The over one thousand letters from T. S. Eliot to Emily Hale, opened to the public on January 2, 2020, reveal the poet’s emotional and creative dependence on Hale and illuminate the meanings of “Gerontion,” The Waste Land, Ash-Wednesday, “Landscapes,” Murder in the Cathedral, Four Quartets, The Family Reunion, and other works. This article surveys the contents of the long-awaited Eliot letters archived at Princeton University, focusing on Hale’s role in the poet’s personal and imaginative life. In addition to clarifying long-standing questions about their relationship, from their first encounters in Cambridge to their many clandestine meetings across decades, his letters explain personal references in his poems (Hale is the “Hyacinth girl”) and describe “moments” they shared together that he later worked into “Burnt Norton” and “The Dry Salvages.” The record of his letters shows that not marrying Hale fed Eliot’s imagination and inspired some of the most significant passages of his poetry. Eliot’s art reflected his life, but he also shaped his life to follow art, taking Dante’s Vita Nuova as the pattern for a renunciation of worldly love that he also imposed on Hale.
May the Record Speak: The Correspondence of T. S. Eliot and Emily Hale
Frances Dickey teaches modernism and American literature at the University of Missouri and writes about modern poetry and poets. Her books include The Modernist Portrait Poem from Dante Gabriel Rossetti to Ezra Pound (2012) and two coedited volumes, The Complete Prose of T. S. Eliot: The Critical Edition, vol. 3 (2015), and The Edinburgh Companion to T. S. Eliot and the Arts (2016). Her articles have appeared in Modernism/modernity, Twentieth-Century Literature (Kappel Prize winner, 2006), Contemporary Literature, and other venues. Dickey led the International T. S. Eliot Society from 2016–18 and her “Reports from the Emily Hale Archive” have been widely followed. Her next book explores T. S. Eliot’s sensory experiences in turn-of-the-century St. Louis.
Frances Dickey; May the Record Speak: The Correspondence of T. S. Eliot and Emily Hale. Twentieth-Century Literature 1 December 2020; 66 (4): 431–462. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/0041462X-8770684
Download citation file: