Reports from the Emily Hale Archive

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  • 13 Jan 2020 10:20 PM | Frances Dickey (Administrator)

    For a poet sensitive to all the arts, Eliot wrote relatively little about visual art in his published work, making his comments about pictures and museums in letters of the second half of 1931 especially noteworthy.

    On August 31, he acknowledges receipt of a poem by Hale, a rare instance of her writing preserved among his letters. Her ekphrastic sonnet, “An Etching,” recalls and describes the image of “A man and a woman – humble children of an ancient eastern race,” praying to Allah over a dead body covered with a shroud. The man’s hands “that gently placed the pall, are caught/In a steel-like grip of self-control.” We have Hale’s text because he typed it out and returned it to her, with comments, on September 4. Though he encourages her writing, he tells her that simple description of a picture in verse is doomed to failure, for it will only lead readers to want to see the picture for themselves. She has described the etching too faithfully. However, he suggests, an artwork may serve as the launching point for impressions and emotions that develop beyond the poet’s experience of it. On the typed copy of her poem, Eliot questions her word choice, rhythm, and ideas, such as criticizing her expression “spent for pity” as weak. We don’t know what Hale’s reaction to his advice was, but no other enclosures of her poetry have been found in the letters so far. 

    Responding to Hale’s sonnet, Eliot remarks that they have not discussed pictures yet, but there are many good ones to be seen in Museum of Fine Arts in Boston as well as in Isabella Stewart Gardner’s collection. At the end of December, he follows up with a remarkably complete list of his favorites from these museums, including a wooden Buddha, Tibetan hanging scrolls, a Monet of the Rhone, a painting of jockeys by Degas, and pieces of Greek pottery and sculpture (the head of a goddess, a boy playing the flute), all at the MFA. From the Gardner collection, he recalls some Venetian paintings, a Virgin, maybe by Gruenewald, and a Vermeer (perhaps the later stolen Concert). This list would be fascinating enough without Eliot’s off-hand identification of Hakagawa in “Gerontion” as the famed Japanese curator at the MFA, Okakura Kakuzo, an associate of Matthew Prichard ("Mr. Silvero"). The much-puzzled over Hakagawa joins Mr. Silvero and Marie as poetic figures whose real-life models are revealed for the first time in these letters.

  • 11 Jan 2020 4:19 PM | Frances Dickey (Administrator)

    Moving into Box 2, I gratefully pass the baton to Princeton University's Katerina Stergiopoulou, a scholar of both modernist and classical texts, who contributes this report:

    I pick up chronologically where Frances left off in her penultimate post, and with the first folder of Box 2. Eliot’s frequent letters in the month of August 1931 (indeed, he expresses the desire to write one every night, though he doesn’t) find Hale in Seattle. These letters speak to the growing intimacy between them, not only because Eliot continues to offer retrospective accounts of his life but also because Hale seems to start to do the same.

    Eliot is always marking what he perceives to be new stages in their relationship, and he does so on August 13; what seems to define each stage is a greater degree (in his mind at least) of their understanding of each other. As clearly outlined in the later letters Frances referred to in her most recent post, it is this understanding, this mutual emotional and intellectual transparency that Eliot seems to most seek now in writing to Hale: to know her and be known by her as fully as possible. He suggests as much on August 18, when he refers to two roles (so to speak) that Hale has played and continues to play for him but that are now being superseded by a third: she is the object of passionate desire (that he tries but often fails to control), a medium for his transfiguration (à la Ash-Wednesday), but also now a way for him to feel satisfied and at peace, desiring neither more nor less—and that state, he adds, is where Hale herself would probably want him to be. A few weeks later, on September 4, he records his feelings of peacefulness after confession, and it would seem that these letters have a similar function for him.

