An Unforgettable Week

25 Apr 2020 9:12 PM | Frances Dickey (Administrator)

One of the highlights of the Eliot-Hale correspondence is his description of their time together in Chipping Campden at the end of July 1935. Eliot’s first letter of the month sets the date for this visit—22 July—and continues to negotiate the terms of their meetings.  He would like her to come back to London, but only at his expense. He appreciates her sense of duty, which is one of the qualities that attracts him to her but wishes she would direct her principles at the right objects. Their consciences do not always align. He promises to enclose a poem that I. A. Richards liked, “Cape Ann” (first published December 1935), with its notes of yearning and resignation. 

On 5 July, Eliot thanks Hale for her compliments on the conclusion of Murder, while expressing anxiety about the use of his own poetic powers. Sometimes he feels like a child playing with dynamite. With all his faults, he is not the same as the cause he stands for; also, it is a delicate operation to keep his love of the cause pure from the taint of power.  Likewise, he hopes that she will not be distressed by her feelings of inadequacy, a temptation only for noble minds, but dangerous. Eliot seems to be reflecting on temptation in connection with both Hale and his play.

In his letter of 9 July, Eliot confesses to missing Hale’s company and feeling low since Canterbury. He likes merry old ladies and is looking forward to seeing Olivia Shakespeare tomorrow, but international news is depressing, especially Mussolini’s maneuverings in Africa (on this day, talks at the Hague between Italy and Ethiopia broke down, a step towards the war that broke out on 2 October). Eliot does not write again in the month of July except a note on the 15th, indicating that they briefly saw each other again in London. On 22 July he travels to Chipping Campden and stays until the last day of the month. He writes to his hostess, Edith Perkins, on 1 August thanking her for “a very happy and unforgettable week” (7.708). This polite letter is the only published hint of what transpired. On the same day, Eliot writes to Hale expressing his intense emotions, both ecstasy and pain; he experienced a sense of glory, a sense of transport to another world, when she rested her head on his shoulder.

Eliot’s letter of 11 August describes the incidents of their week in vivid detail. They went to Tewkesbury to see the Abbey and a performance of Samson Agonistes, which he enjoyed, but even more so, their ride home in the back of the car and the half hour they spent together in the garden. One day they walked round and through Stanton and Stanway, eating lunch under a hawthorn tree in a field and having tea at the Crown in Blockley (these are all locations within a few miles of Chipping Campden, and the Crown Hotel is still operative). His memory preserves snapshots of the innyard, the iron tea-table and the hollyhocks there. On the last evening they sat together in the garden for an hour, coming in at midnight, and she said what he most craved to hear. It was a moment of glory, for which he feels unworthy. Well done, he tells her, calling her a princess descended from kings. He thanks her for her letter of August 8 in which she displays her sense of humor, one of the things he loves her for, if he loves her for anything. 

Eliot only mentions Burnt Norton once, on September 10, leaving unclear when they visited the manor house and garden. However, no other day receives the same ecstatic review as the one spent sightseeing in the little villages near Chipping Campden, so it seems likely that their “moment” in the rose garden took place on this walk.

My apologies for the long break in posting; the semester ends in a few weeks and I hope to go back to writing more regularly.

Comments

  • 26 Apr 2020 1:35 PM | CR Mittal
    Cape Ann
    by T. S. Eliot
    ... Sweet sweet sweet
    But resign this land at the end, resign it
    To its true owner, the tough one, the sea-gull.
    The palaver is finished.

    https://www.poetrynook.com/poem/cape-ann

    How prophetic.
    Link  •  Reply
  • 27 Apr 2020 11:00 AM | TS Eliot Society (UK)
    There is a small b/w vintage photo of The Crown in Blockley, much as it would have looked to Eliot, on our website – https://bit.ly/35bX4aA
    The village is in a conservation area, and remains very much the same today.
    Link  •  Reply
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