Speaking of "us"

13 Jun 2020 3:06 PM | Frances Dickey (Administrator)

Eliot begins the month of October 1935 in the glow of his recent birthday celebration, writing on the 3rd(exactly five years since the renewal of their correspondence) that the words of their letters have gained in value and meaning as their relationship has deepened. He takes pleasure in using the pronoun “we” rather than “you and I.” He tells her that he has preserved the different flowers she has given him for his buttonhole, but he now particularly treasures the sprig of yew that she picked for “us.” This is the first of numerous references to the yew, a tree that memorably appears in “Burnt Norton”: “Will…Chill/ Fingers of yew be curled/Down on us?”

From 8 October 1935, Hale stays in London with her aunt and uncle, with many opportunities for seeing Eliot. (For his mixed feelings about her family ménage, see his published letter to Jeanette McPherrin, 7.791.) Despite frequently meeting in person, Eliot continues to send regular letters, for writing is not the same as talking, he tells her, and when he forgets to write something, he can always add a postscript, while an omission in conversation can never be remedied. He invites her to a performance of a Bach Brandenburg Concerto by the Busch Quartette and a Group Theatre production (not Sweeney, he says, which was playing at the Westminster Theatre in double billing with Auden’s Dance of Death), plans a tea party with Ottoline Morrell, and hopes to take her to see Virginia Woolf (this occurs on Nov. 26). He tells her that he is at her disposal and wants to see her as much as possible. Later in the month he offers to take her to hear Jelly D’Aranyi (a celebrated Hungarian violinist who was also a friend of Georgie Yeats) play Beethoven’s Kreutzer Sonata. These invitations underscore Hale’s appreciation of music and her influence on Eliot’s taste in the time of his writing Four Quartets.

Hale accompanies Eliot to a poetry reading on 13 October, where he is more conscious of her than of the young people in the audience; her presence—he tells her the next day—gives him the dizzying sense of living on two planes at once. He remarks that wherever she goes, people become dependent on her; of the four people currently drawing support from her (presumably the two Perkins, Mrs. Hale, and himself), he feels he takes the most from her and worries that he gives little or nothing in return—adding that her face becomes more and more beautiful to him as he studies it (perhaps this is an attempt to give something back). On the 17thhe is glad to hear her say that she also receives from him, but he suspects that he gains the most from the relationship. He adds in French that he kisses her hands.

For another, perhaps jealous perspective, Ottoline Morrell’s diary records a chance encounter with Eliot on 20 October when she sees him with “a very obvious severe mouthed, American Parson” and three American ladies including “the dominating efficient Hales” at St. George’s Chapel in Windsor Castle. She continues to complain on 24 October after a gathering at her house how Eliot brought “that awful American Woman Miss Hales with him—she is like a Sergeant Major quite Intolerable—How can Tom take her about everywhere—She has perhaps been a School mistress” (quoted in Letters7.816). 

On 22 October, with Murder soon to open at the Mercury Theatre, Eliot enjoys a feeling of collaborating with her on a production, though he feels he isn’t qualified to take part, and she is too modest to do so. On Monday, 30 October, he thanks her for supporting him socially at dinner with the Maritains, whom he particularly wanted her to meet, praising her charm, grace, and ease. Sunday evening marked yet a further stage of progress in their relationship, entailing a feeling of self-surrender and of responsibility to her for all he does and thinks. This is not a feeling of the moment but a permanent change, as if he were possessed by her.

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