Reports from the Emily Hale Archive

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  • 21 Feb 2020 2:53 PM | Frances Dickey (Administrator)

    From August 1933, when Eliot tells Hale that he has been invited to write a play, to the May 1934 premier of The Rock, his letters contain reflections on drama and the process of writing (what he considers) his first serious verse since Ash-Wednesday. In addition to hoping to create a stronger bond with her by writing for the stage, he sees the pageant play as a way to force himself to write poetry. On 21 October he writes that poetic composition is difficult and depressing work requiring some external pressure to expel it from him. A few days later he tells her that he has drafted four choruses, rather on the grim and ironic side, as he wants to avoid sentimentality or prettiness. In the meantime, he keeps up a lively schedule of theater-going that he describes to her. On 8 December he reports a music hall revival at the Garrick, where he saw Charles Austin and Marie Kendall, particularly enjoying “A Little Bit o’ What You Fancy Always Does You Good” and “Down at the Old Bull and Bush” (an old favorite). He finds London nostalgic for the pre-Boer War days. 

    In the new year (1934) Eliot also goes to see moving pictures, commenting freely and acerbically on them to Hale. Mae West is a bad actress with no personality (6 Feb), but the Marx Brothers are worse (16 Feb). He describes them as low-class Jews peddling crude humor that he finds repulsive (unfortunately, such remarks are not uncommon in these letters). In contrast, he enjoyed two “Silly Symphony” Walt Disney films. He sees plays by Margaret Kennedy and Sean O’Casey (“Within the Gates,” whose poetry he thinks is maudlin). On 24 February he looks forward to attending Cleopatra acted by Cambridge undergraduates and on 16 March reports with amazement on the excellence of the young lead actress in what he deems Shakespeare’s most difficult play. He also sees a performance of Auden’s The Dance of Death, whose characters do not seem like real people. Comparing himself to Auden, he thinks his own characters in Sweeney were more lifelike, but grants Auden a talent for finding a dramatic situation (2 March). Sweeney is on his mind because he has just seen Hallie Flanagan, the director of his play at Vassar in 1933, and finds her thoughtful and intelligent. (Flanagan is to play an unfortunate role in Hale’s future life: shortly after Flanagan is hired at Smith in 1942, Hale loses her job.) On 23 March, he takes Christina Morley to see Congreve’s Love for Love at Sadlers' Wells, noting how dependent the dramatist is on his audience: Restoration comedy must now be played as farce, but is really a somber satire of a kind that audiences no longer understand. However, he expresses cautious optimism about the play he is finishing and the strength of his comic hero, Ethelbert the Anglo-Saxon bricklayer. 

    On 10 May, Eliot thanks Hale for reading and commenting on his poetry, which she seems not to have liked very much. He says he is relieved: if she liked it too much, he would worry that she only liked him as its author. Other people mix him up with his poetry, and he craves some private life.

  • 19 Feb 2020 2:57 PM | Frances Dickey (Administrator)

    Will Hale accept Eliot on the terms that he sets for her? His uncertainty continues over the holidays and into 1934, while few letters arrive from California. Vivien also refuses to sign a separation agreement, and all he can do is establish the financial limits of his support. He feels overwhelmed by the task of finding a new flat and buying furniture, blankets, pillowcases, and other domestic items he knows nothing about (5 January). (In his future years of marital separation, Eliot always finds lodging with other people rather than establishing his own household). Finally on 19 January, he receives her letter expressing what he calls a really Christian attitude towards him, though he is unhappy to hear that he has never brought her anything but pain. She would have been better off not meeting him, though she is the one person in the world whom he would most like to make happy. He must have given her a false impression of himself (I feel a sense of déjà vu: similar exchanges about her “misunderstanding” occur throughout their correspondence). Perhaps he has been acting under false pretenses all this time, and if she would prefer him to stop writing to her, he will comply immediately. She has done so much for him, and he foolishly thought that he was giving something in return, indeed that he had almost earned the happiness he receives from her. In time he hopes to love her more finely and appreciate how much better she is than he.

    The question of his culpability continues to bother him, and on 26 January he wonders whether he ought to break off their correspondence for several years, for her sake?  His past life begins to seem like a nightmare “of things ill done” and not done, words he will write into Little Gidding eight years later:

    And last, the rending pain of re-enactment

                Of all that you have done, and been; the shame

                Of motives late revealed, and the awareness

    Of things ill done and done to others’ harm

    Eliot wishes her to do only what is best for herself, just as he would only want a woman to marry him because she wanted to, and not out of pity (though, to clarify, he is asking her to accept an indefinite and probably permanent deferment of marriage). But her letter of 6 February lifts his spirits by reassuring him that he gives to her as well as receiving. He promises to continue as long as she wishes, and thereby enjoy what he says is the only real intimacy of his life. He concludes by assuring her that he has kissed her letter many times, especially the signature.

  • 17 Feb 2020 3:36 PM | Frances Dickey (Administrator)

    On 9 August, 1933, Eliot writes to Hale from Pike’s Farm that at moments he perceives a pattern in life, which gives him a feeling of peace. Eliot’s behavior towards Hale also begins to establish patterns. Although he often expresses the belief that they are becoming closer and closer, the reality is that he pulls her towards him and then pushes her away, sometimes both at the same time. During Fall 1933, through his lawyers and other intermediaries, Eliot presses Vivien to sign a separation with him and accept a financial settlement. He seems to be enjoying his newfound freedom and begins looking for rooms in London. Hale writes infrequently in September and October, finally coming out with a request for clarity about what their future holds, perhaps saying that he lacks commitment. He writes back on 28 October that for many years he was numbed as if living amidst the noise and chaos of a factory, occasionally producing a burst of poetry. After that, the excitement of their correspondence kept him going, and now that he has a chance to take stock of his new life, he recognizes that he can only go a certain distance and no further. He may be referring to his refusal to divorce Vivien, or to his vow of celibacy, or both.

    Eliot elaborates on 19 November that there is nothing in the world he would not give if he could hope that she would accept him as her husband (the sentence is really that convoluted). He can hardly imagine what it would mean to be married to her. He must appear quite grotesque and a poor spectacle of a man to need any urging by her.  But he must consider the impact of his behavior on the Church, in which he is probably the most important layman alive; were he to divorce, he would be excommunicated. His defection would lend strength to the enemies of Christianity. And as he said before (and will say again many times), he can’t get a divorce because Vivien would have to seek it against him, which she will never do. It may now seem to her that he has been deceiving her, he writes, and perhaps he should never have revealed his feelings to her. He never meant to change her feelings towards him, but only to pay tribute to her. He is grateful for all she has given him, and he denies her charge that he has idealized her. Finally, he swears that there never has been anyone else besides her, nor will there ever be. He begs her for a reply.


  • 12 Feb 2020 9:15 PM | Frances Dickey (Administrator)

    Arriving in Liverpool on July 2, 1933, Eliot goes into hiding from Vivien at Pike’s Farm in Surrey, where Frank Morley and family are living. Although he looked forward to his return to England as a release from suspense, the waiting continues: he waits for Vivien to accept the reality of their separation (she does not), and he hopes anxiously for letters from Hale, who has developed the alarming habit of driving around the West coast on her own. Meanwhile, two themes develop in his letters: observations of nature, and his growing interest in writing for the stage. 

    Of course, “New Hampshire” and “Virginia” indicate that Eliot is paying close attention to nature already during his stay in America. He has many opportunities for observation at Pike’s Farm, where his spare time is taken up with light outdoor work and entertaining the Morley children. At first he seems skeptical of country life—he wonders whether Christina Morley finds it lonely and fears that being outside so much is bad for her complexion—but soon praises the landscape, especially the crooked roads and ever-changing play of light and shadow. A letter of August 17 expresses his satisfaction with the natural cycles of seasons, weather, and flora and fauma that reassuringly place his own activities on the same level as a thrush looking for worms, or a rosebush. He also enjoys a holiday in Wales with the Fabers, lyrically describing the lush countryside and the experience of hearing Welsh spoken. His letters enclose snapshots of Penshurst Castle, a mountain stream in Wales, the River Eden, a Cotswolds village and other “moments” captured with his new camera.

