Apologies for the long delay since my last post. Everyone’s life has been disrupted, and the closure of Firestone Library is the least of it, so I will try to continue my reports on the basis of my notes. I’m awaiting delivery of vol. 7 of Eliot’s letters (1934-35), but in the meantime, please send corrections if you see any discrepancies.
From December 1934 through March 1935, while Hale travels the Continent with the Perkins and Jean McPherrin, Eliot writes Murder in the Cathedral. I will cover his letters about the play in another post. Following Hale’s departure for Italy at the end of November, Eliot reflects happily on the time they spent together, including their leave-taking. As he describes it, they were at a party whose guests included Maria Huxley and Sturge Moore, and he said good-bye to her with “a smile and shake of the hand”: consciously or not, he quotes from “La Figlia.” Further drawing on the language of his early work, he writes that everything he has learned about her fits into her existing portrait. He has seen all the pieces of his life fitting together into one real world, and now that she has met his friends, they seem more real to him (for “one real world,” see Prose 1.167 and 1.310). He admits that he enjoyed her time in London more than his in Chipping Campden. He has become quite attached to his neighborhood in South Kensington since her visit, especially the vicinity of the Aban Court Hotel, where she stayed. He is pleased to hear from her that she misses him.
During her travels, Eliot expresses his opinions and advice about Italy: he disapproves of Florence, which he associates with Anglo-American decadents like Lady Sibyl Lubbock, Bernard Berenson, and Harold Acton, but he praises Rome and hopes she finds it fascinating. He mentions that although he never went to Frascati (outside Rome), he has always remembered the line “De l’ancien Frascati vestale enamourée” from Baudelaire’s “Les Petites Vielles,” a line he quoted in “Baudelaire in Our Time” (Prose 3.136). Most of all he wants her to get a sense of the Roman Church as the most solid thing in the world.
Eliot’s attempts to retrieve his property from Vivien’s flat finally produce results in December, he tells Hale on the 13th. Through the action of his lawyer, the sheriff, and bailiffs, he recovers his books and bookcases, most of his pictures, and a teakettle and bell with sentimental value. Vivien also handed over the item he was most eager to recover, his great-grandfather’s seal ring, but it turned out to be a reproduction; she has kept the original. On 3 January he gives Hale reasons why Vivien cannot yet be institutionalized, though he hears she is living in squalor and starving herself. In March he tells Hale that he is playing the role of Orestes again, pursued by Vivien carrying an empty cardboard box and asking for him at the office. He has terrifyingly realistic nightmares of being shut up with her, unable to escape.
Nonetheless, as he completes Murder, he begins to look forward to Hale’s return at the end of March and plots for ways to keep her in London. He would take an interest in fashion, for example, if she were there to accompany him to the theatre and ballet (20 February). Instead of staying at a hotel, why shouldn’t she stay at his rooms for free, while he sleeps at his club? She could have her breakfast served there and the rest of her meals out with him (7 March). On 16 March he sends her detailed instructions for the use of his rooms, with the stipulation that she must respect the photographs (of herself). On 4 April he writes with excitement that he will see her in just a week, with her new clothes.
Next time: the composition of Murder in the Cathedral. Stay inside and good health to all!