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,

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  • 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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