In what one scholar called “the literary event of the decade,” on 2 January 2020, Princeton University Library opened up more than 1,100 letters that the Nobel-Prize-winning poet T.S. Eliot wrote over the course of three decades to an American speech professor and amateur actress named Emily Hale.

The day became even more newsworthy when, later that morning, Harvard University released a letter that Eliot had written in 1960, denying he had ever been in love with Hale. Now scholars are delving into the trove of material, and reporting that the collection will forever change what the world has known about one of the 20th century’s greatest poets.

 

Length: 45 minutes. Subscribe via RSS or iTunes.

 

Sara Fitzgerald is the author of The Poet’s Girl, a novel based on the life of Emily Hale. Fitzgerald retired after a career that included 15 years as an editor and new media developer for the Washington Post. She is the author of Elly Peterson: ‘Mother’ of the Moderates, which was recognized as a Notable Book of 2012 by the Library of Michigan. Her next book is Conquering Heroines: How Women Fought Sex Bias at Michigan and Paved the Way for Title IX, to be published by University of Michigan Press later this year. Learn more at www.sarafitzgerald.com.

 

Karen Christensen

 

Karen Christensen is CEO of Berkshire Publishing Group. She was editorial assistant to Valerie Eliot in the late 1980s and published a memoir, “Dear Mrs. Eliot,” about that experience in the Guardian Review.

 

Show Notes

Hello, I’m Karen Christensen at Berkshire Bookworld. I’m talking today with Sara Fitzgerald about a fabled collection of letters. This collection was made public at Princeton University 10 days ago on January 2 2020. It contains over 1000 letters, written over the course of nearly 30 years by the Anglo American poet, TS Eliot, to an American drama teacher, Emily Hale. Emily Hale was thought to be Eliot’s first love and the inspiration for some of his most famous poems. The letters were packed in wooden boxes and sealed with steel bands. And until the second of January, no one except a few librarians who did the cataloging last month had ever seen them. Except, of course, for Eliot himself and Emily Hale. I was at Princeton that morning, along with a group of journalists, scholars and writers. One of them Was Sara Fitzgerald who recently published a novel based on the love affair between Emily Hale and TS Eliot. We’re talking to her today.

Karen Christensen
Sara, it’s just wonderful to be able to talk to you again. Now that you’ve had 10 days with the Eliot Hale letters. The first thing I want to know is what led you to write about Emily Hale who’s been something of a mystery woman in Eliot’s life.

Sara Fitzgerald
Well, Karen, about five years ago, I had been participating for more than 20 years in a small women’s group. And the hostess always picks the topic that we’re going to talk about. And our hostess that day said she wanted us to talk about a poem that she had admired since she was in college. And it was a poem called Burnt Norton by TS Eliot. Now I had studied like a lot of American teenagers and college students. The last Song of J. Alfred Prufrock when I was in high school, but that was about the extent of my study of Eliot’s work. So I went to, like everyone does today went to the internet to find out more about the poem. And there I discovered in addition to reading it, that when he visited Burton Norton, an abandoned manner in the Cotswolds, part of England, he was accompanied by a woman named Emily Hale. And as I poured, you know, dug a little more deeply into Hales story. I found out a few details about her life, but also learned that in 2020, this large cache of letters was going to be opened up and I thought that was an intriguing prospect, and wanted to set out to try to present Emily Hale as a person at the time the letters were opened.

Karen Christensen
I see because you dug into her life story before The letters were available, which is a completely different kind of research effort. What other books inspired you? What kind of? How did you figure out how to approach that?

Sara Fitzgerald
Well, I knew of course, that would be an incomplete story. And then once the letters were released, we’d know much more about her. That was one reason why I decided to make it a novel rather than a biography as I’ve also done biographies of other women. I’m one of the books looking back that inspired me in this sort of thing was the book Zelda by Nancy Mitford back in late 60s, early 70s, about the wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald, and it was a biography that first explored her life and the role she had played in F Scott Fitzgerald’s life. I’m sensing there been other novels about the women behind Famous men writers and architects thinking of like loving Frank and the Paris wife. But when I came to Emily Hales story, of course I was I was very much inspired by the work of Lyndall Gordon. And it’s been wonderful to get the chance to meet her here in Princeton. Since we arrived on January 2. She was the Eliot literary scholar who really put Emily Hale on the map so to speak, and began her work. At a time when many of Hales best friends were still alive and can talk to her a little bit more about her. So those were my inspirations and also, Gordon’s books helped me understand more about where read the places to look for Emily Hales story. I think that

Karen Christensen
I think you also spoke to people who knew how, just as Lyndall Gordon did, is that right?

Sara Fitzgerald
That’s right. Well I contacted some of the schools and colleges where she taught including Phillips Andover, which now has merged with Abbott Academy, which was one of the last private schools where she taught. I was grateful that the Academy’s archive as said, Well, you know, we have some lumps who were still active in the school and they would have been in those classes that Emily Hale taught or directed place for, and she put me in touch with some of those women and one of the nice things, experiences I had through all of this was being invited to speak to their 60th high school reunion a couple of years ago, and not only going to their school and seeing it, but also talking with some of these women, and their experiences help a friend for me as I think these conversations did for Gordon and that Hale was really a very quality person inspiring teacher, kind of teacher for whom students would hang on memorabilia that she had sent them postcards and nice notes still until their years as senior citizens. The other thing that these conversations led me to believe was that many Eliot biographers had sort of portrayed Emily Hale as somebody whose life fell apart after Eliot remarried that, you know, she’d had a breakdown and lived a miserable solitary life. And when I looked life, after Eliot remarried, I’m sure that there was, you know, disappointment. It would be understandable if you went through a period of depression, but it struck me that she did in fact pulled herself together and the final decade of her life I think was reasonably full and meaningful is Sara, I think

Karen Christensen
that it now occurs to me that you and I know these this story so well that that the second marriage and how that affected Emily Hale is, you know, familiar territory to us. But I really should ask you could you give us a little potted history of, of Emily Hale and TS Eliot, for those who are listening who just don’t have this background?

