Ecce deus fortior

26 Feb 2020 9:28 PM | Frances Dickey (Administrator)

In August 1934, Eliot sends nine letters from London to Chipping Campden intensely analyzing his feelings and their relationship. Despite the length and frequency of his letters, it is difficult to say exactly what is happening between them, so I will summarize at least the first one in detail. On August 6 Eliot acknowledges that he has pressed himself on Hale’s attention and encouraged emotions in her that she did not originally have. She seems to have expressed increased affection or desire for him in her last letter, as well as apologized for her previous outburst against the constraints he has placed on himself. He recalls that several years ago, she wrote that they might want each other more as time went on, a comment whose significance he now sees. He cares only about her happiness, and he would rather see her happily married to someone else, although he admits his actions do not promote such an end. He believes that the elements for a great passion exist between them, which could be realized under other circumstances, and he agrees that there should be no Puritanism or shyness between them. At this moment, he wishes that he could talk to her in person, though if she were there, he might be unable to speak. This reminds Eliot of Dante’s acknowledgement in the Vita Nuova on first seeing Beatrice: “Ecce deus fortior me” (Behold a god more powerful than I). However, Eliot substitutes “te” for “me.” (His allusion signals that he still believes his love follows the pattern of Dante’s for Beatrice. It is not clear whether he intends to misquote the original, changing the meaning to "Behold a god more powerful than you".) He could imagine acting on his impulses in such a way that would seem right and yet would make him feel guilty and in need of absolution. He feels a responsibility towards her to keep her from harm. Apparently she isn’t certain about the afterlife and has suggested that they might as well enjoy what they can in the time allowed to them. He feels too much reverence for her to accept this argument. This summer they must find out if there is any basis for their relationship. Lowering the temperature of his letter, he mentions their plans to have tea together with his sister Marian and niece Dodo, who are visiting (creating for Eliot what is perhaps a welcome impediment to seeing Hale alone). All the Eliot children were brought up in a glass jar, he tells her, and Marian still lives there. He concludes by hoping that he has not angered or harmed her, and calls her by several pet names. Overall, in this letter, he tries to conciliate her with praise and expressions of devotion but holds his line against an increased level of intimacy or plans for union.


  • 26 Feb 2020 10:16 PM | CR Mittal
    //He believes that the elements for a great passion exist between them, which could be realized under other circumstances//

    That says it all.
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