If the letters of T S Eliot were a television box set, the most recent few volumes would have elicited their share of mutterings from critics about ‘jumping the shark’. Tom, the nervous young American lead, has long since settled into his plush job in London publishing, the drama of his marriage breakdown has been drawn out unconscionably, and his dusty Anglican phase makes a poor substitute for stays in a Swiss sanatorium or spending the night alone on a deckchair in Eastbourne during his honeymoon. Oh, and the poetry seems to have dried up too, before the surprise appearance of ‘Burnt Norton’ in the period covered by The Letters of T S Eliot, Volume 7. The letters have their moments, but the effort of skimming almost a thousand pages for the highlights may deter all but the most devoted of Eliotians.
The opening year, 1934, finds Eliot formally separated from his wife, Vivien, and living as a churchwarden in a Kensington presbytery house. Occasional overindulgences in sherry aside, the years covered here were austere ones: Eliot had taken a vow