Sara Fitzgerald
That’s a good suggestion. I’ve actually found that even though I knew the overall outlines of Eliot’s marital life when I came to this project, I have found that many of my friends who did not become English literature scholars did not. Eliot met in round 1913 in Cambridge, area Boston. She was a childhood friend of his cousin Eleanor Hinckley. And they began to perform together in doubles plays in Hinckley’s home and also through a dramatic group of Cambridge social dramatic Club, which put on amateur plays at the time. We know from the letters that Eliot was the one it was first attracted to her, but he was an awkward, insecure, bumbling graduate student at Harvard and didn’t know quite what to do about his attraction to her a scholarship to go over and study in in England for a year and continued to write kale and send her flowers. And she started apparently to consider Well, maybe when he comes back home, you know, he might be the man I could consider marrying. But in the meantime, once Eliot escaped Boston, he started to be more encouraged. In his poetry writing, and started to have some success and very impetuously decided to marry a British woman named Vivien Haywood. Vivien was a complicated person, she had a number of issues both physical and mental. And within a short amount of time, Eliot realized that his marriage was a mistake. But he became people’s committed that he had to remain married to her he converted to become an Anglican, rejecting his Unitarian passed, and that sometime in the 1920s, he began to resume contact with Emily Hale, that may be ultimately the decade that is cloaked in the most mystery because the letters in this collection do not start until 1930. And so it’s in some ways a missing decade where we don’t know all that transpired. Between them. But starting in 1930, their correspondence became much more intense and Eliot continued to profess his love for her and she, her love for him. That continued both sides of the Atlantic. He returned to the United States in the early 30s. She, by that time was teaching out at Scripps College in California, he made the only trip he ever made west of St. Louis to go out there and visitor for all these, you know, things going on that enabled their relationship to grow more deeply. Hale, meanwhile, was making trips to England during the summertime with her aunt and uncle. And around the same time, she took a sabbatical from Scripps and went to England for an extended period of time, I think to see what was really going to happen with Eliot well in 1937 let me step back a second when Eliot returned from his year in the United States that convinced him to seek a formal separation from his wife, and he explained to LA explained to Emily Hale that he would be able to marry her because he couldn’t have a divorce. She this arrangement, and they continued in 1937. His wife was committed to a mental institution where she lived for the next 10 years. Eliot did not see her during that time. And then, of course, World War Two broke out in England in 1939. And the war geographically separated them for close to eight years. In 1947. Vivien died very suddenly and unexpectedly and Eliot, very much affected by this. And when he came back to the United States around the time his brother died, he told Emily Hale he was too emotionally spent, he could not bring himself to marry her. And this, of course, was very disappointing to her because always been led to believe and most of his friends and family members agreed that if it was ever free, and Vivien had died, that he,

Karen Christensen
they were of similar age, they were in their late 50s.

Sara Fitzgerald
Right, she was three years younger than he was in this, you know, would have been, we’re talking about 1947. And yeah, so just, you’re right. Yeah, you know, we’re not fifth kids. Yeah, yeah, that’s important. Right. And so but again, in part because they were not kids. I think that she felt well disappointed, but I still feel very close to this man. It wasn’t like she had other prospects for relationship. And so they named brands. You know, I think, and I haven’t yet read through that section of the letters as much as some of the other periods but I think, you know, close cordial, you know, because she’s getting closer to the age that I am now, when I read these letters, I often think yes, this is how I would write to male friends who I feel affectionate about or close to, but not necessarily somebody you know that I’m involved with a more intimate way. And then in 1956, it was around the time when she was retiring from ambit Academy she said long thought about donating Eliot’s letters, he had actually initiated the conversation that they should donate their papers together and talked about his Several times over the years, and she began to talk to Princeton University about whether they would be a good repository for her letters. She made some provisions she Eliot started to find out about them. And there were some exchanges in those transactions. And I don’t think we’re totally her fault. But he reacted very angrily to it now, in late 1956. And then in early 1957. I have no other reason to imagine it other than the way I imagined it. She may have picked up her Boston globe and read that Eliot had married his secretary, who was 38 years younger than he was. This was a shock to all of his friends and family members. It was it was cruel to several people in England, his roommate, the other woman in his life who was very much helped To manage his life at the time, and so I’m sure it was.

Firstly, as well,

Karen Christensen
marriage, the first wife was Vivien and the second wife was about right because they do they do enter the Emily Hale story and in various ways. Now I read those letters and I could see no sign that there was any connection between her depositing the letters and his marrying. I mean, there was no conflict between them over that. In fact, he, what he expressed repeatedly was his concern about people who were living who might be insulted by comments made in the letters and obviously, a sense of privacy. But, but could you see any sign that he was angry about the letters simply existing?

Sara Fitzgerald
No, I think you’re right. And I agree with your assessment that he was more concerned about hurting the feelings of people who were still alive or their relatives that he was close to. He did not seem to be bothered at that point that people might learn more about their romantic attachments. One thing I found and of course, you always get excited when you find the letter that Emily Hale actually wrote because Eliot arranged for all of her side of the correspondence to be destroyed. Again, one reason I’ve sort of been committed to trying to learn as much as I could about her to try to be a vehicle for telling her story. But in January of 1957, about a week or 10 days after he married his second wife, Margaret Thorpe, who was a friend from childhood and a scholar in your own right but wife of Willard Thorpe, who was involved with her peer papers ending up at Princeton, Margaret wrote her a note. And Emily responded by saying, you know, thank you very much for your note of sympathy. I know we’re both, you know, shocked by this. But in the end, he showed he was just a usual man, an older man who was attracted to a younger woman. And so to me, it was a sad statement that, you know, she was viewing it through the lens of this is not one of the 20th century’s greatest poets. It’s a man who has disappointed me and, you know, been attracted to a woman that she actually had met because of when she would have visited I think la had in his offices and all she would have obviously met Valerie Fletcher knew who she was. The other thing that is I thought about in terms of the broader historical context is that this was only about Seven months after, Arthur Miller shocked the world by marrying Marilyn Monroe, and papers were

Karen Christensen
Valerie. Marilyn Monroe is pretty hilarious.

Sara Fitzgerald
Well, you know, but it’s, you know, in terms of the similarities in terms of a well-respected man of letters, you know, marrying somebody who was much younger. You know, it when you read some of the descriptions of you know, Valerie Eliot, you know, she’s she was black you know, I mean how she was described, she would, you know, dress nicely and you know, paint her fingernails and all and so, you know, people you know, the newspapers the time were so yes, so, shall we say,

Karen Christensen
you after what five years of learning about Emily Hales life you got along with the group of us who were there to actually see and read the letters Tell us about that day.

