Behind the Books

T.S. Eliot – The Missing Piece

By: Suzanne, Clocha Rince Library

Photograph of T.S. Eliot and Emily Hale in Dorset, Vermont, Summer 1946 Image taken from https://blogs.princeton.edu/manuscripts/2017/05/16/sealed-treasure-t-s-eliot-letters-to-emily-hale

On Thursday 2nd January this year, the long-awaited love letters from the great poet T.S. Eliot to scholar and muse Emily Hale were unveiled at Princeton University Library.  The Nobel laureate’s correspondence to Hale has been a fascination of mine since I was introduced to Eliot’s work in 1988 while in secondary school. 

On both the poet and Hale’s wishes, the letters remained hidden, to be unveiled fifty years after the death of  Eliot or Hale whichever occurred later. T.S. Eliot died on the 4th of January 1965 and Emily Hale passed away on the 12th of October 1969.  This cache of 1131 letters promised to offer an intimate insight into, not only the poet’s life and work but also his relationship with Hale which was a source of speculation for decades.

An Image of one of the envelopes containing letters addressed to Emily Hale by T.S. Eliot Image taken from https://blogs.princeton.edu/news/2019/12/30/ts-eliot-letters-among-best-known-sealed-literary-archives-open-princeton-60

Meanwhile, a long way from New Jersey, I sat in Clocha Rince Library and yearned to get a glimpse at these letters.  To my disappointment, there was another clause, the letters could only be read in person at Princeton University and would not enter the public domain until 2035.  What would I do?  I searched the internet to see what other enthusiasts were doing.   I read that associate Professor Frances Dickey had agreed to write daily dispatches on the letters, so I subscribed to the T.S. Eliot Society to receive these reports.  I was ecstatic!

This already exhilarating day got more interesting, Eliot was to speak!  He had a ‘timebomb’ for us which detonated on the same day.  Harvard University released a separate statement written by Eliot in 1960, that exploded as planned moments before the letters were opened.  A counter letter of sorts, where Eliot says in no uncertain terms that he was in fact not in love with Hale.  

Letter written in 1960  by T.S. Eliot and  left in the care of Harvard University to be revealed in 2020 Image taken from https://blogs.harvard.edu/houghton/the-love-of-a-ghost-for-a-ghost-t-s-eliot-on-his-letters-to-emily-hale  A transcription of these documents is also available at http://tseliot.com with thanks to the Estate of T.S Eliot for their permission.

“Surely this can’t be true!” I exclaimed to my reading group volunteers.  I explained the dramatic events of the day so far, to the now enthralled patrons.  We all voiced our opinions and with that our little group was founded.

Almost daily I awoke to the sound of an email from the T.S. Eliot Society, a daily dispatch from Frances Dickey.  Never had I been more excited to read anything.  I printed these fascinating well written reports that came straight from the field, for the growing number of Eliot enthusiasts in Clocha Rince and discussed the findings with teachers, library patrons and the library’s Young Adult Book Club.

Professor Dickey has many years of letters (1930 – 1956) to report on and her continuing effort has brightened our little group’s days.  We are all extremely grateful to read her accounts of this gripping story of courtship.  Already there have been twists and turns, our opinion’s change with every glimpse into these letters.  It has rightly been called the literary event of the decade.

In light of these letters, almost everything Eliot wrote can be re-read and may mean something quite different from what we originally thought.  It is the missing piece of his career and certainly the most significant revelation about any major poet of the 20th century.  Sadly, because Eliot burned all of Hale’s letters to him, we will not know her own views beyond his responses to them.  This certainly adds to the intrigue and generates opinions and discussions in our Eliot group.

Reference Links- 

https://tseliotsociety.wildapricot.org/news 

https://tseliot.com/foundation/statement-by-t-s-eliot-on-the-opening-of-the-emily-hale-letters-at-princeton/

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