Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Secrets of TS Eliot's tragic first marriage and liaisons to be told at last

Following the death of the poet's widow, Valerie, a new biography has been mooted

Valerie & TS Eliot
Anglo-American Nobel Prize winning poet TS Eliot (1888 - 1965) has a drink with his second wife Valerie after arriving from Boston to meet press at host John Nef's house, Chicago, 1959. Photograph: Myron Davis/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images

The true creative impact of the mental decline of TS Eliot's first wife, Vivienne, and the real nature of his abortive relationships with the women he saw following her committal to an asylum, along with other remaining mysteries of the renowned writer's life, are finally likely to be held up to inspection by an official biographer.

Following the death of Eliot's devoted second wife last week, her friends and former colleagues say access to all the poet's personal papers may now be granted. If so, the great poet's alleged antisemitism is also likely to come under fresh scrutiny. Love poems presented to his second wife every Sunday of their married life can also be published, according to her wishes.
Valerie Eliot, whose funeral takes place on Wednesday, was the assiduous editor of her late husband's letters and guarded his reputation with care during the 47 years following his death. Valerie, the poet's former personal secretary, guided his literary estate and did much to financially shore up the independence and future of the poet's publisher, Faber and Faber. But even though Eliot's widow was keen to systematically publish his wide-ranging letters, she prevented any writer from examining his documents with a free hand.

Any biographer now selected by the joint trustees of the Eliot estate would have plenty of drama to draw upon. As Eliot himself once commented: "It often seems to me very bizarre that a person of my [Unitarian] antecedents should have had a life like a bad Russian novel."
The latest and third volume of Eliot's letters, edited by Valerie Eliot and John Haffenden, was published this summer and covered 1926 and 1927, the period during which he was received into the Church of England and failed to get into All Souls, Oxford, because some of his poetry was judged "obscene and blasphemous". It also chronicled the development of Vivienne's madness. "I am in great trouble, do not know what to do. In great fear," he wrote.

Valerie's close friend and a trustee of the Eliot estate, Clare Reihill, believes she was potentially prepared to give access to an official biographer. "She did indicate some time ago she was more open to the idea," she said this weekend, "but she wanted all the letters to come out first."
Full story at The Observer


Mark Hubbard said...

I'm loving all these tidbits coming out on TS: I've said before, he's one of my favourites. Must be some sort of anniversary.

You never hear of, or I don't, his dubious mate, the bad dressing Ezra Pound, in modern times though. He wrote similarly well, but I suspect his stint with the Nazis did his longevity in. I guess the lesson is don't tie your words to a political bandwagon.


Mark Hubbard said...

Stop press, of course I know why this flurry of articles. Valerie has just died. (It took the second coffee).