Reflections on Burnt Norton and Bloomsbury

24 May 2020 1:14 PM | Frances Dickey (Administrator)

Our narrative of Hale and Eliot left off in early August 1935, with his rhapsodic description of their day spent walking the countryside near Chipping Campden and lingering in the garden of Stamford House at night. Through the rest of the month, Eliot enjoys the afterglow of their last evening and wonders how he will feel when he sees her again. He will be both tender and awkward, he predicts. He recalls how she put her head on his shoulder, in a moment so meaningful and dazzling that “my eyes failed” again (Eliot quotes himself). He feels that she brings out the best in him, and he hopes that it will prove so, though he is not afraid of her seeing his faults. He chides her not to feel inferior nor suppress her wonderful sense of humor. On 23 August he sends her “Rannoch, by Glencoe,” the fourth of his “Landscapes.”

After not seeing each other for five weeks following their time in Chipping Campden at the end of July, Eliot and Hale get together at least three times in September. The first is something of a disappointment. Hale comes up to London to dine with Eliot and the Thorps—Willard, the Princeton English professor who will eventually secure Hale’s donation of the letters, and his wife Margaret, an author and Hale’s longtime friend. Eliot says that he felt like a wax model on display, and Willard in turn was a skeleton at his feast. He blames his paralysis partly on the emotions he felt in the aftermath of their last visit, and partly on his sense that Willard finds him lacking. Then on the weekend of September 6-8, Eliot returns to Chipping Campden, where there seems to be some tension between Emily and her aunt, perhaps exacerbated by comments from Eliot. He reminisces about being in the rose-garden at Burnt Norton with her, one of the permanent moments for him; probably, as mentioned in my previous post, he refers to his visit at the end of July. By the middle of the month, Eliot is planning another trip to Chipping Campden for his birthday on the 26th, and he mentions that he wants to have a few new poems to add to the edition of his work that is to appear in the spring (that new poem will be “Burnt Norton,” not yet written).

Readers of Vol. 7 will have noted the inclusion of a sixteen-page letter from his brother Henry, analyzing the motives for his conversion and sharply criticizing his repudiation of Unitarianism in a “fanatically intolerant and shocking tirade” delivered to the Boston Association of Unitarian Ministers in 1933 (7.754). Eliot receives this letter on 20 September, telling Hale that he is already aware of many of the criticisms, and others may be true or misunderstandings; Henry knows much about him, but not the essentials of his private life. Not seeming offended by his brother’s letter, but wearied by it, he tells Hale that Henry blames his faults partly on his friendship with Bloomsbury group members.  Perhaps Eliot has this criticism in mind four days later when he regales Hale with the names of Woolf and Bell family members whom he has just seen at Vanessa’s house for dinner, and at the Keynes’s a few days later. Maynard is building a theatre in Cambridge for his wife, the former ballerina Lydia Lopokova, and has offered to produce Eliot’s next play there; they discussed Mussolini and Italy. He writes that the only Bloomsbury members who truly interest him are Virginia (though he never reads her work) and Keynes, whose brilliance exceeds his character. He concludes his letter of 24 September by looking forward to spending his birthday in her company.

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