Reports from the Emily Hale Archive

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  • 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.  

  • 27 Jan 2020 4:03 PM | Frances Dickey (Administrator)

    As the summer of 1932 draws to a close, Eliot prepares himself to leave England and the life he has known for the last eighteen years. The coming break occasions looking both forwards and backwards. He worries about how Vivienne will take his departure—whether she will try to prevent him from leaving or perhaps be happier without him. He reflects that living with someone who constantly seeks to distract herself with other people has not been healthy for him; he hopes that in America he will have more opportunities for solitary meditation and normal social interaction with friends of his own (as it turns, there was to be more of the latter than the former). On the eve of his departure in September, he worries how he will feel when he leaves: terrified of the outside world, like a man who has been in prison or the hospital for a long time? 

    The journey to America carries Eliot into the past of his childhood and youth and forward to an unknown future; in both, Hale plays a starring role. Although the details are not set, he has committed to visiting her at Scripps for a few days at the end of the year, as part of a cross-country tour that will also take him to St. Louis and Minneapolis. (Despite not wanting her to be in Cambridge, he is very eager to see her for a short visit.) On August 18, he writes that although he has more intimate knowledge of her than of anyone else, he realizes he has had few conversations with her, and that when they meet, it will be as if they are meeting for the first time as adults. This letter contains a significant new piece of information: Eliot states that he and Hale have known each other since childhood, and he dates their first meeting to 1905. Biographers have placed their acquaintance no earlier than 1911-12, after his return from Paris; but, naturally, Eliot spent time at the Hinkleys’ house when he first came East as a teenager to attend Milton Academy. Hale may not have been a person of importance to him before the 1913 “stunt show” in which they played parts in Eleanor’s adaptation of Emma, but he definitely recalls knowing her earlier.  He writes that as a child (of seventeen?), he was too shy to converse with her, and she with him. This does not rule out the possibility that her influence may precede the usually accepted date of 1912, potentially bearing on any of his early poetic compositions. 

    In Eliot’s first two weeks in America, he marks two milestones in their relationship. He has promised Hale that one of his first acts after arriving in Cambridge will be to call her on the telephone, and after overcoming several logistical obstacles, the long awaited conversation takes place on October 9. He describes himself to her in his next letter as nearly speechless with excitement, awkwardness, and fear of his own emotion. It was difficult to talk to her without being able to touch her hand. No words could have expressed his feelings or the momentousness of the occasion, but now he thinks he could learn to be quite natural with her on the telephone. The other milestone is retrospective. He casually drops the information that he has been to Chestnut Hill, a village six miles west of Boston, to dine with Leon Little and his wife. She responds by asking him if he was aware where he was that evening. Yes, he replies, all too aware, and it was painful. I kept my eyes down, so I don’t know whether we passed your old house or not, and this time I went by car, not by tram. I have been over the events of the past so many times in my mind, he writes, that now I can only survive by thinking of the present and the future so far as it brings me to you. 

  • 24 Jan 2020 6:28 PM | Frances Dickey (Administrator)

    Striking a less intimate tone in his letters of late spring and summer 1932, Eliot describes his social and cultural activities in detail. On June 5 he acknowledges a deliberate choice to curtail the expression of his feelings, out of respect for her and fear of letting himself go. If less personal, these letters are full of information.

    Eliot attends and discusses numerous plays, no doubt in part to engage her own interest in drama. He enjoys Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night at Saddler’s Wells, praising Malvolio and the satiric side of the play, and plans to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream for the first time. In response to a comment from Hale, he mentions his acquaintance with several plays by Eugene O’Neill, including All God’s Chillun Got Wings, which impressed him, and another set on a New England farm (probably Desire Under the Elms), that he found violent. He attends and praises Wings Over Europe by Robert Nichols and Maurice Browne, though the monotony of the scenario (a Cabinet meeting) and lack of female characters make it a difficult sell to the public.  On June 7, Eliot reports attending Shaw’s Heartbreak House, of which he was not a fan: clever, perhaps, but the characters are not real. Shaw is a child who has never had a significant emotional experience. Finally, he experiences the worst play he has ever seen, Hocus Pocus by Austin Page.

    Eliot also discusses what he is reading. He has ordered the complete works of Karl Marx, despite his aversion to Marxism; his politics are not in a settled state. Poetry is more and more regarded in a socio-economic light, a view developed by the Russian critic Prince Mirsky in a pamphlet on himself (“Fin de la poésie bourgeoise”), which he approves and encloses. Yet he would like to make a case for the permanent value of poetry, beyond its social function at different eras of history. To his chagrin, Hale dislikes Bubu de Montparnasse, which he sends to her with his introduction. Yet her explanation leads to an interesting letter about what is disgusting in literature (July 14). He too has been disgusted by books—as by life itself, to the point of madness. Restoration comedy, Rabelais, and Ulysses he finds perfectly innocent, although Joyce’s perversion of Christianity disturbs him. Many people only notice the obscenities. What really disgusts him is prurience, especially in contemporary fiction, drama, and film. Prayer and meditation are the only antidote for disgust.

    Yet, among the letters of summer 1932 Eliot intersperses less erudite commentary as well, asking Hale questions about her summer activities, speculating on her bathing costume and her permanent Wave, and fantasizing about giving her a Blue Bedlington terrier for company.

  • 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.


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