne doesn’t accompany him, the months away will at least give him a break from caring for her. Strangely, the opportunity to spend more time with Hale, who lives in Boston, is not an inducement. Rather, he says, it would be difficult to be so near to her, and they would see little of each other. 

Hale has been considering a teaching position at Scripps College in Claremont, California.  It would simplify matters for him if she accepted this offer, he writes on November 6, but he has mixed feelings: he doesn’t want her to take the job just to be far from him, nor does he want to go to the United States without seeing her at all. He continues on November 20 that he cannot predict his emotions on first seeing her, but what worries him more is how they will relate on subsequent meetings. He might be so overcome with feeling that he would only be able to see her twice—on arrival and at departure. The only solution is for each of them to make separate plans. 

One can only imagine how Hale received this information, but on December 17, Eliot responds humbly to her clear displeasure; she has described him as “blasting” her. On January 12 he returns in more detail to the scenario he imagines for them: a private meeting when he first arrives in Cambridge, then likely nothing more except a farewell. If he can’t have her company all the time, he says, he prefers an epistolary relationship. He looks forward excitedly to being able to exchange letters more quickly when they are in the same city. By February 16, however, Hale has accepted the job at Scripps, and he congratulates her on her decision.

Comments

  • 18 Jan 2020 10:06 AM | Sara Fitzgerald
    Thanks for those insights, Frances, from boxes, alas, I did not manage to get to in my available time. I hope you are going to follow up with the November 1933 letter that you flagged for me. One of the challenges of our reading is to try and discern how Emily Hale responded to a letter. I find that I bring my own reactions as a woman, thinking how it would feel to read the letter when you were in love with the man, as well as looking for Eliot's "reporting" of her subsequent reaction, as you noted. Later, in late 1947 into 1948, I noted she seemed to be "sitting" on letters, taking as long as a month to respond (on some she made her own notes of when the letter was "ack[knowledged]. I think she knew this would upset him, and indeed he acknowledged that it did. This was, of course, after he had told her he had decided he could not marry her, and seemed to me to be saying to him, "You can't have it both ways."
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  • 18 Jan 2020 10:36 AM | CR Mittal
    Certain visible constraints on Eliot’s part vis-a-vis Hale as long he is in a married relationship with Vivienne.
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  • 18 Jan 2020 2:09 PM | CR Mittal
    The agony of love unfulfilled: //it would be difficult to be so near to her, and they would see little of each other.//
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