    One form that this epistolary rapprochement takes is Eliot’s attempt to respond to Hale’s revelations about her own life—she too seems to be going through some kind of crisis—and her own emotions by aligning their experiences, in ways small and large. He notes on August 21 the elegant correspondence of their birthdays, one day and one month (and three years) apart; on September 8, he tentatively attributes to her too the same feeling of uprootedness he feels (as compared to his English circle), constructing an elaborate arboreal metaphor; most importantly, though, he speaks at length (on August 11, 13, 18) of his own feelings of insufficiency and lack of accomplishment, as well as of his own regimen of humble self-critique, in response to similar emotions that she must have expressed. He cautions her against despair and writes of the importance, or even obligation to be hopeful. 

    These attempts at rapprochement don’t seem to have always been received in the way they are apparently intended, as marks of empathy and offers of comfort; nine months later, for example, Hale seems to have referred to these continuing efforts as “sermons,” as Eliot reports with some annoyance on May 3, 1932. And misunderstandings abound – more on that later this week.

    By the end of the month (in letters on August 21 and 25), just as Eliot has advised Hale to face but not be defeated by her shortcomings, he (perhaps prompted by her questions again) gives an account of the development of his relationship with Vivienne, his earlier reluctance to deal with the British divorce courts, and the current impossibility of doing so. The account here lines up somewhat with his 1960 statement: he married Vivienne just so that he would have a reason to stay in England  and write poetry, not really knowing what he was getting into, and while he is careful to note Vivienne’s good intentions in wanting to marry him (offering a paraphrase of the statement’s “she persuaded herself . . . that she would save the poet by keeping him in England,” with no reference to the mediating influence attributed there to Pound), he is also quick to suggest that Vivienne was not motivated by love any more than he was. Eliot even goes so far as to declare on August 25 that though he now cannot possibly divorce Vivienne, he himself doesn’t feel like he was ever married.


  • 10 Jan 2020 3:44 PM | Frances Dickey (Administrator)

    Bringing my discussion of Box 1 to a close, and taking stock of an unbelievable seven days of letter-reading, I wanted to look ahead to Eliot’s statements about his intentions for his and Hale's letters. From the beginning, it seems, Eliot imagined a correspondence that would enshrine their love in a literary monument consisting of their letters together. Already in December 1930—barely two months into their correspondence—Eliot broached his plans to repose her letters with his other papers at the Bodleian Library. Skipping ahead to spring 1932, Eliot returns to this matter in several letters whose importance seems to justify violating the chronological order of my reports. 

    On 19 February, he explains why he desires to preserve her letters with his other papers, to be opened sixty years following his death: without her words, the truth about him cannot be told. Concealed behind a mask, he has watched people draw the wrong conclusions about his poetry, wishing that he could set them straight. The truth is far simpler than they believed; he would like to say something along the lines of “That is not what I meant at all/That is not it, at all.” On 15 March, he asks her what reason she could have for withholding her letters from the archive he intends. What difference will propriety make a century hence when all personally concerned have passed away? His motive for wishing to preserve her letters is not the desire for fame, but for posthumous understanding. He believes that her letters will unlock the meaning of his poems for future readers. 

    So far, he has not said anything about the preservation of his letters, but on 6 July, after telling her that his letters are her property to dispose of as she sees fit, he admits to hoping that she will save them. He assents to her suggestion of going through Willard Thorp, Princeton University English professor and husband of her close friend Margaret, to safekeep the letters for posterity (it seems she has suggested Thorp). On July 29 he repeats that the letters belong to her, and she may entrust them to whomever she chooses, either Thorp or to the Bodleian, only with the stipulation that they should be opened fifty or sixty years after his death.

    Further boxes may reveal whether or how Eliot changed his mind, but it is remarkable that he regarded their letters as the only key to his poetry.

  • 09 Jan 2020 9:45 PM | Frances Dickey (Administrator)

    For readers joining since my first post, I just wanted to reiterate that these reports can only gesture to the contents of Eliot’s letters, which I know you will be eager to see when you can either make it to Princeton or purchase Faber’s edition of the letters (the editor, John Haffenden, estimates publication in 2021). Paraphrase is a very feeble approximation of a poet’s deeply considered words, and of course I am only mentioning some highlights. 