Sara Fitzgerald
Well, it was obvious a day that we were two with great anticipation. I had taken the train up from Washington DC, the day before I had actually come to the Firestone library back in June, in part because I wanted to read some of the related papers. For instance, the correspondences of the correspondence of the Thorpe with Emily Hale and just, you know, get my researcher card be more comfortable in the space. I think none of us knew what to expect in terms of crowds, and nor did the library. I know there was some concern by people are we going to have a massive Q lined up in the cold in the dawn hours. It didn’t turn out to be quite that dramatic. It was nice In fact, because it was a small group of scholars or researchers who showed up turned out to be women in part because Princeton may have discouraged some people from coming on opening day the journalists were all male and that was kind of an interesting contrast able to get inside the library early and it was nice to sit on a couches and some people knew each other already others of us introduced ourselves and start to build some relationships which have actually blossomed in the day since and then we went downstairs and you know, again, we sat around waiting for the intersect sanctum of the special to open up we established The queue by which we would get our priority. It was interesting because of it at Princeton, they have three digital terminals that can be used to read the letters in the library. And then they have a box set of 14 boxes of the original documents, and then they’ve made copies of all the originals one facsimile set. So it turned out that I think I was number four in line and Lyndall Gordon and Frances Dickey wanted to work with the digital copies. The advantage to those in in my view is that you can shift around from year to year fairly easily. Another researcher, Jennie Hahn, she very much wanted to see the documents themselves Jennie does have her is focused on letters and biographies and I think she felt there was something You know tactile about seeing the actual documents. And now that I’ve done both,

Karen Christensen
I was thrilled to the actually touch the letters.

That’s way bad. And I was wondering why we got to the fellow I was reading with why we actually got the letters. And I see because other people wanted

preferred the digital tournament was very lucky from my point of view.

Sara Fitzgerald
Right. We did have one day when we arrived, when the Princeton librarian came out early and said, I have to tell you that our terminals are down and so everybody is going to have to start with boxes. And of course, those who’ve been using the digital versions all week, they suddenly might have had to scramble a little bit to figure out exactly which box they wanted. The It was very gratifying to me though to sit between Lyndall Gordon and Frances Dickey, you know, two eminent Eliot scholars and read this. And I think both Frances and I occasionally would burst out laughing at, you know, a little discovery and there were some letters in there, particularly when I should add that one of the discoveries when Princeton put out the findings for the collection, which they did back last fall, was the discovery that Emily Hale had, in fact, left behind a short memoir about her relationship with Eliot. She had done a longer tape recording and had it transcribed, but then changed her mind and asked Princeton to return it. I think she felt it was too detail got into too many intimacies, and I think she began to be concerned That Valerie Eliot Eliot second wife might still be alive when the letters were released. That turned out not to be the case. Valerie died in 2012 at the age of 86. But I think Hale realized that she would be an elderly woman if she was alive and that this prove embarrassing to her. So anyway, we almost all the researchers, you sort of went for one or two things you went for box one to start reading from the start, but many people wanted to read Emily Hales version, which was not super long. So those of us who wanted to do that, was it a surprise 14 where we could read her side of the story? Um, I don’t think there were any big surprises. I guess from my perspective, the main thing of interest was That she acknowledged the Eliot had been more attracted to her at the outset than she had been to him. I think in terms of my novel, I had been played down Eliot’s attraction and played uppers. Partially because those are the traditional stereotypes. And I think in absence of knowing anything more about Eliot, I didn’t want to feel I was trying to push him into, you know, becoming an alpha male or, or something that would just ring true to people who had studied him for years. But I think people were, in fact genuinely surprised at the extent to which he articulated his feelings for her and her attraction. And as I said, with our little group gathering, you know, before we get into the collection each day. We it’s nice because we can sit around and talk about the things we’ve found and share our findings and discuss what we think it means. And one of the things we discussed was in about a week would have been about nine months after their correspondence started. In 1930, Hale must have said, Tell me something about when you fell in love with me. And so Eliot recounts with a great deal of specificity, his memories of their time. 15 years for England, and the Yes, that’s right. This we’re talking about 1950. Now she’s made time at 1913. So it would have been closer to 1716 years. In any case, the thing that was amazing is he couldn’t remember exactly what she was wearing on a particular occasion. And we also looked at each other and said, What man Do you know could remember

what I mean? You might, he might remember one occasion, but he’s reeling off and when you performed in the Majlis, this is, you know, you were wearing that, you know, red and blue dress and, and could describe for trim and things and he was, you know, he was obviously a man who, you know, had because he was, you know, creative and a poet, he was absorbing details and remembering them and processing them. But, you know, it was it was kind of astounding, you know, in to read that. And you had to sort of think as you read them, gosh, who wouldn’t fall in love with a man who said all these things to you, which is one reason why his sudden

Karen Christensen
I need to ask you a letter that was by Eliot that was released that day by Harvard.

Sara Fitzgerald
Well, I think that both of his decision

you know, when he decided after this time in which she had supported him emotionally for quite a few years, and even to the point of you know, keeping up the correspondence hanging out to his letters when she at times when she didn’t have a permanent residents paying for them, presumably to be in storage, you know, that he then would decide, you know, after the death of his wife, you know, that he just couldn’t do it. He couldn’t marry here and i and i know you and I talked a little bit about the letters terribly sick. How are you?

Karen Christensen
For the first time, that decision which I hadn’t before? That was my reaction?

Sara Fitzgerald
Well, you know, it’s interesting because after you told me that I read them and I thought one of the problems with this is, we come to this project

with a viewpoint.

You know, and it’s hard to escape that viewpoint I, I come to this work, sort of viewing myself as a friend of Emily Hale is somebody who knows her pretty well. And I think somebody who knows her better than I know the inner workings of TS Eliot, as well as people who have devoted their professional lives to studying his work. I’ve certainly read many Eliot biographies. I have all of his letters on my shelf. But I think that I’m still going to be somebody who is going to be in the Emily Hale camp. I think somebody like Lyndall Gordon, she’s, as you know, now writing a book about Eliot and his women, I think she is trying to understand Eliot through the lens of the five women who’ve loved him, the four women is Emily Hale and his two wives and another woman named Mary travail and as well as his mother, and she thinks that the women are all intertwined. And I think she’s right about that. So she comes to it from a different perspective than a man who comes to it, you know, who was viewing it more through the eyes of TS Eliot, I think will be interesting when some of the male scholars read the letters in in terms of how They respond to Eliot’s expressions of love and passion and romance. But I’ve already seen it seems to me some evidence of people taking sides and I’m not a regular participant witness scholars, but I do think there may be, you know, some tension going forward. Well, I would describe it as a TS Eliot camp and the Emily Hale camp, and I think, you know, some who may read the letters about her to Princeton, and, you know, it is I think one person did describing it as vindictive you know, and, and I think again, that in the 50 years, you know, since Eliot you know, died the you know, Obviously, women have achieved greater prominence in academia over the years. And so I think who, you know, in

Karen Christensen
your mind now,

Emily, you knew, as you wrote

Sara Fitzgerald
your mind? She?

