Innocent Entertainment

24 Jan 2020 6:28 PM | Frances Dickey (Administrator)

Striking a less intimate tone in his letters of late spring and summer 1932, Eliot describes his social and cultural activities in detail. On June 5 he acknowledges a deliberate choice to curtail the expression of his feelings, out of respect for her and fear of letting himself go. If less personal, these letters are full of information.

Eliot attends and discusses numerous plays, no doubt in part to engage her own interest in drama. He enjoys Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night at Saddler’s Wells, praising Malvolio and the satiric side of the play, and plans to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the first time. In response to a comment from Hale, he mentions his acquaintance with several plays by Eugene O’Neill, including All God’s Chillun Got Wings, which impressed him, and another set on a New England farm (probably Desire Under the Elms), that he found violent. He attends and praises Wings Over Europe by Robert Nichols and Maurice Browne, though the monotony of the scenario (a Cabinet meeting) and lack of female characters make it a difficult sell to the public.  On June 7, Eliot reports attending Shaw’s Heartbreak House, of which he was not a fan: clever, perhaps, but the characters are not real. Shaw is a child who has never had a significant emotional experience. Finally, he experiences the worst play he has ever seen, Hocus Pocus by Austin Page.

Eliot also discusses what he is reading. He has ordered the complete works of Karl Marx, despite his aversion to Marxism; his politics are not in a settled state. Poetry is more and more regarded in a socio-economic light, a view developed by the Russian critic Prince Mirsky in a pamphlet on himself (“Fin de la poésie bourgeoise”), which he approves and encloses. Yet he would like to make a case for the permanent value of poetry, beyond its social function at different eras of history. To his chagrin, Hale dislikes Bubu de Montparnasse, which he sends to her with his introduction. Yet her explanation leads to an interesting letter about what is disgusting in literature (July 14). He too has been disgusted by books—as by life itself, to the point of madness. Restoration comedy, Rabelais, and Ulysses he finds perfectly innocent, although Joyce’s perversion of Christianity disturbs him. Many people only notice the obscenities. What really disgusts him is prurience, especially in contemporary fiction, drama, and film. Prayer and meditation are the only antidote for disgust.

Yet, among the letters of summer 1932 Eliot intersperses less erudite commentary as well, asking Hale questions about her summer activities, speculating on her bathing costume and her permanent Wave, and fantasizing about giving her a Blue Bedlington terrier for company.


  • 24 Jan 2020 7:49 PM | CR Mittal
    Very insightful.
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  • 25 Jan 2020 5:42 AM | Sara Fitzgerald
    Frances: Did the two of them ever settle on a book they would read together, or did that idea seem to get dropped as the months went by?
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  • 25 Jan 2020 9:39 AM | CR Mittal
    One looks forward with curiosity and concern if the equation grows. And how far.
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  • 25 Jan 2020 10:19 AM | Timothy Materer
    There are extensive footnotes on Dimitri S. Mirsky in the letters, V. 3, p. 305, and V. 4, p. 184, and many references to him in the letters.
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  • 25 Jan 2020 10:46 AM | CR Mittal
    Maybe this is too early for any conjecture, and one can only surmise Hale’s part of contribution, but Eliot is definitely doing all he can to reach out.
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  • 25 Jan 2020 11:16 AM | Sara Fitzgerald
    Regarding the discussion about a dog, in early 1938, Margaret Farrand Thorp suggested to Hale that she should consider a dachshund like the Thorps had (elsewhere Eliot expressed how annoying he found the Thorps' dog). In fall of 1938, before Eliot and Hale picked out an elkhound, there was also discussion of getting a Samoyed. When Hale returned to the States, Eliot expressed concern that Boerre might get hit by a car because he would expect cars to be traveling on the other side of the street, having been raised in England!
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  • 25 Jan 2020 12:04 PM | CR Mittal
    One must however keep in mind that Hale is operating from a difficult position as Eliot is still in a married relationship with Vivienne.
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