In 1937, Eliot looks back to his lectures of 1933 and tells Hale that he wishes he could suppress them; his aggressiveness, not merited by the subject matter, reveals his abnormal state of mind. As I read ahead (now 5 years in advance of my reports) it is reassuring to learn that the anger and disturbance he expresses in this period also strike him, years later, as out of balance.
On March 6, 1933, Eliot writes that he has been re-reading The Aspern Papers, The Turn of the Screw, and Heart of Darkness in preparation for a lecture to his Harvard students. In a teasing parenthesis he mentions that “Burbank with a Baedeker” issues out of The Aspern Papers. His published lecture notes for English 26 also hint at this connection, with the enigmatic remark “Always be suspicious of confessional authors” (see Prose 4.771-73). The Aspern Papers fascinated him long before it took on a new significance for him, he says, presumably meaning since he began writing to Hale in a confessional mode. However, the theme of evil in The Turn of the Screw and Heart of Darkness is what particularly holds his attention now, and leads Eliot to reminisce again about Matt Prichard, a topic definitely not discussed in his lecture notes.
Eliot does not remember that he told Hale about Prichard before, in his letter of March 24, 1931. He writes now in more detail about the former MFA director whom he knew in Paris in 1910 (actually Prichard was assistant to the director, 1901-1907; see my post of Jan. 6). Other men have wanted his body, but only Prichard desired his soul. Eliot says that for a terrifying twenty seconds, back in his boarding house in Paris, he thought he was completely lost, sent back through thousands of years of human evolution, into the abyss, though he was only hanging over the edge. After that, Prichard lost his power over Eliot, and they went on a tour of southern France together at Christmas 1910, along with Prichard’s very respectable brother, an army colonel. But Prichard had his own realization at Limoges, where he "walked all night in the next room” (“Gerontion”). These memories come back to Eliot not only because he has been reading James and Conrad, the masters of “horror by suggestion” (Prose 4.773). He explains that a young man at Harvard, Theodore Spencer, has fallen under his own influence just as he did with the older Prichard. They have had a long talk. Eliot wishes to affect Spencer positively…it is a big responsibility.
Though not a theme overall in Eliot’s correspondence with Hale, attraction between men is one of several disturbances in his mind as he struggles to come to terms with his own personal life. In his letter of Holy Saturday (April 15) he mentions the poet Stephen Spender as an example of those to whom Eliot has become a symbol of the Anglican church. Spender is gay, communist, and half Jewish, but despite these reasons for disliking the young man, Eliot writes, he finds a certain attraction—he doesn’t say who is attracted to whom.