TS Eliot’s other woman: trove of letters to secret lover finally ...

Ideas

TS Eliot’s other woman: trove of letters to secret lover finally unsealed

The poet’s missives to Emily Hale have been under wraps for decades. Now their secrets will be revealed

Lyndall Gordon

“I am very dependent upon women,” TS Eliot told his Harvard friend and fellow poet, Conrad Aiken, in 1914. His life was shaped by four women who became part of his work. Vivienne Haigh-Wood, his first wife, Mary Trevelyan, a companion, and Valerie Fletcher, his secretary at Faber & Faber, who became his second wife, are all well known, but there was another woman who came first, named Emily Hale.

For decades this was a relationship “under wraps”, as Eliot’s Faber colleague, Peter du Sautoy, put it. In the course of their correspondence, from the late 1920s until 1957, Eliot wrote Hale about 1,133 letters – of these 1,131, many more than he wrote to any other person, have never been seen. In 1963, less than two years before his death, Eliot gave Du Sautoy a large cash box packed tightly with Hale’s letters to him. He was asked to burn them. Du Sautoy said it had been a point of honour not to read the letters before destroying them.

On his own letters to Hale, Eliot imposed the longest embargo. Hale delivered the letters to Princeton’s librarian, William Dix, in November 1956, and the following month the letters were sealed in 12 boxes in the archives of Firestone Library. Valerie Eliot, the poet’s second wife, asked to see them, but the terms of the bequest, forbidding all eyes, did not allow this. They were not to be opened until 50 years after the death of the survivor of the correspondence...

This article is reserved for Times Select subscribers.
A subscription gives you full digital access to all Times Select content.

Times Select

Already subscribed? Simply sign in below.

Questions or problems?
Email helpdesk@timeslive.co.za or call 0860 52 52 00.