Letter: Tom and Viv

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The Independent Online
Sir: I do not know if Michael Hastings or Lyndall Gordon are intent in driving me out of the cupboard to satisfy their curiosity as to whether Maurice Haigh-Wood did, or did not, commit his sister to a mental institution or whether there was a conspiracy with Tom Eliot to do so, but I feel impelled to respond to your articles 'Film turns the spotlight on a poet's darker side' and 'Hijack of the Great Poet' (18 August).

I was with Maurice when he died and visited him a lot during a number of months previously and am concerned that unpleasant innuendoes be laid to rest.

The set among whom Vivien Haigh-Wood mixed seems to me to have been at best a strange lot but T. S, a young man, is very likely to have been attracted to her given her family background. However, his Christian approach to life would have made her strange behaviour a difficult cross to bear. He would not, probably, have been prepared for the strand of mental illness (if that is what it is) in the family.

The conspiracy theory implies vindictiveness or a motive. Certainly, Maurice did not confess to me and in fact it would seem that he was at the other end shouldering a burden. That he was consumed with guilt over the committal of Vivien to a life in sanatoriums did not come through. Maurice had other sadnesses, like all of us, and died, I believe, a Christian pacifist.

It seems to me only natural that the sadnesses of Tom's life should be reflected in his writings if that is the case (me not being a reader of his work). Mental illness causes all sorts of anguish especially as the borderlines were, and still are, not clear. The questions posed by Marianne Macdonald in her article have no importance whatsoever since anyone facing such a dilemma would have guilt feelings and the signing of papers has no bearing on the issue.

Yours faithfully,