TS Eliot letter sheds light on early relationship

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Image caption,
TS Eliot's poetry includes The Wasteland and the poem which inspired the musical Cats

A newly published letter, written by TS Eliot in 1960, has shed fresh light on the writer's relationship with a woman he corresponded with for 26 years.

In the letter, Eliot said he had fallen in love with drama teacher Emily Hale in 1912 but had realised, 35 years later, he did not actually love her.

Eliot wrote hundreds of letters to Hale while he was married to his first wife, Vivienne Haigh-Wood.

Letters in sealed boxes

Their unsealing prompted the publication of Eliot's letter, which he had said should only be released when his letters to Hale were made public.

The 1,131 letters in the collection have been kept in sealed boxes at Princeton for more than 60 years.

Hale donated them in 1956 to the US university's library on condition they were not opened until 50 years after their deaths.

Hale died in 1969, four years after Eliot's demise in 1965 at the age of 76.

The two had met in Cambridge, Massachusetts, when Eliot attended Harvard.

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The US-born writer was survived by his second wife Valerie

The letters, which date from between 1930 and 1956, are expected to reveal intimate details about their relationship and his creative life.

Yet Eliot did not want the letters to be published and ordered the letters he had received from Hale to be destroyed.

In a letter released on Thursday by his executors, Eliot said Hale "would have killed the poet in him" had they married.

"In retrospect, the nightmare agony of my 17 years with Vivienne seems to me preferable to the dull misery of the mediocre teacher of philosophy which would have been the alternative," he wrote.

His marriage to Vivienne brought the state of mind, he said, from which came one of his most famous poems, The Waste Land

He went on: "From 1947 on, I realised more and more how little Emily Hale and I had in common," accusing her of "insensitiveness and bad taste".

Eliot's marriages

"I came to see that my love for Emily was the love of a ghost for a ghost, and that the letters I had been writing to her were the letters of an hallucinated man."

Matthew Hollis, Faber's poetry editor, thinks the letter shows Eliot's true feelings about the letters being published.

"I thought it was a letter by a man in pain, who was hurting and clearly felt that his privacy had been invaded and he seems angry at the invasion .. and his reaction is sharp edged and cutting," he told BBC arts correspondent Rebecca Jones.

The poet and essayist, who was born Thomas Stearns Eliot in 1888, said the pair had never had sexual relations.

Eliot is best-known for such poems as The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock and plays like Murder in the Cathedral.

His 1939 collection Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats formed the basis of the musical Cats, recently filmed by director Tom Hooper.

Eliot married Vivienne Haigh-Wood in 1915. The union was not a happy one and she died in an asylum in 1947.

His second wife, Valerie Eliot, died in 2012, having guarded her husband's literary legacy for more than 40 years.

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