Yeah, I think she’s stronger. I think, you know, to a certain extent I’ve fell into certain stereotypes. One, I think accepted because I think it was sort of what the, the assumption was that when Ellie had remarried in January 1957, she had some sort of breakdown. I concluded that she did manage to hold yourself together through the rest of the school term, but then she went back to England. Went to chip in Camden again. And I had sort of envisioned that, you know, she was she was in a certain amount of turmoil and decided to quit her job. And one of the things that I learned and I’m having it checked out with the archivists, Philips handover was instead it appears she had reached the mandatory retirement age and even before Eliot remarried, she was writing to him about she was going to have to retire the next June. So it’s kind of interesting, because in some ways, Eliot might have said, Oh, well, you job you got a

great time. But

Karen Christensen
I’ve read, you know how, how reticent she was about leaving an account of the relationship from her own point of view. Doesn’t that seem very different from the way a woman would feel Today, what do you think?

Sara Fitzgerald
I think so I think a couple things. I mean, it was a very different time, I think a factor to she or She was the daughter of unitary, Unitarian clergyman. And so I think that she lived in a world where, you know, women were expected to be discreet. I think she there had been this tug of that. She was a very good actress. But to become a professional Actress at the time was a very bold move, and I don’t think she had, you know, support from anybody to, you know, go do it professionally. I think there is, you know, some signs if you know her background that she rests At various times with professional decisions, and, you know, Should she go over to England and take a sabbatical and stay there and in effect, give up a very good job. And one of the things that struck some of us is, you know, Eliot often started up a letter with a paragraph or so about when you know, you know, yeah, Nasser because, you know, he had been expecting a letter from her and it hadn’t arrived yet. And he looks so forward to receiving a letter for on Monday. And it almost seemed to me like a trope that he went through, in part to kind of warm up his, you know, the writing side of his brain to get into, you know, that he could then pour out His heart to her, but on some level, somebody responded, you know, give her a break. In some cases, he wasn’t paying a whole lot of attention to the idea that she might be busy and I came across one exchange and again, it’s, it’s unfortunate that you don’t have her side of it because you have to sort of guess these things from how he responds two or three letters later. But, you know, she was in the middle of teaching students directing a big play on campus and acting herself. And, you know, she was a busy woman trying to do a good job and it and at some points he would, he would acknowledge that it wasn’t like he was he was totally blind to it but it was he was very emotionally you know, needy in terms of what he wanted to supply which is again one reason why, you know, you get a little bit angry.

Karen Christensen
Yeah, when he how many you know the letters have you read it.

Sara Fitzgerald
You can know one thing

I actually sat down and did a little spreadsheet today because it’s our day off. And to figure out where were the gaps in what I had done so far, and you know how much more you know was there and but I would need to do. I was initially committed to coming up here, two weeks and so I have another five days and so I’m trying to prioritize my reading time as best I can. I did actually calculate how many words I had transcribed because we’re faced with the dilemma. You want to just sit down and read it but because you can’t read the letters anywhere but Princeton, and they’re not yet available to, you know, be quoted from that many of us are doing a mix of reading and having the power That are of most interest to our particular areas of study. So I sat down to encounted up, I had transcribed 67,000 words in seven days, which is the length of a short novel and recognize that well, the letters are actually letters I’ve read are actually longer than that, because I’m not copying down everything. Late on Friday, I guess I had been reading letters from 1931 when he was writing her at a pace usually have two letters a week and very long. You know typewritten letters, they would go several pages, they would, they would let from conversational things to expressions of, excuse me passion. So it took some energy to, you know, get through them. And it wasn’t helped by the fact that in another Scott His commented on this that Eliot needed to change his typewriter ribbon. And so the letters get fader and fader as you go along. And so it’s hard around the eyes. And at, at some point, I said to myself a better typewriter to take a break and go to another section, which might be easier. And you’re right. Well, that was part of it. I went, I got I went to 19. You know, that late 1940s. And it was it was actually kind of interesting, even just from a, you know, my focus is more on history. And these were the letters he was writing here, right after the end of World War Two. And one of the fascinating details to me was that he was recounting to her how difficult it was going to be for him to get all his paperwork together to actually make a trip to the United States, which he wanted to do. He hadn’t seen his family. During all the war years his favorite sister had died. During the war, he’d been unable to attend her funeral. He wanted to go make some contacts for his publishing company and many things were going on. And he explained to her even when I get all this paperwork done, I won’t know exactly when I’m coming. You know, one day, they’ll tell me there’s a spot on a boat, and I’ll be leaving in three days. And he was apologetic, because he wanted to tell her precise, yeah, when he was coming, so that, you know, she could make her plan. She wanted to know what she was going to do for the summer. And when they, you know, I mean, they hadn’t seen each other for, you know, all the years, you know, from 1939. And so they’d had a long gap and seeing each other at that point, and understandably, would have really wanted to see each other. But the point I was making was this letter had a lot of fascinating details about Yeah,

Karen Christensen
yeah, it was really intriguing laughter at times.

Sara Fitzgerald
That he was old I know it’s an area winter that’s his

Karen Christensen
first wife died was one of I’ve looked it up it’s was a historic Lee cold winter, and they were turning off the heat all the time in England and so he was just no wonder he was depressed. It was a very difficult winter.

Sara Fitzgerald
Well, and I thought

I’ve thought about that too, because I think, you know, back in 1947 we didn’t know as much about grief counseling as we do now. And so, Eliot arrives in you know, United States and as you noted, his wife died. You know, when the midst of this, you know, time of deprivation in England, they bury hair on a day when it’s snowing. He then his head His older brother is dying of leukemia, he, you know, makes it back to United States and his schedule is filled with, you know, all these speeches and the acceptance of three honorary degrees and he’s, you know, he’s had to arrange lectures to pay his way. And all this, he decides, you know, tells Emily Hale I’ve decided I no longer have the emotional energy to marry you. And, you know, in modern times, someone might have advised him, you know, don’t a lot of decisions within the first year, you know, major people in your life dying, you know, just deal with your grief and don’t rush out and buy a new house or, you know, make a change in your life, but that’s exactly what he did. And I think again, because you know, at times like this, when we don’t have those emotional vocabularies that we do now, in terms of dealing with those situations and whether it’s counseling or just a

Karen Christensen
tap. So what are you going to do?

Sara Fitzgerald
What’s next for you heard and perplexed?

