T S Eliot's letters reveal hidden love for Emily Hale

T S Eliot's letters reveal hidden love for Emily Hale

T S Eliot's love for academic Emily Hale has been confirmed by more than 1,000 letters after 60 years as well as a statement revealing his writing journey in which he declared Hale "would have killed the poet in me".

The 1,131 letters by Eliot to Hale and related documents spanning 1930 to 1956 were revealed to students, researchers and scholars at Princeton University Library in New Jersey on Thursday (2nd January). Hale passed over the letters to the university in 1956.

Eliot stipulated that the letters must not be opened until 50 years after whoever died second. Eliot died in 1965 at age 76 and Hale died in 1969.

The writer also attached a lengthy statement for his executors to be read on the opening of the letters, now hosted on the T S Eliot Foundation website. A statement by T S Eliot on the opening of the Emily Hale letters at Princeton reads: “It is painful for me to have to write the following lines. I cannot conceive of writing my autobiography. It seems to me that those who can do so are those who have led purely public and exterior lives, or those who can successfully conceal from themselves what they prefer not to know about themselves—there may be a few persons who can write about themselves because they are truly blameless and innocent.

“During the course of my correspondence with Emily Hale, between 1932 and 1947, I liked to think that my letters to her would be preserved and made public after we were dead—50 years after.”

Eliot revealed some concern about how Hale had passed the letters over to the university: “I was however, disagreeably surprised when she informed me that she was handing the letters over to Princeton University during our lifetime— actually in the year 1956. She took this step, it is true, before she knew that I was going to get married.”

Eliot confirms his long-suspected love for Hale. “I fell in love with Emily Hale in 1912, when I was in the Harvard Graduate School. Before I left for Germany and England in 1914 I told her that I was in love with her. I have no reason to believe, from the way in which this declaration was received, that my feelings were returned, in any degree whatever. We exchanged a few letters, on a purely friendly basis, while I was up at Oxford during 1914-15.

“To explain my sudden marriage to Vivienne Haigh-Wood [in 1915] would require a good many words, and yet the explanation would probably remain unintelligible. I was still, as I came to believe a year later, in love with Miss Hale.”

He goes on to discuss he was “very immature for my age, very timid, very inexperienced” and had a “gnawing doubt” about his profession as an academic as he still “yearned to write poetry”. Eliot also revealed the life-changing introduction to legendary critic Ezra Pound.

“Then in 1914 Conrad Aiken showed 'Prufrock' to Ezra Pound. My meeting with Pound changed my life. He was enthusiastic about my poems, and gave me such praise and encouragement as I had long since ceased to hope for. I was happier in England, even in wartime, than I had been in America: Pound urged me to stay in England and encouraged me to write verse again.”

Eliot also discussed how after Haigh-Wood’s death he realised he was no longer in love with Hale. “From 1947 on, I realised more and more how little Emily Hale and I had in common. I had already observed that she was not a lover of poetry, certainly that she was not much interested in my poetry; I had already been worried by what seemed to me evidence of insensitiveness and bad taste. It may be too harsh, to think that what she liked was my reputation rather than my work.”

A postscript revealed the document was written on 25th November 1960, but the last page had been slightly altered, and re-typed, on the 30th September 1963. Eliot revealed that the letters to him from Hale “had been destroyed by a colleague at my request”.