    Eliot's letter of July 24, 1931, includes one of the heart-stopping passages of their correspondence. On this day, he received a letter from Hale asking a question that caused him to drop what he was doing and respond immediately with a detailed narrative of how he fell in love with her and what came to pass before he departed for Europe in summer 1914. His narrative begins on an evening spent with the Hinkleys and a few other guests during which he accidentally stepped on her feet while performing in a charade, and afterwards was eager to see her again. He then became more conscious of his feelings through the rehearsals for Eleanor Hinkley’s dramatization of Emma and other skits. Finally, when they went to the opera together (see my post from January 4), he found himself in love. However, much held him back from acting on his emotions: a sense of personal unattractiveness and the mistaken (as he later realized) conception that a man shouldn’t declare himself to a woman unless he is in a position to support her financially. It was this scruple more than anything else that prevented him from asking her hand in marriage before he departed in 1914. He did almost break through on one occasion, when he had contrived to see her two days in a row; it makes him dizzy, he says, to remember how he almost spoke to her then (“the heart of light, the silence”?). In the end, they had a conversation, but an unsatisfying one, for he felt he could not  ask for, nor offer anything definite. Perhaps the question in Hale’s letter that prompted Eliot’s narrative was why had he not asked her to marry him then?

    If you are seeking funding to come to Princeton to read the letters, the library does offer generous travel grants for the use of their special collections.

  • 08 Jan 2020 9:21 PM | Frances Dickey (Administrator)

    It may not surprise readers of The Waste Land that Eliot often returns to the theme of control, especially self-control, in his letters to Hale from February to July 1931. He comments at least five times during this period either about how her influence helps him exert greater control over his desires, or about how he continues to struggle for self-control. In February (as alluded to in an earlier post), he tells Hale that since they began corresponding in October he has been freed from the mental strain of his celibate life by a new sense of control over his mind. He mentions that religious devotions and work are only partially effective in helping him achieve this end.

    On March 19, however, he admits that he constantly battles against his own craving for whisky and the oblivion it brings, as well as against fits of anger and feelings of exhaustion. He has just enough will to keep fighting these temptations. In response, Hale seems to write something about the limits of will, and he agrees on April 20, saying that he has worked to subdue his will, continuing in the same vein as the previous letter about his efforts to free himself from dependence on whisky, tobacco, work, power, and activities that act as a drug on him. The motive of self-improvement is effective only up to a point. He wants to depend just on the essentials of life, especially his personal relationships. On May 2 he comments that he hasn’t been sleeping well for three weeks because he hasn’t had whisky at home.

    Finally, in early July (after a month of few letters, due to her holiday travels), he urges her to practice resting her mind and her body completely. He tells her that when he was in Lausanne in 1922 under the care of Dr. Roger Vittoz, he did learn to control himself to the point of being able to fall asleep at will. Insomnia results from lack of self-control, he says, which is further undermined by sleeping medicine. In these letters, Eliot’s conscious attempts to control his thoughts and habits strike (at best) a brittle balance with his surging feelings of longing for Hale, helplessness over the deadlock of his marriage, fury over the constant interruptions of his day, and even his inability to control the coming and going of their letters. In July, Hale introduces him to air mail, whose quicker pace of delivery gives him some relief, as he has come to depend on her letters for his sense of well-being.

    Tomorrow I will post on Eliot's letter of July 24, in which he relates how he first came to fall in love with Hale.

  • 08 Jan 2020 10:48 AM | Frances Dickey (Administrator)

    Eliot frequently encloses handwritten notes from other authors in his letters to Hale; too many to describe them all, but I will mention those of particular interest. Eliot discusses his friendship with Virginia Woolf in letters of March 31 and April 8, enclosing two notes (which will need to be added to her published correspondence). After a lunch with Clive Bell, Leonard, and Virginia, he writes to Hale about the novelist’s distinguished family (Leslie Stephen and Vanessa Bell), whom he predicts she would like. With their literary accomplishments, sense of humor, and tact, the Stephens and the Stracheys are not unlike their own Cambridge, Massachusetts social set. He remarks that his own family connection to Charles Eliot Norton, a friend of Leslie Stephen, first opened the door to Virginia’s society. On April 8, Eliot identifies Woolf as one of the few people in London he trusts, although he finds a distance between them due to his failure to esteem her work as much as she would like him to. Apparently someone has asked Hale about one of Woolf’s books, and Eliot answers that it might be Jacob’s Room or A Room of One’s Own (the latter is quite good, he adds in the margin), but he is not sure, and he doesn’t want to expose his ignorance by asking Woolf. 