Well, I have to say that I’ve learned enough that I really think I’d like to try to write a traditional agraphia of Emily Hale. There was a lot of information that I learned in the course of doing my first book that because of the nature of a novel I did not include, and also the letters you know, find little things either that you badly write or in some cases, events that because Eliot inhale We’re so successful at keeping their lives private. You failed to realize that an episode was more important than you had originally thought. What I have coming out in the meantime actually have another book that’s going to be published this year, which has a kind of an interesting tie in to this research work, although it’s totally different. It’s a nonfiction book about the sex discrimination complaints that were filed against dozens of American universities back in 1970. That led to changes when the government required the universities to change their hiring practices. You know, as far as women were concerned, and I know from reading her interviews and some of the articles she written that Lyndall, Lyndall Gordon was at Columbia during that time, and Columbia was one of the universities that the government went after. And so I think both of us at it slightly different stages in our academic careers were inspired by a time when women were starting to find their voices. In terms of women’s studies and academic women were wrestling with a lot of their standing in the professional world. So again, that’s something that I think has driven both of our interests will look forward to that as well. My story and

writing, my personal biography of

Emily Hale doesn’t have this amazing trove of material. Thanks so much for talking to me today. And we’ll look forward to hearing perhaps we’ll talk again when you get a bit further with this.

Thanks. Thanks a lot.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

Hello, I’m Karen Christensen at Berkshire Bookworld. I’m talking today with Sara Fitzgerald about a fabled collection of letters. This collection was made public at Princeton University 10 days ago on January 2, 2020. It contains over 1,000 letters, written over the course of nearly 30 years by the Anglo-American poet, T.S. Eliot, to an American drama teacher, Emily Hale. Emily Hale was thought to be Eliot’s first love and the inspiration for some of his most famous poems. The letters were packed in wooden boxes and sealed with steel bands. And until the second of January, no one except a few librarians who did the cataloging last month had ever seen them. Except, of course, for Eliot himself and Emily Hale. I was at Princeton that morning, along with a group of journalists, scholars and writers. One of them was Sara Fitzgerald, who recently published a novel based on the love affair between Emily Hale and T.S. Eliot. We’re talking to her today.

Karen Christensen
Sara, it’s just wonderful to be able to talk to you again. Now that you’ve had 10 days with the Eliot-Hale letters, the first thing I want to know is what led you to write about Emily Hale, who’s been something of a mystery woman in Eliot’s life?

Sara Fitzgerald
Well, Karen, about five years ago, I had been participating for more than 20 years in a small women’s group. And the hostess always picks the topic that we’re going to talk about. And our hostess that day said she wanted us to talk about a poem that she had admired since she was in college. And it was a poem called “Burnt Norton” by T.S. Eliot. Now I had studied–like a lot of American teenagers and college students—”The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” when I was in high school, but that was about the extent of my study of Eliot’s work. So I went–like everyone does today–to the internet to find out more about the poem. And there I discovered–in addition to reading it–that when he visited Burnt Norton, an abandoned manor in the Cotswolds part of England, he was accompanied by a woman named Emily Hale. And as I poured, dug a little more deeply into Hale’s story. I found out a few details about her life, but also learned that in 2020, this large cache of letters was going to be opened up and I thought that was an intriguing prospect, and wanted to set out to try to present Emily Hale as a person at the time the letters were opened.

Karen Christensen
I see because you dug into her life story before the letters were available, which is a completely different kind of research effort. What other books inspired you? What kind of, how did you figure out how to approach that?

Sara Fitzgerald
Well, I knew, of course, that would be an incomplete story. And then once the letters were released, we’d know much more about her. That was one reason why I decided to make it a novel rather than a biography as I’ve also done biographies of other women. I’m. . .one of the books, looking back, that inspired me in this sort of thing was the book “Zelda” by Nancy Mitford back in late 60s, early 70s, about the wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald. And it was a biography that first explored her life and the role she had played in F Scott Fitzgerald’s life. Since then there’s been other novels about the women behind famous men– writers and architects, thinking of like “Loving Frank” and “The Paris Wife. “But when I came to Emily Hale’s story, of course, I was I was very much inspired by the work of Lyndall Gordon. And it’s been wonderful to get the chance to meet her here in Princeton since we arrived on January 2. She was the Eliot literary scholar who really put Emily Hale on the map, so to speak, and began her work at a time when many of Hale’s best friends were still alive and can talk to her a little bit more about her. So those were my inspirations and also, Gordon’s books helped me understand more about where were the places to look for Emily Hale’s story. I think that . . .

Karen Christensen
I think you also spoke to people who knew Hale, just as Lyndall Gordon did, is that right?

Sara Fitzgerald
That’s right. Well, I contacted some of the schools and colleges where she taught, including Phillips Andover, which now has merged with Abbott Academy, which was one of the last private schools where she taught. I was grateful that the Academy’s archivist said, “Well, we have some alums who were still active in the school and they would have been in those classes that Emily Hale taught or directed plays for, and she put me in touch with some of those women. And one of the nice things, experiences I had through all of this was being invited to speak to their 60th high school reunion a couple of years ago. And not only going to their school and seeing it, but also talking with some of these women. And their experiences helped affirm for me– as I think these conversations did for Gordon– that Hale was really a very quality person, inspiring teacher, the kind of teacher for whom students would hang on to memorabilia that she had sent them–postcards and nice notes–still until their years as senior citizens.

The other thing that these conversations led me to believe was that many Eliot biographers had sort of portrayed Emily Hale as somebody whose life fell apart after Eliot remarried that, she’d had a breakdown and lived a miserable solitary life. And when I looked like, after Eliot remarried, I’m sure that there was, disappointment. It would be understandable if you went through a period of depression. But it struck me that she did, in fact, pull herself together and the final decade of her life, I think, was reasonably full and meaningful.

Karen Christensen
Sara, I think that it now occurs to me that you and I know these this story so well that that the second marriage and how that affected Emily Hale is, familiar territory to us. But I really should ask you: could you give us a little potted history of, of Emily Hale and T.S. Eliot, for those who are listening who just don’t have this background?

