TS Eliot letters up for auction

A series of letters from TS Eliot in which he discloses himself as a man both haunted and magically tender-hearted are to be auctioned in London.
The following correction was printed in the Guardian's Corrections and clarifications column, Monday August 15, 2005
Letters by TS Eliot will be auctioned at Bonhams in London on September 20, not September 10, as we stated in the report below.

Letters in which TS Eliot discloses himself as a man both haunted and magically tender-hearted are to be auctioned in London. In the most striking, the poet goes further than in almost anything he wrote in betraying the torment he felt over his marriage to his first wife, Vivien, whom he had committed to a mental hospital.

The morning after hearing of her death in January 1947, he wrote to a friend: "You will not know how helpful it was to me to dine with you last night. I am going through an infernal passage which, like all infernos, is incommunicable, though perhaps some of it may be explainable at a late time, and any support from the few friends upon whom one can lean is a great help".

Yesterday the auction house Bonhams called the letter remarkable: "For a man who wore many masks during his lifetime, this correspondence reveals aspects of his character previously hidden."

The letter, to be sold on September 10, was to Enid Faber, wife of Eliot's publishing colleague, Geoffrey Faber. Other letters show that she comforted him by being one of the few to attend Vivien's lonely funeral - and that he countermanded Vivien's intention that Geoffrey Faber should be appointed an executive to her will.

After he died in 1965, Eliot was increasingly blamed for causing, or contributing to, Vivien's mental instability - a theme of the play and film, Tom and Viv, written by Michael Hastings, and of a number of critical studies.

At the time they married, in 1917, she had been acknowledged as a woman of high talent, believed to have contributed to The Waste Land, and to others of his poems. They separated, though she pressed continually for a reconciliation until, in 1938, she was committed. Other letters from their relationship have yet to be published.

Of Virginia Woolf's death in 1941, Eliot wrote to Enid: "She was a personal friend who seemed to be ... like a member of my own family; and I miss her dreadfully. But ... my admiration for the idea of her milieu - now rather old fashioned - is decidedly qualified."

However, according to Felix Pryor, Bonhams' manuscript consultant, beside this dig at the novelist others of the letters are "tremendous fun". For the third birthday of Enid's son, Tom, to whom Eliot was godfather, he introduced his cat verses by writing of one feline: "Its Name is JELLYORUM and its one Idea is to be Usefull!! For Instance It Straightens The Pictures - It Does The Grates - Looks Into the Larder To See What's Needed." Then he sent an invitation to Tom's fourth birthday party: "Pollicle Dogs and Jellicle Cats!/Come from your Kennels & Houses & Flats ... " This later inspired a chorus in the hit musical Cats.


John Ezard

The GuardianTramp

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