    The two enclosures mainly concern Eliot and Woolf’s dealings with periodicals; Eliot has attempted to support Woolf with a letter to the editor of the Nation (see Eliot’s Dec. 30, 1930, letter in Vol. 5) that they refused to print. She consoles him, “the bug [Cecil] Beaton is scarcely worth squashing, delighted as I should be to have him squashed by your august fingers.” Perhaps Eliot showed this note to Hale because Woolf praises his portrait and closes by saying that she is about to read his pamphlet on Dante. (Just as a scholarly aside, in Woolf’s published letters to Eliot she often remarks that she has his book in her hand or is about to read it, rather than mentioning the contents, so perhaps the reluctance to read each other’s work went both ways.) 

    Looking ahead to October 1931, apparently Hale has been reading Woolf and giving Eliot her impressions, which he says would please the author. He confesses that he doesn’t read contemporary fiction because it interferes with his own imagination. However, he promises to send Hale The Waves as a birthday present.

  • 07 Jan 2020 8:55 PM | Frances Dickey (Administrator)

    Even without the text of Hale’s letters, her responses are not entirely mute, nor her character. In addition to appreciating her sympathy and understanding, Eliot praises her intelligence, insight, tact, and depth of emotion. On March 2, 1931, he observes that something, perhaps her experience as an actress, has liberated her from the limited perspective of her Boston brahmin class (on April 14, he attributes some of her frustrations to living in a confined environment). He wishes that she would confide more in him and allow him to comfort her as she does him; she seems to maintain more reserve. On April 20, Eliot continues the discussion about same-sex relationships (see my last post), reassuring Hale that she had no reason to be ashamed of the feelings or experiences she must have narrated in two of her previous letters. All of this elliptically suggests a person of substance with her own emotional resources.

    Although it is subtle, Hale seems to resist him. For example, Hale performed the role of Judith (the female lead) in Noel Coward’s Hay Fever in April and May 1931. On April 20, he disparages another play by Coward, The Queen Was in the Parlor. By May 8, he has read Hay Fever twice and found something to appreciate in its fast pace and clever use of charades. On May 19 he rails against the idea of her wearing a light colored wig and names other female roles from classic plays that would suit her better. But on May 26 he congratulates her on the success of her production and on May 29 expresses interest in what she tells him about her experience as Judith. He wants the two of them to read a book together but she doesn’t seem to take him up on the suggestion. He importunes her for a photograph in almost every letter. He is unsatisfied by the resemblance in the picture she sends him in April, and it takes her several more months to produce another. Towards the end of May Eliot excuses the brevity of her letters as a sign of exhaustion from the strains of her dramatic production, and he laments that she will soon leave Boston for Seattle, where they will be separated by a continent, in addition to an ocean.

  • 06 Jan 2020 8:21 PM | Frances Dickey (Administrator)

    In previous posts I have said little about the form of Eliot’s letters. With a few exceptions of short handwritten notes, he typed the letters himself on Faber or Criterion stationery, penning the salutation and closing. The salutations are of particular interest because each one is slightly different, developing during January and February into a repertoire of poetic endearments. While his letters of 1930 typically begin “Dear Emily,” he starts using the first person possessive adjective at Christmastime.  In January he adopts a form of address used in Part II of Ash-Wednesday, which begins “Lady, three white leopards…” He employs this term in many permutations. In February, Eliot calls Hale by the name of a bird associated with the Holy Spirit, which becomes a recurring pet name for her in their correspondence.

