Reports from the Emily Hale Archive

Sponsored by the International T. S. Eliot Society

If you are enjoying this blog please support the Society's work by joining us!

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,

  • 22 Jan 2020 4:12 PM | Frances Dickey (Administrator)

    Writing to Hale on April 12, 1932, Eliot reflects on the unkindness of April, in a paraphrase of himself that would be considered an embarrassing journalistic cliché from anyone else. This remarkable letter weaves echoes of the opening lines of The Waste Land together with language and motifs of the as-yet unwritten “Burnt Norton” and “East Coker.” The smells of early spring and late fall disturb him, he tells her; they bring to mind memories that lie dormant in winter and summer. Mostly he lives as if underground, but then sometimes he comes up with a sudden recognition of the meaningfulness of the present, past, or “what might have been” (“Burnt Norton”).

    Less frequently, when he surfaces, he glimpses a pattern of which he is a part. The possibility of self-transcendence in a larger design motivates his efforts to help other people, not necessarily those to whom he is close. Small acts may be significant because of how they fit into this design. Eliot elaborates his idea in language eerily similar to “a lifetime burning in every moment” and “the pattern is new in every moment” (“East Coker”). The goal is to move upwards gradually, though not towards happiness; echoing The Waste Land again, he identifies the goal of life as “the peace that passeth understanding.

    Eliot continues these reflections on April 20, again observing that the smells of early spring flowers and the rotting organic matter of fall disturb his emotions. Do other people have such feelings? Then he wonders if he has made any progress on the upward movement he mentioned in his earlier letter. Has he, like the man in Plato’s cave, fixed his attention on an illusion rather than on the reality? 

    Halting here at the “frontier of metaphysics or mysticism,” I will just note the likely biographical through-line Eliot draws in these letters between the aching “memory and desire” of The Waste Land and his qualification in “Burnt Norton”: “Desire itself is movement/ Not in itself desirable.” 

    With apologies to my readers, now that classes have started, I may not be able to post every day.

  • 21 Jan 2020 7:22 AM | Frances Dickey (Administrator)

    Readers of this blog will be happy to learn that Princeton University has decided to make public Emily Hale's own narratives of her relationship with Eliot. A digital scan of her handwritten and typed versions are now available here in the finding aid for the Emily Hale letters written to T. S. Eliot

    The library has also posted an explanation of the release here on the Manuscripts blog.

    As you will soon see for yourself, there are two substantially different narratives:

    1. A handwritten statement introduced by a letter to the librarian, William Dix. In this letter she says that "I came upon the sheets of an Introduction of the Eliot letters which I wrote while I was in Princeton so long ago, and which have been “lost” ever since!" The statement, in pencil, is dated July 15, 1957, but that is presumably the date she copied, and perhaps added to it. This valuable early version of her narrative has to be deciphered from her handwriting, as there is no typescript. 
    2. A handwritten and several typed versions of a statement composed in 1965. One of the typed versions includes her emendations, such as the addition that "On one of his visits, we walked to nearby 'Burnt Norton,' the ruins of an 18th century house and garden. "Burnt Norton," as Tom always said, was his 'love poem' for me."

    Enjoy reading, and thanks to Interim Director of Special Collections Dan Linke for releasing this important document!

    The conclusion to Hale's pre-1957 narrative says it all:

    Recognizing increasingly in this year of our lord 1957 Vital Truth is a priceless heritage in the world of letters or Mankind, to pass on to future generations, I bequeath this collection to a public perhaps yet unborn.  The length of time before it is made available is under Eliot’s insistence.  I have had much kindness and happiness of experience in this friendship—as well as inevitable [?] pain.  May the record speak, all this in itself.

  • 20 Jan 2020 3:14 PM | Frances Dickey (Administrator)

    In April 1931, James Joyce settles temporarily in London with Nora Barnacle and their daughter Lucia. He immediately calls Eliot, and so begins a period of close contact between the two men. Eliot describes Joyce to Hale as a great writer whose shoes he is not worthy to untie, but a rather impractical person. He reports at least two dinner parties he has given in Joyce’s honor (3 and 16 July), as well as numerous mornings spent discussing the writer’s affairs. On July 21 he is trying to sort out disagreements between Joyce and C. K. Ogden over a gramophone recording of Joyce reading Anna Livia Plurabelle, a copy of which he offers to send Hale.

    After his departure from England in September, Joyce exchanges a number of letters with Eliot about the publication of his work and other matters. After answering a letter from Joyce, Eliot often sends it to Hale, such as the long, undated letter enclosed on December 17 (for his reply see Letters 5.775).  In this previously unseen document, Joyce calls the BBC “imbeciles” in reference to their cancellation of a radio broadcast on Ulysses by Harold Nicholson, husband of Vita Sackville-West. He asks Eliot whether Faber has paid any royalties on extracts of his "Work in Progress" this year, and describes Viking’s offer to publish Ulysses,still banned in the U.S.: “Miss Beach whose skirts are still short took a running kick at the offer and sent it…across the Atlantic and through Viking’s goal posts.” An almost indecipherable paragraph concerns his difficulties disposing of his London flat, including remarks about George der Fünfe (the current King of England) conferring the Order of the Garter on Marshal Hindenburg (then president of the Weimar Republic), “in return for the latter’s plucky but unsuccessful attempt to confer the order of  [the?] boot on him.  Is it not enough to make a Norwegian sailor take to drink?” One wonders what Hale made of all this. In a more accessible note written February 2, 1932, Joyce reports the birth of a grandchild, regretting only that his own father (who died on December 29) did not live to see the day.

  • 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.


Powered by Wild Apricot Membership Software
// Incorporate Google Analytics