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
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
Arts and Entertainment
Jessica Hynes in W1A
tvReview: Perhaps the creators of W1A should lay off the copy and paste function spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Power play: Mitsuko Uchida in concert

Arts and Entertainment
Dangerous liaisons: Dominic West, Jake Richard Siciliano, Maura Tierney and Leya Catlett in ‘The Affair’ – a contradictory drama but one which is sure to reel the viewers in
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Herring, pictured performing at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival two years ago
Arts and Entertainment
Music freak: Max Runham in the funfair band
Arts and Entertainment
film 'I felt under-used by Hollywood'
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
    Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

    Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

    Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
    Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

    Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

    Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
    Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

    Join the tequila gold rush

    The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
    12 best statement wallpapers

    12 best statement wallpapers

    Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
    Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

    Paul Scholes column

    Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?