    In February 1931 Eliot’s feelings seem to stabilize and his letters take a happier tone, seemingly due to her reassurances. On February 4, Eliot translates and explains the quotation from Canto XV of the Inferno quoted in my first post, which she must have asked about. He tells her that his only worry is whether their relationship will harm her in any way; for himself, he says, it is only good. For one thing, he feels released from feelings of sexual frustration and can open himself more fully to his friends. And, contrary to his 1960 statement about Hale, he assures her that his marriage to Vivienne and its failure had nothing to do with her. He now remains in the marriage because of Vivienne’s dependence on him; this is a theme he returns to throughout the spring as Hale seems to question his reluctance to separate from or divorce her. 

    Eliot negotiates the sensitive question of whether and when they will meet in person, apparently trying to accustom Hale to the idea of a permanent long-distance relationship. Writing to her is a joy in itself, and so is a successful state of resignation. Through thinking of each other and their love, they can achieve a happy life even apart. He returns to this matter on March 12, acknowledging that while fulfillment is best, great happiness can come from an incomplete but mutually understanding relationship. He predicts (somewhat chillingly) that all this will be clearer in twenty or thirty years. He points out that most couples are not happy, and even the Fabers, a paragon of conjugal bliss, seem to lack passion; in a humorous passage he describes how he would like to disturb Geoffrey Faber’s respectability by making him go berserk in the street.  

    Nothing can be done to improve his marital situation, Eliot tells Hale on March 4. He goes into detail about Vivienne’s state of mind, explaining that she has the mentality of a child—sometimes a good one, more often bad. Being jilted by another fiancé before their marriage was the straw that broke her self-esteem; twenty years of taking sleeping medicine has finished her off psychologically. For himself, it took him a long time to realize that her faults were not universal to all the English, but were only her personal neuroses. If she had married a different man who didn’t expect anything from her except to be pretty, she might have been all right. And if perhaps he had been able to love her, she would have been happy, but he would never have been satisfied with her. He tells Hale not to blame Vivienne, while also seeking to shift the blame from himself.

    On March 19 Eliot feels a rush of life in the spring weather and the lilacs blooming in London’s squares, but he is cut off from enjoying it. He compares himself to Alice, who can never get through the door into the garden because first she was too small to reach the key, and later she was too big to get through the door, so could only lie down and look through. In closing he alludes to something Hale has told him about a girl in Milwaukee. He picks up this thread in the next letter, March 24, with a frank discussion of mutual attraction between members of the same sex who are of different ages. Such relationships can be beneficial, he assures her. However, he says, the inequality of power between an older and younger person of the same sex also can pose dangers. As an example, Eliot tells of his own experience with the fascinating Matthew Prichard in Paris, who exerted great influence on his views on art and philosophy but also caused him to experience a mental and spiritual crisis (Eliot’s exact words here are obviously important, so keep in mind I am paraphrasing. Also see Letters3.132). Eliot reflects that Prichard’s love of power over young men seemed to have a sexual element although his life was ascetic. Eliot makes the remarkable aside that the figure of Mr. Silvero in “Gerontion” is a reference to Prichard. Finally, Eliot concludes his discussion of same-sex relationships by relating an incident in which Lytton Strachey unexpectedly kissed him, which shocked him into laughter; since then, he says, the two have not met alone.

    One of the surprises of these letters is Eliot’s specific identifications of figures in his poems: I posted earlier today on the identity of “Marie” in The Waste Land, apparently not Marie Larisch but a woman named Marie von Moritz whom he knew in Munich. The revelation about Mr. Silvero joins this group of disclosures.

  • 06 Jan 2020 9:54 AM | Frances Dickey (Administrator)

    Just briefly: in a letter of March 2, 1931, Eliot alerts Hale to a book of criticism about his poetry by Tom Mac Greevy, which he has sent to her, and which she will see is not entirely correct. (In his interpretation of The Waste Land, Mac Greevy writes that Marie speaks the lines by the Hyacinth girl.) Rather, Eliot explains, Marie von Moritz was a middle-aged  woman who lived in his pension in Munich, and he has transcribed her conversation exactly in the poem.

  • 05 Jan 2020 1:51 PM | David Chinitz (Administrator)

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