    On August 11, Eliot announces with excitement that he has been invited to write a play to help raise money to build suburban churches, and he decides to try his hand at what will become The Rock. Actually, his enthusiasm for this project can also be traced back to the previous spring, May 1933, when he saw Sweeney Agonistes performed for the first time, at Vassar, an experience he described as dreamlike. A few days after that he asked Hale jokingly if he might write a play for her. This idea remains in his mind, and on September 2 he confirms that he will write the pageant play for the churches and hopes that his dramatic work will create a bond between them. 

    In a final note about summer 1933, on July 28 Eliot encloses a poem (not previously collected) styled as his last will and testament, humorously describing himself and playing on the meaning of her name, Hale.

  • 10 Feb 2020 4:40 PM | Frances Dickey (Administrator)

    Eliot writes his last letter to Hale from America—dated June 17, 1933—after two valedictory acts: he has just given the Prize-Day address at Milton Academy and, in a more private farewell, has spoken to her on the telephone, an intimacy not possible in England. We now know that Hale, still in California, was not present for this address nor did she accompany Eliot to New Hampshire with his brother and sister in early June, as was previously supposed (Letters 6.xxxiii). Eliot tells Hale that, on coming back from Milton, he wrote two poems: “New Hampshire” and “Virginia,” which he encloses, dismissing them lightly as rubbish. He describes the style of the poems as a combination of Gertrude Stein and Hopkins, in an experiment with long syllables. Hale’s absence from the family vacation does not make “New Hampshire,” with its nostalgia for spring and children, any less autobiographical. In the same letter, Eliot mentions some pictures of Hale as a young woman that he has seen at the home of her aunt, Edith Perkins, and that he cannot bear to look at.

    Eliot also takes a brief excursion to Kittery, Maine, in the last weekend of May, described in his letter to Hale of June 1, 1933, and in similar terms to Frank Morley on June 2 (6.594).  Stops include Kittery and Gerrish Island, which he visited with his parents when he was three or four years old; Portsmouth, New Hampshire, across the mouth of the Piscataqua River from Kittery; and Topsfield, Massachusetts, not far from his childhood summer home in Gloucester. Here he goes birding on the Ipswich River with Maxwell Foster and spots a long-billed marsh wren, a blue heron, three Baltimore orioles, and a chestnut-sided warbler. This outing seems to be reflected in “Cape Ann,” though with different birds. The same letter that describes his trip to Kittery also returns to the question of what future he and Hale can expect to enjoy. He wishes that a divorce or annulment were possible, and he expresses longing for all that they might give each other under different circumstances ("Sweet sweet sweet/But resign this land at the end, resign it"). 

    As for “Virginia,” the genesis of this poem is contained in a letter of May 16, written a few days after giving the Page-Barbour lectures in Charlottesville. Eliot describes Virginia's colorful flora and fauna, especially birds (cardinals, tanagers, mockingbirds), as well as whitewashed log cabins and inhabitants, both white and black, doing little or nothing, just waiting (“Still hills/Wait. Gates wait. Purple trees,/White trees, wait, wait,/Delay, decay.”). The country seems sad and without hope, disorderly, but with its own grandeur. Waiting is much on Eliot’s mind at this moment, as he tells Hale: he will feel better when he is back in London and relieved of the suspense of his impending separation from Vivien. There is also the waiting to which he has consigned himself and Hale as they grow older. 

    In my previous post, I referred to Eliot’s later (1937) comment about himself in 1933, but I didn’t mean to suggest that I was jumping ahead in my chronology. My next post will pick up after his return to England at the end of June 1933.

  • 07 Feb 2020 6:15 PM | Frances Dickey (Administrator)

    In 1937, Eliot looks back to his lectures of 1933 and tells Hale that he wishes he could suppress them; his aggressiveness, not merited by the subject matter, reveals his abnormal state of mind. As I read ahead (now 5 years in advance of my reports) it is reassuring to learn that the anger and disturbance he expresses in this period also strike him, years later, as out of balance. 

