‘Don’t think that I find it easy to live over here. It is damned hard work to live with a foreign nation and cope with them – one is always coming up against differences of feeling that make one feel humiliated and lonely. One remains always a foreigner…It is like being on dress parade – one can never relax…People are more aware of you, more critical, and they have no pity for one’s mistakes or stupidities. They are more spontaneous, and also more deliberate…They are always intriguing and caballing; one must be very alert.’ (Eliot to his brother Henry in 1919.)
By the end of this first volume of letters in 1922, Eliot seems to have mastered the heartless English; he has become an established critic and poet, has met the most important literary figures of his day; he’s shared a flat with Bertrand Russell, dined with Virginia Woolf, delivered a pair of old shoes to James Joyce. This volume covers the most interesting stretch of his life: his first trip to Europe, his marriage to Vivien Haigh-Wood, the publication of Prufrock, The Wasteland, and The Sacred Wood, and the launching of The Criterion.
The letters will disappoint those hoping to glimpse the private man or gain some new insight into the making of his great poems. His correspondents come across more clearly than he does. What the letters do reveal is Eliot’s manoeuvres in the London literary world, his shrewd judgement of which