A Lifetime Burning in Every Moment

05 Mar 2020 9:51 PM | Frances Dickey (Administrator)

Whatever emotional thunderstorms troubled them in August 1934, Eliot and Hale seem to enjoy clear skies throughout the fall. While Eliot vacations in Wales with the Fabers, Hale and her friend Jean stay in Chipping Campden, coming up to London together in October to do some sightseeing. They have lunch with Eliot on the 11th, and though he felt self conscious in Hale’s company, he writes afterwards, there were several moments. (The language of Four Quartets now begins to appear in his letters more frequently.) Hale and McPherrin go to Paris for a week (he sends roses to her hotel), but she returns alone on 17 October to stay at a hotel near his own residence in London, and thus begins a particularly sunny episode. He is hesitant about obtruding his company on her, and she chides him against “microscopic analysis” of their interactions and “weighing every word” (her language). As the month wears on, he gains confidence and they enjoy numerous dates at the theater, with his friends, and alone over meals. They shop for birthday presents for each other: she wants to give him a tea set, and he looks for a ring for her. She expresses shyness at meeting his famous friends, perhaps especially Virginia Woolf, and he tells her that she cannot appreciate her own gifts, but she should not disparage them. After a lunch meeting one day, he tells her that the longer she stays in London, the happier he will be. He writes that a relationship should always be renewing itself, without turning against the past; it should be both new and old at every moment:  "Not the intense moment/Isolated, with no before and after,/But a lifetime burning in every moment..." For her birthday on 26 October, he gives her a ring with a star sapphire mounted on white gold.

Eliot seems to make a decision at this point to introduce Hale to his friends and make sure she has a good time in London, inviting her to attend Richard II, a performance of Sweeney Agonistes, to have tea with Ottoline Morrell, and to meet Virginia Woolf. All of these events require some arranging, reflected in his published letters to other correspondents (e.g. he tells Ottoline he would like to bring a friend to tea: “She is quite an exceptional person, though it may not be immediately obvious” [7.357]). The first weekend of November goes exceptionally well and he tells her that it makes him feel closer to his friends when they know her. He also compliments her on her clothing (a black dress with a red jacket) and observes obliquely that her presence has led to more business for English tailors (meaning from him). On 11 November they attend a performance of Sweeney with Virginia Woolf. Eliot feels that their level of intimacy has increased, especially as Hale feels free to discuss her own problems with him. They make plans to have lunch alone, get tickets to see Hamlet and to hear the music of Stravinsky. Their correspondence during this period is sketchy because they are seeing each other often, perhaps continuously. He does note two important events during this time: he has been invited to write a dramatic work to be performed at Canterbury Cathedral, and his lawyers have taken action to retrieve his belongings from the flat he shared with Vivien at Clarence Gate. But he does not allow this to cloud the final weeks of Hale’s time in England. At the end of the month, she leaves for Italy, and Eliot sits down to write her a good-bye letter: it has been the happiest month of his whole life, he tells her. He was able to enjoy her company unspoiled by cravings for what he could not have. And he has delighted in seeing her enjoy herself as well. 

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