    On March 6, 1933, Eliot writes that he has been re-reading The Aspern PapersThe Turn of the Screw, and Heart of Darkness in preparation for a lecture to his Harvard students.  In a teasing parenthesis he mentions that “Burbank with a Baedeker” issues out of The Aspern Papers. His published lecture notes for English 26 also hint at this connection, with the enigmatic remark “Always be suspicious of confessional authors” (see Prose 4.771-73). The Aspern Papers fascinated him long before it took on a new significance for him, he says, presumably meaning since he began writing to Hale in a confessional mode. However, the theme of evil in The Turn of the Screw and Heart of Darkness is what particularly holds his attention now, and leads Eliot to reminisce again about Matt Prichard, a topic definitely not discussed in his lecture notes.

    Eliot does not remember that he told Hale about Prichard before, in his letter of March 24, 1931. He writes now in more detail about the former MFA director whom he knew in Paris in 1910 (actually Prichard was assistant to the director, 1901-1907; see my post of Jan. 6). Other men have wanted his body, but only Prichard desired his soul. Eliot says that for a terrifying twenty seconds, back in his boarding house in Paris, he thought he was completely lost, sent back through thousands of years of human evolution, into the abyss, though he was only hanging over the edge. After that, Prichard lost his power over Eliot, and they went on a tour of southern France together at Christmas 1910, along with Prichard’s very respectable brother, an army colonel. But Prichard had his own realization at Limoges, where he "walked all night in the next room” (“Gerontion”). These memories come back to Eliot not only because he has been reading James and Conrad, the masters of “horror by suggestion” (Prose 4.773). He explains that a young man at Harvard, Theodore Spencer, has fallen under his own influence just as he did with the older Prichard. They have had a long talk. Eliot wishes to affect Spencer positively…it is a big responsibility. 

    Though not a theme overall in Eliot’s correspondence with Hale, attraction between men is one of several disturbances in his mind as he struggles to come to terms with his own personal life. In his letter of Holy Saturday (April 15) he mentions the poet Stephen Spender as an example of those to whom Eliot has become a symbol of the Anglican church. Spender is gay, communist, and half Jewish, but despite these reasons for disliking the young man, Eliot writes, he finds a certain attraction—he doesn’t say who is attracted to whom. 

  • 05 Feb 2020 8:24 PM | Frances Dickey (Administrator)

    With his visit to Hale behind him, and the ordeal of convincing Vivien to grant him a legal separation ahead, Eliot seems dissatisfied with himself and others. “One of my most constant temptations is to a feeling of exasperation with human beings,” he writes to Paul Elmer More on 18 May, capturing the tone of many of his letters to Hale in spring 1933. In addition to criticizing others, he feels beset by temptations. He is tempted to use his wit to attack powerful people or to defend the underdog. Intellectual battle serves as a drug and flatters his pride. He is tempted to be a man of action, a Samson, rather than of thought (in Murder in the Cathedral, Thomas refers to one of his temptations as “Samson in Gaza”). Work is a drug. He must also struggle against daydreaming, however, and he tells her that he often revises his letters to her to make them less ardent. He wonders why he should have to struggle against so many cravings; he has long since put sensual temptation behind him. 

    The grain of sand in Eliot’s shell seems to be the question of divorce. Hale must ask him about it, because he explains in a long letter dated “Holy Saturday” that he has become a symbol of the Anglican church to many people.  If he sought a divorce, which the church does not allow, it would be a catastrophe of the same magnitude as Newman’s conversion to Catholicism. In consolation to them both, he quotes Matthew 20:22: “But Jesus answered and said, Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink of the cup that I shall drink of?” Apparently this doesn’t satisfy her, as his explanation continues on June 1: he wishes a divorce were possible, but under English law, Vivien would have to divorce him for adultery. She would never do this if she knew he wanted to marry someone else. So even if he could get an annulment from the church, he would still not be free. And, furthermore, divorce is wrong absolutely because it undermines the authority of the church, which, in turn, is all that keeps men from turning into beasts. 