Sara Fitzgerald
That’s a good suggestion. I’ve actually found that even though I knew the overall outlines of Eliot’s marital life when I came to this project, I have found that many of my friends who did not become English literature scholars did not. Eliot met Hale  around 1913 in the Cambridge area of Boston. She was a childhood friend of his cousin Eleanor Hinkley. And they began to perform together in plays in Hinkley’s home and also through a dramatic group called the Cambridge Social dramatic Club, which put on amateur plays at the time. We know from the letters that Eliot was the one that was first attracted to her, but he was an awkward, insecure, bumbling graduate student at Harvard and didn’t know quite what to do about his attraction to her. He got a scholarship to go over and study in iEngland for a year and continued to write Hale and send her flowers. And she started, apparently, to consider, “Well, maybe when he comes back home, he might be the man I could consider marrying.” But in the meantime, once Eliot escaped Boston, he started to be more encouraged. In his poetry writing, and started to have some success and very impetuously decided to marry a British woman named Vivien Haigh-Wood. Vivien was a complicated person. She had a number of issues, both physical and mental. And within a short amount of time, Eliot realized that his marriage was a mistake. But he became firmly committed that he had to remain married to her. He converted to become an Anglican, rejecting his Unitarian past, and that sometime in the 1920s, he began to resume contact with Emily Hale. That may be ultimately the decade that is cloaked in the most mystery because the letters in this collection do not start until 1930. And so it’s, in some ways, a missing decade where we don’t know all that transpired between them. But starting in 1930, their correspondence became much more intense and Eliot continued to profess his love for her and she, her love for him. That continued on both sides of the Atlantic. He returned to the United States in the early 30s. She, by that time was teaching out at Scripps College in California. He made the only trip he ever made west of St. Louis to go out there and visit her.  All these, things going on that enabled their relationship to grow more deeply. Hale, meanwhile, was making trips to England during the summertime with her aunt and uncle. And around the same time, she took a sabbatical from Scripps and went to England for an extended period of time, I think, to see what was really going to happen with Eliot. Well, in 1937, . . . let me step back a second. . . when Eliot returned from his year in the United States, that convinced him to seek a formal separation from his wife, and he explained to Emily Hale that he wouldn’t be able to marry her because he couldn’t get a divorce. She accepted this arrangement, and they continued. In 1937, his wife was committed to a mental institution where she lived for the next 10 years. Eliot did not see her during that time. And then, of course, World War Two broke out in England in 1939. And the war geographically separated them for close to eight years. In 1947, Vivien died very suddenly and unexpectedly and Eliot was very much affected by this. And when he came back to the United States around the time his brother died, he told Emily Hale he was too emotionally spent, he could not bring himself to marry her. And this, of course, was very disappointing to her because she had always been led to believe–and most of his friends and family members agreed–that if he was ever free, and Vivien had died, that he would marry Hale.

 

Karen Christensen
They were of similar age, they were in their late 50s?

Sara Fitzgerald
Right, she was three years younger than he was. . . we’re talking about 1947. And yes, so just, you’re right. Yes, they’re not kids. That’s important. Right. And so, but again, in part because they were not kids, I think, that she felt, well, disappointed, but “I still feel very close to this man.” It wasn’t like she had other prospects for a relationship. And so they remained friends. You know, I think, and I haven’t yet read through that section of the letters as much as some of the other periods, but I think, close cordial, because she’s getting closer to the age that I am now. When I read these letters, I often think, “Yes, this is how I would write to male friends who I feel affectionate about or close to, but not necessarily somebody, that I’m involved with in a more intimate way. And then in 1956, it was around the time when she was retiring from Abbot Academy, she thought about donating Eliot’s letters. He had actually initiated the conversation that they should donate their papers together and talked about his several times over the years. And she began to talk to Princeton University about whether they would be a good repository for her letters. She made some provisions and Eliot started to find out about them. And there were some exchanges in those transactions. And I don’t think they’re totally her fault. But he reacted very angrily to it now, in late 1956. And then in early 1957–I have no other reason to imagine it other than the way I imagined it–she may have picked up her Boston Globe and read that Eliot had married his secretary, who was 38 years younger than he was. This was a shock to all of his friends and family members. It was. . .it was cruel to several people in England: his roommate, the other woman in his life who very much helped to manage his life at the time, and so I’m sure it was.

Karen Christensen
The first wife was Vivien and the second wife was Valerie because they do, they do enter the Emily Hale story and in various ways. Now I read those letters and I could see no sign that there was any connection between her depositing the letters and his marrying. I mean, there was no conflict between them over that. In fact, he, what he expressed repeatedly was his concern about people who were living who might be insulted by comments made in the letters and obviously, a sense of privacy. But, but could you see any sign that he was angry about the letters simply existing?

Sara Fitzgerald
No, I think you’re right. And I agree with your assessment that he was more concerned about hurting the feelings of people who were still alive or their relatives that he was close to. He did not seem to be bothered at that point that people might learn more about their romantic attachments. One thing I found, and, of course, you always get excited when you find a letter that Emily Hale actually wrote because Eliot arranged for all of her side of the correspondence to be destroyed. Again, one reason I’ve sort of been committed to trying to learn as much as I could about her was to try to be a vehicle for telling her story. But in January of 1957, about a week or 10 days after he married his second wife, Margaret Thorp, who was a friend from childhood and a scholar in her own right and wife of Willard Thorp, who was involved with her papers ending up at Princeton, Margaret wrote her a note. And Emily responded by saying, “thank you very much for your note of sympathy. I know we’re both, shocked by this. But in the end, he showed he was just a usual man, an older man who was attracted to a younger woman.” And so to me, it was a sad statement that, she was viewing it through the lens of, “This is not one of the 20th century’s greatest poets. It’s a man who has disappointed me.” And, been attracted to a woman that she actually had met because of when she would have visited England in his offices and all, she would have obviously met Valerie Fletcher and knew who she was. The other thing that I thought about in terms of the broader historical context is that this was only about seven months after Arthur Miller shocked the world by marrying Marilyn Monroe, and the papers were full of that.

Karen Christensen
Valerie. Marilyn Monroe is pretty hilarious.

Sara Fitzgerald
Well, but it’s, in terms of the similarities, in terms of a well-respected man of letters, marrying somebody who was much younger. You know, if when you read some of the descriptions of, Valerie Eliot, you know. . . I mean how she was described, she would, dress nicely and paint her fingernails and all . . .,

Karen Christensen
You, after–what?–five years of learning about Emily Hale’s, life you got along with the group of us who were there to actually see and read the letters. Tell us about that day.

Sara Fitzgerald
Well, it was obvious a day that we looked to with great anticipation. I had taken the train up from Washington D,C, the day before. I had actually come to the Firestone library back in June, in part because I wanted to read some of the related papers. For instance, the correspondence of the Thorps with Emily Hale, and just, get my researcher card, be more comfortable in the space. I think none of us knew what to expect in terms of crowds, and nor did the library. I know there was some concern by people, “Are we going to have a massive queue lined up in the cold in the dawn hours. It didn’t turn out to be quite that dramatic. It was nice, In fact, because it was a small group of scholars or researchers who showed up who turned out to be women–in part, because Princeton may have discouraged some people from coming on opening day. The journalists were all male and that was kind of an interesting contrast. We were able to get inside the library early and it was nice to sit on couches. And some people knew each other already, others of us introduced ourselves and we started to build some relationships which have actually blossomed in the days since. And then we went downstairs and, again, we sat around, waiting for the inner sanctum of the Special Collections to open up. We established the queue by which we would get our priority. It was interesting because at Princeton, they have three digital terminals that can be used to read the letters in the library. And then they have a boxed set of 14 boxes of the original documents, and then they’ve made copies of all the originals–one facsimile set. So it turned out that, I think, I was number four in line and Lyndall Gordon and Frances Dickey wanted to work with the digital copies. The advantage to those in in my view is that you can shift around from year to year fairly easily. Another researcher, Jennie Hann, she very much wanted to see the documents themselves. Jennie’s research is focused on letters and biographies and, I think, she felt there was something, tactile about seeing the actual documents. And now that I’ve done both . . .

