Reports from the Emily Hale Archive

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If drawing on these reports for your own work, please cite as Frances Dickey, Reports from the Emily Hale Archive, The International T. S. Eliot Society,

  • 18 Jan 2020 4:22 PM | Frances Dickey (Administrator)

    Hale seems to express her displeasure with Eliot by writing only infrequently in the early months of 1932. He worries out loud that she might be ill and begs her to send him a postcard now and then if she is too busy to write a letter. Now that she has decided to go to Scripps, he proposes to visit her there, if he can do so without violating propriety. He will subsist on the hope of seeing her, if only for a moment. He asks her where Scripps is; perhaps, he jokes, if he goes to Hollywood, he can get a walk-on part in a film. 

    When she writes back in the middle of February, apparently she threatens to withdraw her letters from his planned donation to the Bodleian.  In this context Eliot tells her that his poetry cannot be understood without them (see my post of Jan. 10, “That is not what I meant at all”). On March 4 he bewails his dependence on her, and makes an offering of a poem he has just written while riding the subway, “Lines to a Persian Cat." Set in Russell Square, the poem frames despondent feelings and “sharp desires” with lighthearted references to animals: “There is no relief but in grief./O when will the creaking heart cease?” 

    On March 15, Eliot acknowledges Hale’s observation that she no longer writes to him with the same “excitement” that she did at first (her word). But what is her reason, he asks again, for wanting her name removed from the record he wishes to leave behind? By March 19, Eliot has collected himself, and he counsels her to find serenity during Holy Week; for himself, he hopes to lead a useful life, takes solace in religious exercises, and looks towards death.

  • 17 Jan 2020 8:00 PM | Frances Dickey (Administrator)

    In the fall of 1931, Eliot receives an unexpected honor: an invitation to deliver the Charles Eliot Norton lectures at Harvard in the following academic year. He announces the news to Hale in a letter of October 27, explaining that there are three reasons to take the position: the unprecedented salary of $10,000; his desire to visit St. Louis, Boston, and New England again; and the possible advancement that might follow from it. He also foresees that if Vivienne doesn’t accompany him, the months away will at least give him a break from caring for her. Strangely, the opportunity to spend more time with Hale, who lives in Boston, is not an inducement. Rather, he says, it would be difficult to be so near to her, and they would see little of each other. 

    Hale has been considering a teaching position at Scripps College in Claremont, California.  It would simplify matters for him if she accepted this offer, he writes on November 6, but he has mixed feelings: he doesn’t want her to take the job just to be far from him, nor does he want to go to the United States without seeing her at all. He continues on November 20 that he cannot predict his emotions on first seeing her, but what worries him more is how they will relate on subsequent meetings. He might be so overcome with feeling that he would only be able to see her twice—on arrival and at departure. The only solution is for each of them to make separate plans. 

    One can only imagine how Hale received this information, but on December 17, Eliot responds humbly to her clear displeasure; she has described him as “blasting” her. On January 12 he returns in more detail to the scenario he imagines for them: a private meeting when he first arrives in Cambridge, then likely nothing more except a farewell. If he can’t have her company all the time, he says, he prefers an epistolary relationship. He looks forward excitedly to being able to exchange letters more quickly when they are in the same city. By February 16, however, Hale has accepted the job at Scripps, and he congratulates her on her decision.

  • 16 Jan 2020 3:58 PM | Katerina Stergiopoulou

    The first month of fall, roughly between their birthdays, is an important one for Eliot and Hale’s relationship. In anticipation of her birthday (October 27), Eliot writes on October 13, 1931, that he was happier than in previous years on his most recent birthday (September 26), and wishes her the same. He has felt much more alive over the past year, entirely because of her. She is the most important person in the world for him, and he hopes it will please her to know this. (His birthday present to her will be the volume of the Shaw-Terry correspondence, sent around November 24). At the end of the month (October 31), he commemorates her response to his first letter a year before as well as his own writing of it. He does not regret anything that he has said to her since; his devotion has only increased.

    The resumption and deepening of his relationship with Hale has led Eliot to revisit other memories (of St. Louis and Boston, of London in the twenties), and at the end of the year such reflections intensify. On December 29, 1931, he is deeply moved by St. Paul’s epistles, whose words, known passively since childhood, now acquire their full significance (as he will later put it in “The Dry Salvages,” he had “had the experience but missed the meaning”).  Two days later, Eliot meditates on the moments of insight that show a pattern in his life, both past and future and their meeting in a present “unattended / Moment” of illumination (“Dry Salvages” again). This letter seems to contain seeds of Four Quartets, especially “Burnt Norton” V and “Dry Salvages” II and V.

  • 15 Jan 2020 6:09 PM | Katerina Stergiopoulou

    Eliot’s very first letter to Hale on October 30, 1930, makes reference to their meeting in Eccleston Square years before (1924 by Eliot's account; Hale's narrative accompanying her bequest puts the date at 1922). At that meeting she asked him a question which he did not answer; neither does he seem prepared to fully answer it in 1930, professing his love instead (as Frances wrote in her post on January 2). Hale must have returned to this topic because on September 18, 1931, Eliot attempts to explain his state of mind. She assumes, Eliot quotes, that "the night at Eccleston Square was too confusing, too painful, to make reasonable action possible.” Eliot insists that his own feelings about her were not confused, but, having not expected such a question, he did not know the right way to respond. To answer it, he would have had to tell her the whole story (about what he does not say). He would then either have to lie by denying that he still cared for her, or put her in a difficult position by declaring his love. Why, then, did he change his mind in 1930? He still agonizes over the decision to write to her so explicitly at that time, though he does not regret it. They were both older and more mature in 1930 than they had been six years earlier. But, also, when he saw her again he felt such a profound bond between them that he could no longer suppress his feelings.

  • 14 Jan 2020 6:21 PM | Katerina Stergiopoulou

    In response to a question from Hale, Eliot spends much of his letter of September 7-8, 1931, describing his childhood in St. Louis: he felt like an only child because his siblings were so much older, his father was too attached to his grandmother and she in turn wanted to remain in her old house, despite its being located in a slum. He also felt particularly isolated from other children of his age and social standing who did not live in the same neighborhood; he mentions his uneasy interactions with members of the opposite sex, espied only in the context of dancing classes, and recalls his envy of what appeared to him a natural community between all of the other children. Eliot attributes the contradictions in his character—both arrogant and shy, autonomous and in need of help—to this environment, and tells Hale that “Animula,” the Ariel poem of 1929, expresses these feelings (“the simple soul, / Irresolute and selfish” is a “Shadow of its shadows” that “Den[ies] the importunity of the blood”).

    “Animula” reappears in the correspondence about two months later (November 24) when Eliot reports that he was not at all satisfied with the illustration of the poem (it was by Gertrude Hermes). More broadly he finds that an illustrator’s interpretation of a poem prevents readers from forming their own impressions; he would prefer designs instead. Thinking that he might yet finish “Sweeney Agonistes,” he is also open to having this dramatic poem illustrated since the pictures would function as theatrical sets—but only if they accord with his own vision. 

  • 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.


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