  • 03 Feb 2020 4:47 PM | Frances Dickey (Administrator)

    References to music run through Eliot’s letters to Hale, especially during his year at Harvard, when he had the opportunity to attend numerous concerts. Chamber music especially seems to have been a taste that Hale shared with him, or perhaps encouraged him to develop. In a famous published letter to Stephen Spender,  Eliot wrote: “I have [Beethoven’s] A minor quartet on the gramophone, and find it quite inexhaustible to study.  There is a sort of heavenly or at least more than human gaity [sic] about some of his later things which one imagines might come to oneself as the fruit of reconciliation and relief after immense suffering; I should like to get something of that into verse once before I die” (Letters 5.529). This passage, which indicates Eliot’s long-germinating idea to write Beethoven’s late quartets into a poem,  appears almost verbatim two weeks earlier in his 16 March 1931 letter to Hale. Here he writes that he cannot endure any other music besides Beethoven and Brahms, especially not the painful Tristan und Isolde with its personal associations. His feeling for Wagner may be sentimental, he admits on May 1, but the music still moves him, whereas Stravinsky’s power has faded. Beethoven and Brahms are his favorites (he says again), but he has just heard a string quartet by Tchaikovsky which he likes better than the symphonies. He listens to music only on the radio or if he can afford to buy a record.

    In Cambridge, Eliot begins attending live concerts at the elegant Chamber Music Club and is made an honorary member. Here on 13 November he hears the Burgin Quartet (Richard Burgin was concertmaster of the Boston Symphony) play Mozart K. 387, a Martinu duet, and Beethoven’s op. 59 no. 1 (“Razumovsky”), which he particularly admires and would like to emulate in his writing. He encloses the program for Hale to see, including program notes recounting the original reception of Beethoven’s quartet in England as “crazy music.” He attends the club again in early February to hear music by Hindemith and Brahms, which he finds delightful. A few days later he hears Bach and Chopin played by Ignacy Paderewski, whose playing he praises but who strikes him as a tired man trying to make money. During the same week he also hears Sibelius’s Symphony No. 2 and recommends it highly to Hale, asking her if she has been to any performances herself? These glowing descriptions of concerts in his letters to Hale contrast with his relatively meager references to music in published letters.

    Finally, at a chamber concert on 19 March 1933, Eliot hears a piece by Bach and Stravinsky’s L'Histoire du Soldat. The drummer was excellent—just what he would like for Sweeney Agonistes. He admits to liking Stravinsky after all, for he feels that he, Stravinsky, and Picasso have much in common. And he adds a piece of information that will be of interest to all who listen for musical influences in Eliot’s poetry: “The Hollow Men” owes a debt to Petrouchka

  • 31 Jan 2020 4:30 PM | Frances Dickey (Administrator)

    Eliot visits Hale at New Year’s, and his first letter of 1933 is dated 13 January.  Writing by hand from the train during a stop in Albuquerque, he strikes several conflicting notes that recur in his correspondence for the following two months: during their ten-day visit, he came as close to happiness as ever in his life; he fell into a depression after leaving her; he was horrified by California and the conditions of her life; and, in asking her what scent she prefers, he hints at a corporeal aspect to their relationship. After returning to Cambridge at the end of the month, he elaborates on these reactions, referring to the time they spent together as a moment suspended between heaven and earth, and to her as his fixed point; he says that he has experienced companionship for the first time. He mentions sharing a kiss with her, but also learning that she does not feel about him quite as he feels about her. He wonders whether she has derived any benefit from his visit. He thinks that if she comes to England next summer with the Perkins, they should not see each other; he will be in retreat from society.