Karen Christensen
I was thrilled to the actually touch the letters. That’s way bad. And I was wondering why we got to, the fellow I was reading with, why we actually got the letters. And I see because other people wanted, preferred the digital version. . .  was very lucky from my point of view.

Sara Fitzgerald
Right. We did have one day when we arrived, when the Princeton librarian came out early and said, “I have to tell you that our terminals are down and so everybody is going to have to start with boxes.” And of course, those who’ve been using the digital versions all week, they suddenly might have had to scramble a little bit to figure out exactly which box they wanted. The. . . It was very gratifying to me, though, to sit between Lyndall Gordon and Frances Dickey, two eminent Eliot scholars and read this. And I think both Frances and I occasionally would burst out laughing at, a little discovery. And there were some letters in there, particularly when, I should add, that one of the discoveries when Princeton put out the Finding Aid for the collection, which they did back last fall, was the discovery that Emily Hale had, in fact, left behind a short memoir about her relationship with Eliot. She had done a longer tape recording and had it transcribed, but then changed her mind and asked Princeton to return it. I think she felt it was too detailed, got into too many intimacies, and I think she began to be concerned that Valerie Eliot, Eliot’s second wife, might still be alive when the letters were released. That turned out not to be the case. Valerie died in 2012 at the age of 86. But I think Hale realized that she would be an elderly woman if she was alive, and that this could prove embarrassing to her. So anyway, we, almost all the researchers, you sort of went for one of two things: You went for box one to start reading from the start, but many people wanted to read Emily Hale’s version, which was not super long. So those of us who wanted to do that asked for Box 14 where we could read her side of the story.

Karen Christensen
Was it a surprise?

Sara Fitzgerald
I don’t think there were any big surprises. I guess, from my perspective, the main thing of interest was that she acknowledged that Eliot had been more attracted to her at the outset than she had been to him. I think in terms of my novel, I had played down Eliot’s attraction and played up hers. Partially because those are the traditional stereotypes. And I think, in absence of knowing anything more about Eliot, I didn’t want to feel I was trying to push him into, becoming an alpha male or, or something that wouldn’t just ring true to people who had studied him for years. But I think people were, in fact genuinely surprised at the extent to which he articulated his feelings for her and her attraction. And as I said, with our little group gathering, before we get into the collection each day, we, it’s nice because we can sit around and talk about the things we’ve found and share our findings and discuss what we think it means. And one of the things we discussed was in about a week that would have been about nine months after their correspondence started. In 1931, Hale must have said, “Tell me something about when you fell in love with me.” And so Eliot recounts, with a great deal of specificity, his memories of their time. 15 before. . . It would have been closer to 17, 16 years. In any case, the thing that was amazing is he could remember exactly what she was wearing on a particular occasion. And we also looked at each other and said, “What man do you know who could remember

what you were wearing. . . .I mean, you might, he might remember one occasion, but he’s reeling off, and when you performed in”The Mollusc,” you know, you were wearing that, red and blue dress and, and could describe fur trim and things. And he was, he was obviously a man who, had because he was, creative and a poet, he was absorbing details and remembering them and processing them. But, it was, it was kind of astounding, to read that. And you had to sort of think as you read them, “Gosh, who wouldn’t fall in love with a man who said all these things to you,” which is one reason why his sudden marriage was so shocking.

Karen Christensen
I need to ask you about a letter that was by Eliot that was released that day by Harvard.

Sara Fitzgerald
Well, I think that both his decision when he decided after this time in which she had supported him emotionally for quite a few years, and even to the point of, keeping up the correspondence, hanging on to his letters when she at times, when she didn’t have a permanent residence, paying for them, presumably to be in storage, that he then would decide, after the death of his wife, that he just couldn’t do it. He couldn’t marry her and I know you and I talked a little bit about the letters from that time.

{CAN’T REMEMBER WHAt YOU SAID HERE]

terribly sick. How are you?

Karen Christensen
For the first time, that decision which I hadn’t before? That was my reaction.

Sara Fitzgerald
Well, you know, it’s interesting because after you told me that, I read them and I thought, one of the problems with this is we come to this project with a viewpoint, and it’s hard to escape that viewpoint. I, I come to this work, sort of viewing myself as a friend of Emily Hale and somebody who knows her pretty well. And I think somebody who knows her better than I know the inner workings of T.S. Eliot, as well as people who have devoted their professional lives to studying his work. I’ve certainly read many Eliot biographies. I have all of his letters on my shelf. But I think that I’m still going to be somebody who is going to be in the Emily Hale camp. I think somebody like Lyndall Gordon, she’s, as now writing a book about Eliot and his women, I think she is trying to understand Eliot through the lens of the five women who’ve loved him, the four women  are Emily Hale and his two wives and another woman named Mary Trevelyan, as well as his mother. And she thinks that the women are all intertwined. And I think she’s right about that. So she comes to it from a different perspective than a man who comes to it, who was viewing it more through the eyes of T.S. Eliot. I think it will be interesting when some of the male scholars read the letters in terms of how they respond to Eliot’s expressions of love and passion and romance. But I’ve already seen it seems to me some evidence of people taking sides and I’m not a regular participant with these scholars, but I do think there may be, some tension going forward. Well, I would describe it as a T.S. Eliot camp and the Emily Hale camp, and I think, some who may read about her giving the letters to Princeton, and, it is, I think one person did describe it as vindictive you know. And I think again, that in the 50 years, since Eliot died. . . . Obviously, women have achieved greater prominence in academia over the years.

Karen Christensen
In your mind now, is the Emily, you knew, as you wrote your book what you found?

Sara Fitzgerald
Yes, I think she’s stronger. I think. to a certain extent I fell into certain stereotypes. One, I think I accepted because I think it was sort of what the, the assumption was that when Ellie had remarried in January 1957, she had some sort of breakdown. I concluded that she did manage to hold herself together through the rest of the school term, but then she went back to England, went to Chipping Campden again. And I had sort of envisioned that, she was. . . she was in a certain amount of turmoil and decided to quit her job. And one of the things that I learned and I’m having it checked out with the archivists at Phillips Andover was instead it appears she had reached the mandatory retirement age. And even before Eliot remarried, she was writing to him about she was going to have to retire the next June. So it’s kind of interesting, because in some ways, Eliot might have said, Oh, well, . . .you job . . . But . . .

