Over 1,100 letters written by TS Eliot to muse unveiled for research

Dating from 1930 to 1957, the letters are the largest single series of Eliot's correspondence.

Agencies
TS Eliot's lifelong friend Emily Hale donated the letters to the PUL more than 60 years ago.
WASHINGTON: A collection of 1,131 letters from Nobel laureate and renowned American-Anglo writer TS Eliot to his muse and confidant Emily Hale will be unveiled for research at a US university on Thursday, a momentous occasion for scholars and fans who are hopeful that the trove will offer insight into the more intimate details about the author's work and romantic relationship. Dating from 1930 to 1957, the letters are the largest single series of Eliot's correspondence and among the best-known sealed literary archives in the world.

On January 2, 2020, a collection of 1,131 letters from Eliot to his lifelong friend Hale will open for research at Princeton University Library (PUL), the varsity said in a statement.

Hale donated the letters to the PUL more than 60 years ago. She gave the letters with the stipulation that they remain sealed until 50 years after the death of Eliot or Hale, whoever survived the other. Eliot died in 1965 and Hale soon thereafter, in 1969.


"The approaching release of Eliot's letters to Hale is already generating excitement on campus," said Joshua Kotin, associate professor of English at Princeton.

"Students who have been fascinated by 'The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock' (1915) and 'The Waste Land' (1922) are now asking questions about Eliot himself. But this interest is not limited to Eliot's love life. Students are excited to learn more about Eliot's religious conversion and attitudes toward women, and about his decisions at Faber & Faber and their impact on British culture," Kotin said.

In the letters, scholars and Eliot fans will likely learn more about his relationship with Hale, who has been described as his muse and confidant; his personal and professional experiences as a writer, critic and editor at Faber & Faber and The Criterion; and his overall thoughts regarding the contemporary literary scene, the statement said.
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Hale's donated collection also included photographs, ephemera, clippings and a brief narrative she wrote about her relationship with Eliot. After the collection opens, scholars and librarians will be able to delve into and share more information about the content.


Romantic speculation has surrounded the Eliot and Hale relationship over the last few decades, inspiring novels such as Martha Cooley's "The Archivist" and Steven Carroll's "Eliot Quartet" series. Such speculation has added to the literary and academic curiosity about the content of the letters.

A Boston native, Hale was a speech and drama teacher at Simmons College, Milwaukee-Downer College, Scripps College and Smith College. She and Eliot initially met in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1912 when Eliot attended Harvard University, and they rekindled their friendship in 1927. When Eliot moved to England, the pair corresponded frequently.

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When the collection was initially unsealed at PUL in October for processing and cataloging, the letters were still in their original envelopes and bundles, as Hale presumably kept them, according to Chloe Pfendler, processing archivist for the manuscripts division in PUL's Special Collections.

"Eliot burned Hale's letters, so we will not know her own views beyond his responses to them. As the 50-year-moratorium ends and the archive is opened to scholars at the new year, we will begin to learn far more about Eliot's thought during this period of historical and, for him, personal upheaval," said professor of English at Princeton and editor of the Princeton Series of Contemporary Poets Susan Stewart, who was present when the letters were unsealed by PUL staff.

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"Students in our modernist poetry courses and the graduate students and faculty involved in our lively modernism group are eagerly looking forward to exploring the archive and sharing the news. Eliot is the rare poet who is also a vital critic and thinker; the contribution of the letters to our understanding of his work promises to be immeasurable," Stewart said.

The Eliot letters are under copyright until 2035 and will not be available for access online. Researchers can access the collection on a first-come, first-served basis in Firestone Library's Special Collections, the statement said.

Born in 1965 in Missouri, Eliot was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1948, "for his outstanding, pioneer contribution to present-day poetry". He moved to England in 1914 and would settle, work and marry there. He became a British subject in 1927 at the age of 39, subsequently renouncing his American passport.

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