Reports from the Emily Hale Archive

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  • 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)

    If you would like to have new entries in this blog delivered directly to your email box, you can register for that service here. The entries will be sent from, and that same address can be used for any replies.

    The Society is grateful to Michelle Taylor for developing the newsletter service.

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

    I am beginning to realize the impossibility of what I set out to deliver; there is no such thing as the “gist” of a folder or even a specific letter, because of the complexity of Eliot’s emotions and density of his writing. Every letter is freighted with meanings, sometimes in conflict with each other, which will not surprise anyone who has tried to understand one of his poems. Please keep in mind that I’m only scratching the surface, and also, my selection is inevitably an interpretation, even if I try to keep my description objective.

    In the letters of January 1931, Eliot's emotions oscillate between depression and elation.  On January 7, Eliot writes of his feelings of humility towards and desire for Hale, his longing for spiritual union with her; this longing has a chastely physical side, too. In Hale’s 1965 narrative, she refers to their relationship as “abnormal,” a word that she must have used in her previous letter to Eliot, because he quotes her in response, assenting almost cheerfully to this description. But just the next day he expresses the desire for solitude, proposing a trip to the United States in the following winter to visit St. Louis and then spend several weeks by himself in New England (he says nothing about Hale joining him). 

    He continues in this vein on January 9; his desire is qualified by anxiety about what meeting her in person would be like for both of them. Writing letters is one thing; but how would he act if they were alone together? At any rate (he says, perhaps with a sigh of relief), he could hardly manage this even if she came to London, given the pressures on his time and the difficulty of getting away from Vivienne. His only social events are infrequent teas with Virginia Woolf and the occasional evening with Criterion contributors. He worries whether their attachment will be a burden to her. On January 12 he returns to the question of consigning her letters to the Bodleian, explaining that her letters are the only documents that illuminate his life and work; they are in themselves beautiful; and preserving them will show the magnitude of his debt to her. 

    On January 20, Eliot describes his emotional state with reference to a piece of playground equipment sometimes called a teeter-totter (that’s not the word he uses). However, he says, his growing connection with Hale compensates for and offsets this instability and promises a good future. In this letter he describes her appearance and dwells particularly on the way she wore her hair on one occasion (he likes it drawn back to show her neck); then he describes his own room at Faber and some people who have taken his time there recently such as Alfred A. Knopf.  He sympathizes with her difficult work as a teacher and expresses concern about her finances, while making clear, regretfully, that he cannot afford to support her. He concludes with an enigmatic remark, saying (in French) that he knows more about potions than she does. He clarifies his reference to potions by reminding her that she once took him to see Tristan und Isolde—a detail that probably sheds light on his quotations from this opera in The Waste Land directly before and after the “Hyacinth garden” lines.

    In the last letter of the month, January 27, Eliot seems to have returned to the high end of his emotional swing, excited to hear from Hale that she admires him. She must have written that she feels inexperienced and reserved, because he reassures her by saying that he is these things too, especially the latter. He compares himself to a mollusk. Other people wear him out, he says, but he would never want to escape her company. He responds to something she has said about her parents (Note: Hale’s father died when she was 27 and her mother was institutionalized for life following a nervous breakdown when Hale was a child.) Eliot writes that he experienced more pain from his father’s death than his mother’s, because his father’s death was unexpected and occurred before he had a chance to prove himself as a writer, whereas he gave his mother happiness by his success. He concludes by rejoicing in their mutual understanding and promising that he thinks of her always.

  • 03 Jan 2020 7:52 PM | Frances Dickey (Administrator)

    In Eliot’s first two letters to Hale, he pours out thoughts and feelings that he has harbored in silence for years. After this, the real correspondence begins, in the sense that Eliot responds to Hale as well as telling her about himself. Though he later destroyed her letters, his writing is full of their presence: he applauds the delivery of her letter or worries when one does not arrive; he worries about how she will react to what he has said; he praises her answers and points to them as evidence of her fine qualities; he wishes she would write more; responding to what she tells him, he expresses concern for her happiness, safety, and health; and finally, he obsesses over the physical letters themselves. In addition to memorizing her words, he craves the touch and sight of her letters and has begun collecting them in a locked box. He has entrusted this box to Geoffrey Faber as his literary executor with orders to burn it, although his real intent, he says confusingly, is to entrust it to the Bodleian Library to be opened after sixty years. The idea of saving her letters for posterity, along with his own papers, is thus present in their correspondence almost from the beginning—along with the other possibility, of burning them.

    In the remaining letters of 1930, Eliot evaluates his new feelings with wonderment, commenting on the pain as well as the happiness of intimacy, of sharing thoughts and feelings with another person. This pain is not something he merely mentions in passing but he leaves the cause undefined. An element of worry (about her, about being a burden to her, about not satisfying her, etc) enters his letters in December. He confesses various faults, in particular his craving for alcohol, as well as pride and anger. He also begins to tell her more about his life, such as describing a trip to Chichester where he stayed in the less than comfortable Bishop’s palace. These passages are similar to accounts of his activities found in his correspondence with other recipients. The final letter of the year encloses, among other items, a beautifully penned letter from John Hayward to Eliot, expressing appreciation for “Marina.” Through these measures Eliot reveals more of himself to Hale. This trend continues in the letters of 1931, as his initial phase of ecstasy shifts to accommodate the reality of his, and perhaps to a lesser extent, her life. 


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