Karen Christensen
I’ve read, you know how, how reticent she was about leaving an account of the relationship from her own point of view. Doesn’t that seem very different from the way a woman would feel today,? What do you think?

Sara Fitzgerald
I think so. I think a couple things. I mean, it was a very different time, I think a factor to share, she was the daughter of Unitarian clergyman. And so I think that she lived in a world where, women were expected to be discreet. I think there had been this tug of that. She was a very good actress. But to become a professional actress at the time was a very bold move, and I don’t think she had, support from anybody to, go do it professionally. I think there is, some signs, if you know her background that she wrestles, at various times, with professional decisions, and, you know: should she go over to England and take a sabbatical and stay there and in effect, give up a very good job? And one of the things that struck some of us is, Eliot often started up a letter with a paragraph or so about when he nags her because, he had been expecting a letter from her and it hadn’t arrived yet. And he looks so forward to receiving a letter  on Monday. And it almost seemed to me like a trope that he went through, in part to kind of warm up his, the writing side of his brain to get into, that he could then pour out his heart to her. But on some level, somebody responded, “Give her a break.” In some cases, he wasn’t paying a whole lot of attention to the idea that she might be busy and I came across one exchange and again, it’s, it’s unfortunate that you don’t have her side of it, because you have to sort of guess these things from how he responds two or three letters later. But, she was in the middle of teaching students, directing a big play on campus and acting herself. And, she was a busy woman ,trying to do a good job and and at some point,s he would, he would acknowledge that it wasn’t like he was  totally blind to it but it was, he was very emotionally, needy in terms of what he wanted to supply which is again one reason why, you get a little bit angry.

Karen Christensen
Yeah, how many letters have you read?

Sara Fitzgerald
I actually sat down and did a little spreadsheet today because it’s our day off. And to figure out where were the gaps in what I had done so far, and you know how much more you know was there and what I would need to do. I was initially committed to coming up here, two weeks and so I have another five days and so I’m trying to prioritize my reading time as best I can. I did actually calculate how many words I had transcribed because we’re faced with the dilemma: you want to just sit down and read it, but because you can’t read the letters anywhere but Princeton, and they’re not yet available to, be quoted from, that many of us are doing a mix of reading and transcribing the parts that are of most interest to our particular areas of study. So I sat down to  count it up, I had transcribed 67,000 words in seven days, which is the length of a short novel. And I recognized that, well, the letters are actually longer than that, because I’m not copying down everything. Late on Friday, I guess I had been reading letters from 1931 when he was writing her at a pace usually of two letters a week and very long. You know, typewritten letters, they would go several pages, they would, they would go from conversational things to expressions of, excuse me passion. So it took some energy to, get through them. And it wasn’t helped by the fact that–and another scholar has commented on this–that Eliot needed to change his typewriter ribbon. And so the letters get fainter and fainter as you go along. And so it’s harder on the eyes. And at, at some point, I said to myself I needed a better typewriter, to take a break and go to another section, which might be easier. And you’re right. Well, that was part of it. I went, I got I went to 19. You know, that late 1940s. And it was it was actually kind of interesting, even just from a, my focus is more on history. And these were the letters he was writing here, right after the end of World War Two. And one of the fascinating details to me was that he was recounting to her how difficult it was going to be for him to get all his paperwork together to actually make a trip to the United States, which he wanted to do. He hadn’t seen his family during all the war years. His favorite sister had died during the war, and he’d been unable to attend her funeral. He wanted to go make some contacts for his publishing company and many things were going on. And he explained to her, “Even when I get all this paperwork done, I won’t know exactly when I’m coming. You know, one day, they’ll tell me there’s a spot on a boat, and I’ll be leaving in three days.” And he was apologetic, because he wanted to tell her precisely when he was coming, so that, she could make her plans. He wanted to know what she was going to do for the summer. And when they, I mean, they hadn’t seen each other for, all the years, from 1939. And so they’d had a long gap and seeing each other at that point, and understandably, would have really wanted to see each other. But the point I was making was this letter had a lot of fascinating details about that.

Karen Christensen
Yes, it was really intriguing . . .at times.I know that the winter that his first wife died was one of. . . I’ve looked it up. It was a historicly cold winter, and he was depressed. It was a very difficult winter.

Sara Fitzgerald
I’ve thought about that too, because I think, back in 1947, we didn’t know as much about grief counseling as we do now. And so, Eliot arrives in the United States and as you noted, his wife died, in the midst of this, time of deprivation in England.They bury her on a day when it’s snowing. He then heads. . . his older brother is dying of leukemia. He, makes it back to the United States and his schedule is filled with, all these speeches and the acceptance of three honorary degrees and he’s, he’s had to arrange lectures to pay his way. And amid all this, he decides, tells Emily Hale I’ve decided I no longer have the emotional energy to marry you. And, in modern times, someone might have advised him, “Don’t make a lot of decisions within the first year, major people in your life die. You know, just deal with your grief and don’t rush out and buy a new house or, make a change in your life.” But that’s exactly what he did. And I think again, because you know, at times like this, when we don’t have those emotional vocabularies that we do now, in terms of dealing with those situations and whether it’s counseling or just a. . .

Karen Christensen
So what’s next on tap. So what are you going to do?

Sara Fitzgerald
Well, I have to say that I’ve learned enough that I really think I’d like to try to write a traditional biography of Emily Hale. There was a lot of information that I learned in the course of doing my first book that because of the nature of a novel I did not include, and also the letters you find little things either that you would rewrite or in some cases, events that because Eliot and Hale we’re so successful at keeping their lives private, you failed to realize that an episode was more important than you had originally thought. What I have coming out in the meantime, actually I have another book that’s going to be published this year, which has a kind of an interesting tie in to this research work, although it’s totally different. It’s a nonfiction book about the sex discrimination complaints that were filed against dozens of American universities back in 1970. That led to changes when the government required the universities to change their hiring practices. You know, as far as women were concerned, and I know from reading her interviews and some of the articles she has written that Lyndall, Lyndall Gordon was at Columbia during that time, and Columbia was one of the universities that the government went after. And so I think both of us, at slightly different stages in our academic careers, were inspired by a time when women were starting to find their voices in terms of women’s studies. And academic women were wrestling with a lot of their standing in the professional world. So again, that’s something that I think has driven both of our interests.

Karen Christensen
I will look forward to that as well. My story and writing, my personal biography of Emily Hale doesn’t have this amazing trove of material. Thanks so much for talking to me today. And we’ll look forward to hearing, perhaps we’ll talk again when you get a bit further with this. Thanks.

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Correction: Following the podcast, Sara Fitzgerald realized she had misspoken about the years Vivien Eliot lived in a mental institution. She was committed in 1938, and died there in 1947.

 

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