Reports from the Emily Hale Archive

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

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  • 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. 

  • 02 Jan 2020 9:30 PM | Frances Dickey (Administrator)

    There was always a possibility that the opening of the Hale letters would turn out to be a disappointment, merely adding to the volume of Eliot’s correspondence but not the depth of the correspondent. However, the first box dismisses any such worry. The collection begins with an extraordinary sequence of letters in which Eliot unrestrainedly confesses his feelings for Hale and credits her with both leading him to his religious faith and inspiring his poetry. This is not the reserved Eliot we are accustomed to; he pours out an account of himself that is remarkably similar to Lyndall Gordon’s interpretation of his “new life.”

    Eliot handwrote the first letter (Oct. 3, 1930) after having Emily to tea with Vivienne, an occasion that seems to have opened the doors to communication between them. He expresses deep regret for his failure to answer a question that Hale put to him years before in London. Despite that mistake and the pain it has caused, he professes his love for her, which, he says, has led him to love of God. He remarks that she must now understand “Ash Wednesday” as nobody else can. He hopes that she will allow him to write to her after this revelation of his feeling for her. 

    The second letter, typewritten a month later, responds gratefully to Hale’s reply and lays out a fuller account of the origins of what can only be called his passion. The language is openly reminiscent of Ash-Wednesday especially in his form of address. He explains that when he was a student at Oxford, he convinced himself that he didn’t love her in order to make it easier to throw over his career as a philosopher and remain as a poet in England. A year after his marriage to Vivienne he began to realize what he had done. He tried to fulfill his marriage vows but he could not. Since adultery was permitted in his social circle (Eliot specifically refers to Bertrand Russell), he tried that avenue, but it did not satisfy him. After writing The Waste Land, he told himself that his feelings were dead, but an earlier sighting of Hale in London, referred to in the first letter, dissolved this illusion and his spiritual life began. 

    In a brief paragraph Eliot emphatically states his love for her and its importance throughout his life. He praises Hale and her spirituality, and suggests a similarity between her and his mother (who had died in 1929).

    He states his intention to write to her regularly now about his life and hers, and he concludes by recommending to her certain passages in his poetry that will prove his love for her: the hyacinth garden scene in The Waste Land and the “Datta” section at the end of “What the Thunder Said," “A Cooking Egg,” and Ash-Wednesday.

    There may be many further revelations in the letters to come, but it is hard to imagine any clearer acknowledgement of Hale’s importance to him as a man and a poet. These letters tell a very different story from the belittling counter-narrative Eliot wrote in 1960, and in my view, a better one. You might have to see it to believe it.

  • 02 Jan 2020 12:17 PM | Frances Dickey (Administrator)

    The scene in the Princeton Library Special Collections was calm and orderly this morning, with about six readers lining up before the doors opened at 9 a.m.. As promised, three high-resolution digital versions are available, in addition to the originals and a complete set of facsimiles printed from the digital scans. I am working from the scans, which include the back and front of every page and envelope. The following rough and ready account of what I found will, of course, be superseded by more scholarly studies and the printed version of the Hale letters edited by John Haffenden. This morning Houghton Library, Harvard, also published Eliot’s response, written in 1960 to be opened at the time of the Hale collection.

    Many people are interested to know about Emily Hale’s narratives of her relationship with Eliot. The folder (box 14, folder 8) contains at least two versions of her narrative, a manuscript from 1957 and several typescripts from 1965. My summary draws both from the earlier, more personal account and the edited typescripts, with a few limited quotations of her words (in contrast to Eliot’s words, which I will not quote). 

    Hale narrates their meeting at the house of Eleanor Hinkley’s family in 1911-12 where they performed in a dramatization of Jane Austen’s Emma. She found his low voice difficult to follow, but others alerted her that she was the exclusive object of Eliot’s attention. He confessed his love to her before leaving for Germany in 1914 but did not propose marriage. She found herself surprised by his confession and did not feel the same about him.

    She writes that they renewed their acquaintance in England in 1922 (when she was visiting her aunt and uncle in London) and on subsequent visits. Eliot’s feeling for her had not abated and he was still in love with her.  Their correspondence began in 1930 (the first letter in the collection is dated October 3, 1930, and is indeed a love letter, about which more in a moment). She became his confidante. He visited her at Scripps College in 1933 ostensibly for an academic residence, but his real purpose was to sort out his emotions and their relationship. 

    After Vivien entered the sanatorium, Hale writes, she and Eliot saw each other regularly in the summer at the house of her relatives, the Perkins, at Chipping Campden, where he experienced the happiest times of his life to date. He proof-read The Family Reunion in the back garden, and they walked to the house of Burnt Norton, a visit that inspired his poem (as she writes). In a later version of the narrative, Hale adds that Eliot told her that “Burnt Norton” was his love poem to her. She had also developed feelings for him, but she writes that they kept their relationship on as “honorable” a basis “as we could.”

    Hale then writes of the two breaks in their relationship. When Vivien died, Eliot chose not to marry her, a decision she accepted but could not understand and found very painful. They kept in touch and he saw her when he came to the States, but after Eliot married his second wife Valerie, there was a further break: she never saw him again.

    She ends her 1965 version by expressing the hope that her account will keep future generations of curious students from drawing the wrong conclusion (presumably, she means that they had a chaste relationship, which Eliot also corroborated more explicitly in his just opened response). At the end of the 1957 version, with less resignation, she observes that “Vital Truth is a priceless heritage in the world of letters,” and so “May the record speak.”

  • 24 Dec 2019 7:57 AM | Frances Dickey (Administrator)

    “sieti raccomandato il mio ‘Tesoro,’

    Nel quale vivo ancora; e più non cheggio.”

    Poi si revolse

    Inferno XV 118-120

    So Eliot inscribed his book Ara Vos Prec with lines from the Inferno, when he sent it to Emily Hale in 1928. The damned writer Bruno Latini addresses Dante, whom he knew in better days, asking to be remembered by his book rather than his shade in Hell: “Let my 'Treasure,' in which I still live, be commended to thee; and more I ask not. Eliot and Hale had been close friends in America before the poet’s unhappy marriage; how unhappy is suggested by this inscription. 

    Following the renewal of their friendship, Eliot and Hale visited each other and corresponded frequently for the next decade, with letters continuing into the 1950’s: ultimately, Eliot sent well over one thousand letters to her. These were her treasure, which she ultimately donated to Princeton Library in 1956, to remain sealed until 2020. On January 2, the public will have their chance to learn more about a part of the poet’s life that has been a matter of speculation until now.

    Although Eliot was unhappy with Hale’s choice to deposit his letters at an archive, rather than in the fireplace, those personally concerned have now passed away. Reporters and scholars will soon be lining up at the door of Special Collections in the basement of Firestone Library to discover what secrets the poet may have revealed in his letters. 

    Mindful of the restrictions on quoting Eliot’s texts, I will be offering a folder-by-folder account of the archive on this site starting January 2, recording the gist of the letters and providing closer description of important moments. 

    This project is made possible by research support from the University of Missouri, where I teach, and by the sponsorship of the International T. S. Eliot Society. I take responsibility for my posts, however. If you are interested in contributing to this blog, please contact me at

    In the meantime, the finding aid for the Hale letters contains some useful information about its genesis and contents. 

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