The MacLamity

The News That Stays News, Reported Live

Monday, January 31, 2005


"As I waved good-bye, one of Mrs Eliot's stories came to mind. I saw Tom Eliot himself watching us from the chair he'd set up next to the red pillar post box at the top of the street. He had waited patiently for hours to retrieve a letter he'd changed his mind about. How, I wondered suddenly, would the man whose first criterion for a literary executor had been that no biography would ever be published, feel about the typescript of his and his first wife's letters going off to press?" Not very good about it, apparently. Valerie Eliot has apparently decided not to ever publish any more of T.S. Eliot's letters. What are we missing? Stuff like this, from one of the very few people to have seen them:
They catalogue the breakdown of Eliot's first marriage, the bewilderment and despair of two people who seemed unable to avoid destroying each other. We had not only Eliot's letters, but dozens of letters written by Vivien Haigh-Wood Eliot, Eliot's first wife - the hysterical Viv of Michael Hastings's play Tom and Viv. A second volume of letters would do much to reveal what really went on between them, and would, I feel sure, create sympathy for Eliot.
I think WH Auden said, in his introduction to Shakespeare's Sonnets, that to read someone's letters when they're out of the room is an unacceptable invasion of privacy (obviously ... and then he adds that) It doesn't make a difference if they're out of the room because they've been dead for centuries. Auden (if he said it) and Valerie Eliot are right to insist that it's an invasion of T.S. Eliot's privacy to publish these letters. But the privacy of the dead counts for nothing. They benefit nothing from it.