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

Final Top Gear review

TV
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Arts and Entertainment
The audience aimed thousands of Apple’s product units at Taylor Swift throughout the show
musicReview: On stage her manner is natural, her command of space masterful
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Channel 4 is reviving its Chris Evans-hosted Nineties hit TFI Friday

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford plays Indiana Jones in The Last Crusade (1989)

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
A Glastonbury reveller hides under an umbrella at the festival last year

Glastonbury
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Miles Morales is to replace Peter Parker as the new Spider-Man

comics
Arts and Entertainment
The sequel to 1993's Jurassic Park, Jurassic World, has stormed into the global record books to score the highest worldwide opening weekend in history.

film
Arts and Entertainment
Odi (Will Tudor)
tvReview: Humans, episode 2
Arts and Entertainment
Can't cope with a Port-A-loo? We've got the solution for you

FestivalsFive ways to avoid the portable toilets

Arts and Entertainment
Some zookeepers have been braver than others in the #jurassiczoo trend

Jurassic WorldThe results are completely brilliant

Arts and Entertainment
An original Miffy illustration
art
Arts and Entertainment
Man of mystery: Ian McKellen as an ageing Sherlock Holmes
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Kitchen set: Yvette Fielding, Patricia Potter, Chesney Hawkes, Sarah Harding and Sheree Murphy
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Evans has been confirmed as the new host of Top Gear
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Top of the class: Iggy Azalea and the catchy ‘Fancy’
music
Arts and Entertainment
Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters performs at Suncorp Stadium on February 24, 2015 in Brisbane, Australia.

music
Arts and Entertainment
Chris Evans had initially distanced himself from the possibility of taking the job

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
British author Matt Haig

books
Arts and Entertainment
Homeland star Damian Lewis is to play a British Secret Service agent in Susanna White's film adaptation of John le Carre's Our Kind of Traitor

Film
Latest stories from i100
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.

    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

    How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

    Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
    Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

    One day to find €1.6bn

    Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
    New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

    'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

    Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
    Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

    Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

    The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
    Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

    Historians map out untold LGBT histories

    Public are being asked to help improve the map
    Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

    Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

    This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
    Paris Fashion Week

    Paris Fashion Week

    Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
    A year of the caliphate:

    Isis, a year of the caliphate

    Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?
    Marks and Spencer: Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?

    Marks and Spencer

    Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?
    'We haven't invaded France': Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak

    'We haven't invaded France'

    Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak
    Isis in Kobani: Why we ignore the worst of the massacres

    Why do we ignore the worst of the massacres?

    The West’s determination not to offend its Sunni allies helps Isis and puts us all at risk, says Patrick Cockburn
    7/7 bombings 10 years on: Four emergency workers who saved lives recall the shocking day that 52 people were killed

    Remembering 7/7 ten years on

    Four emergency workers recall their memories of that day – and reveal how it's affected them ever since
    Humans: Are the scientists developing robots in danger of replicating the hit Channel 4 drama?

    They’re here to help

    We want robots to do our drudge work, and to look enough like us for comfort. But are the scientists developing artificial intelligence in danger of replicating the TV drama Humans?
    Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

    Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

    'Heritage' is a loaded word in the Dixie, but the Charleston killings show how dangerous it is to cling to a deadly past, says Rupert Cornwell
    What exactly does 'one' mean? Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue

    What exactly does 'one' mean?

    Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue