IoS book review: The Letters of TS Eliot Volume 4: 1928-1929, ed Valeria Eliot and John Haffenden

The fourth volume of T S Eliot's correspondence reveals an influential and newly self-confident figure, with deepened religious conviction

The passage from private to public that dominated the third volume of T S Eliot's letters, covering the period from 1926 to 1927, seems almost complete in this subsequent collection, barely 12 months on. His employers, Faber and Gwyer, have taken on the financing of his magazine, The Criterion, to change it from a monthly to a quarterly; he has essays on Pound and Dryden to write; he is even more frequently in communication with the leading writers of the period, in his role as a literary editor. What there is far less of is concern about Vivienne, his troubled wife, and the fond, often illuminating correspondence with his mother, who dies at the end of the period covered by this volume.

It does all give the impression of a man more in control of his destiny. Previous volumes stressed his repeated illnesses, which were almost certainly exacerbated by the stress of having to cope with Vivienne, who suffered poor mental health and would contro-versially end her days in a sanatorium, where Eliot would never visit her. Family members would write about her difficult ways and friends would comment on the effect on "Poor Tom". In this fourth volume, although Vivienne is now at home after an extended stay in hospital in France, there is less public evidence of problems at home.

That doesn't mean that they didn't exist. In a letter to Lady Ottoline Morrell, Eliot says simply that "V. has come back with me. It may not be a bad thing", while in her diary seven years later, Vivienne writes of her coming home: "It was a very bad time & I felt terribly frightened at what I had done. So that I was out of my mind & so behaved badly to Tom & got very excited ...." It shows that Eliot has become more adept at dealing with their private affairs in public.

What is also clearer is Eliot's deepening religious convictions. (Much to Virginia Woolf's concern: "I have had a most shameful and distressing interview with poor dear Tom Eliot ... I mean, there's something obscene in a living person sitting by the fire and believing in God.") There is a shifting in Eliot's friendships: things have calmed down since his row with the poet Richard Aldington, for example, but his reliance on the essayist and literary editor John Middleton Murry as an ally in the situation with his wife, has eased, too. Personal insights tend to come from other correspondents – from Woolf passing on to her sister gossip from Morrell, and so on.

There are some spats over reviewing, and some heartfelt letters from writers looking for work. H E Bates offers a story to The Criterion, saying: "If only for financial considerations, do print it early if possible. My income from literature is that of a bad farm labourer." Meanwhile, Eliot responds generously to a rather negative portrayal of him by Vita Sackville-West, whose "influence", she says "has had many disastrous consequences", by responding that "the only thing that ever upsets me (and I think that is quite normal) is not being mentioned at all."

There is a sense that Eliot the public man is becoming the whole man, almost. Vivienne complains in a letter to their friend Mary Hutchinson: "Of course he is so reserved & peculiar that he never says anything about it, & one cannot get him to speak." Where he does speak out is in letters to newspapers and magazines. One lengthy letter to the Forum echoes his religious faith when he writes that in current literature he sees "evidence of a transition, a revolt against the paganism of progress of the 19th century, toward a rediscovery of orthodox Christianity". The author of Four Quartets is not far off.

We also see Eliot taking the role of a poet who could help further the careers of younger poets – although Auden's claim after his death that he taught them "it was unbecoming to behave or dress in public like the romantic conception of a poet", is somewhat contradicted by one of Eliot's protégés, the more flamboyant George Barker.

Eliot is only 41 in this volume, but already there is a sense of a man established, or certainly in the process of becoming so. This volume hints, too, less pleasantly, at Eliot's anti-Semitism, in the case of a young Jewish novelist, Edward Dahlberg. Dahlberg had been told by a founder of the Imagist movement, F S Flint, that Eliot "does not like Jews". Dahlberg, however, later wrote that he found Eliot "gracious and kind" and blamed him "for nothing but the books that he has written".

The editors John Haffenden and the late Valerie Eliot have committed themselves to laying bare as much of Eliot's correspondence as they can lay their hands on. While inevitably this means a certain amount of redundant or uninteresting material (his polite, formal letters of acceptance or rejection, for instance), this full disclosure of a writing life is quite invaluable.

Eliot died in 1965; there will be many more volumes to come.

Faber £40

Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Robin Thicke's video for 'Blurred Lines' has been criticised for condoning rape

Robin Thicke admits he didn't write 'Blurred Lines'

music
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Matt Damon as Jason Bourne in The Bourne Ultimatum (2007)

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black

Review: Cilla, ITV TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tom Hardy stars with Cillian Murphy in Peaky Blinders II

TV
Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Benedict Cumberbatch star in the Alan Turing biopic The Imitation Game

film
Arts and Entertainment
Kanye West is on his 'Yeezus' tour at the moment

Music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
    Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

    A shot in the dark

    Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
    His life, the universe and everything

    His life, the universe and everything

    New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Save us from small screen superheroes

    Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
    Reach for the skies

    Reach for the skies

    From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
    These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

    12 best hotel spas in the UK

    Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
    These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

    Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

    Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

    Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    How to make a Lego masterpiece

    Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

    Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
    Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

    Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

    His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam