Waiting for things to happen

18 Nov 2020 7:59 AM | Frances Dickey (Administrator)

In early June 1936, Eliot travels to Paris to give a poetry reading at Shakespeare and Company, also meeting with Joyce, André Gide, the Maritains, and other French intellectuals. He is secretly buoyed by a surprise letter from Hale, handed to him by Sylvia Beach. Eliot and Joyce discuss arrangements for publishing what will be Finnegans Wake, and Joyce confides his worries about his children, especially his daughter, whose mental illness is hopeless, Eliot believes, though Joyce does not (Lucia was hospitalized in 1935). They stroll about Paris together, which is alarming with someone so blind. Gide seems more like a member of Bloomsbury than a typical Frenchman: charming, but empty of value. 

Throughout the summer of 1936, Eliot anticipates his visit to America in September. Although this is a personal trip—apart from an appearance at Wellesley—he must plan out each moment carefully; he prefers a few perfect days alone with Hale than more time under the gaze of other people. Cambridge is too exposed, so they discuss the possibility of meeting elsewhere, including West Rindge (NH), the farm and summer home of Hale’s friend Mary Lee Ware; Northampton, where she is to take a job teaching speech at Smith in the fall; or Woods Hole, Cape Cod, as guests of her friend Dorothy Elsmith. Ultimately, they see each other at both Smith and Woods Hole, but not before Hale’s summer is disrupted by unspecified problems seemingly of both a physical and emotional nature. On July 30, Eliot writes to her in Cambridge, where she has returned from the seaside due to ill health. He counsels her not to think that she needs to make her life over “anew” (he quotes her word), and not to expect too much of herself. He, too, has experienced frustration with “waiting for things to happen”: it is better to give up expecting something. Like her, he has experienced alternations of feeling (presumably emotional ups and downs). He swears his love and devotion and encourages her to think about their being together in a month’s time. And he assures her that he loves the real Emily, whatever side of herself she shows to him; likewise, he wants her to love the real person that he is. By responding point-by-point to the anxieties Hale has expressed, Eliot’s letter gives a fairly clear sense of what is on her mind: insecurity about his feelings for her, worries about the future of the relationship, and a sense that she cannot measure up to his idealized notion of “Emily.” She is vague about her health but has been sleeping badly; she is resigned not to achieve any heights in her spiritual struggles (perhaps she is contrasting herself with him). He encourages patience. On 19 August he alludes to the terrible depths she has experienced and hopes that his visit will help and not hinder her recovery. On August 22, Eliot sails for the United States via Montreal.

Next time: Eliot and Hale at Woods Hole. My apologies for the long delay in posting.

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