The Letters of T S Eliot, Volume 9: 1939–1941 by Valerie Eliot & John Haffenden (edd) - review by Stephen Romer

Stephen Romer

I Shall Wear Austin Reed

The Letters of T S Eliot, Volume 9: 1939–1941


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T S Eliot’s sojourn in purgatory shows little sign of coming to an end. He has been at the sharp edge of feminist critique for a while, most recently in a series of essays examining The Waste Land from the perspective of the #MeToo movement. Moreover, the opening last year of the archive in Princeton University Library containing Eliot’s correspondence with his longtime confidante Emily Hale (one-sided, since Eliot burned Hale’s letters) occasioned a further display of moral censure. In an unfortunate move, Eliot, anticipating the fascination the letters would arouse, composed his own account of his relationship with Hale, to be released at the same time as the letters. Eliot’s statement (deposited at Harvard) has done nothing to lessen the animus against him; rather, its frankly clumsy and patronising disclaimers, notably that the relationship was as chaste as a vicar’s tea party (through which Eliot surely intended to protect his second wife, Valerie), have done his reputation still more damage.

There remains, however, a group of aficionados devoted to his work, among them John Haffenden, the ever-discreet and consistently diligent editor of a monument in progress, The Letters of T S Eliot. This ninth volume in the project covers the years 1939 to 1941. It opens just after Eliot

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