    This last remark refers obliquely to a major turning point in Eliot's life: his decision to take concrete steps to separate from Vivien. His first reference to  separating from his wife appears in his published letters on 26 February (6.552), and perhaps his visit with Hale helped to precipitate this long-contemplated act. In an emotional and even dejected letter of 27 February he suggests that perhaps he should never have disrupted her life, and that the next ten years will be the hardest for them. He summarizes his life in three words that then appear in his March 3 Norton lecture on Matthew Arnold: "the Boredom, the Horror, and the Glory" (Prose 4.656). In a passage of disturbed self-analysis, he writes about the place of conflict in his feelings towards her: he desires to dominate her, as well as to be dominated; to be worshipped and to worship. The more he loves her, the more conflict with her he wants. They have religious differences, and Emily is not a devoted churchgoer. For himself, religious devotions are necessary and allow him sometimes to glimpse another plane of reality. He again mentions withdrawing from social activities when he returns to England, a future that does not seem to involve Vivien.  

    To compound his emotional state, Eliot has also just been to St. Louis for the first time since the death of his parents and visited their graves. He associates the city especially with his father, whose last image will always haunt him. He appreciates being introduced at Washington University as the grandson of Chancellor Eliot, but he has no happy memories of the Unitarian Church and is glad to leave St. Louis (compare to a published letter: “[I] am sorry to leave my Native City” [6.538]). He reflects several times that his parents, while good people, did not experience much of life; Unitarianism was enough for them, but an inadequate guide for him as soon as he left the family bubble. His lecture tour also takes him to Baltimore, where his niece Dodo (Theodora Eliot Smith) works at a girls’ school. Although good and affectionate, she is alone, he frets, perhaps due to her habit of making critical remarks about people. Having spent much time in England, she no doubt feels superior to Americans. Eliot seems not to notice the family resemblance here.

    Looking ahead: as his lecture tour winds up and he has more time for rest and solitude, Eliot's letters turn more to the preparation of his Norton lectures and classes at Harvard, his social and cultural activities (including concerts), negotiations with Hale over their differences, and preparation for the change in his life when he returns to England. 

  • 29 Jan 2020 7:13 PM | Frances Dickey (Administrator)

    Settling into his new life at Harvard, Eliot writes to Hale with diary-like detail about his social activities and opinions. Some of this material can already be found in Volume 6 of his letters, such as his complaint about tea bags (6.465) and his discovery that, after 17 years apart, he and his sister Ada still understand each other well (6.459). He misses London, especially his office and club, and being in America makes him feels patriotic about England—strange, he admits, as he was never happy there. He sees quite a bit of his family, especially his sisters: to Ada he quickly reveals the real state of his marriage, which does not surprise her; he feels a warm affection for Marion, though he wouldn’t take her into his confidence; and as for Margaret, he dismisses her as a vampire who seeks to devour his time (in fairness to Eliot, his brother and mother expressed similar views of her). 

    Eliot sees his cousin Eleanor Hinkley and her parents frequently. The friendly tone of his published letters to Eleanor conceals an irritation that he expresses freely to Hale, her lifelong friend. He criticizes the Hinkleys as narrow and undeveloped intellectually, even egotistical. Their house no longer holds the same thrill for him as it did in the days of her “stunt-show,” and he comments that they seem less well-bred than some of his other relations. Eleanor’s dramatization of Jane Austen’s life, Dear Jane, is opening in New York, and Hale asks him whether he will be attending. Not on your life, he replies. He conveys Ada’s comment that perhaps the Hinkleys’ political views will be swayed by the good press Eleanor’s play is receiving in The New Republic and other left-wing periodicals. Eliot also lashes out at Mary Ware, a wealthy Bostonian who is close to Hale. In both cases he seems to be objecting to their conservative politics. His negativity about the Hinkleys is not new; back in April, he wrote harshly (to the unmarried, forty-something Hale) about the spinsterish feminism found in their house.

    Even as he makes such remarks, Eliot seems conscious that they may strike her as hypercritical and ill-tempered. His enclosure of “How unpleasant to meet Mr. Eliot” might be offered in the spirit of an apology, although it was written before he sailed (PoemsII.460). He worries out loud that her silence may be a rebuke for his splenetic outbursts (later she reassures him that she had food poisoning and was worried about her institutionalized mother). He delivers his first Norton lecture on November 4 to a packed hall, and he writes in early December that he is happy, perhaps has never been happier in his life. As Christmas approaches, he becomes increasingly nervous about how she will receive him when he arrives in California at the end of the year.  

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