In a few words, "Why not, since it has been a topic for serious scholars for
a very long time, including James Miller, Wayne Koestenbaum, Collen
Lamos, and Tim Dean?" Or, more important, why should any topic treated
seriously be excluded from discussion and debate?
Date sent: Wed, 9 Jan 2002 00:07:15 -0800
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From: "Ron Houssaye" <[log in to unmask]>
To: <[log in to unmask]>
Subject: Re: TSE gay? Should this be discussed?
Ah, in a word, no.
----- Original Message -----
From: <[log in to unmask]>
To: <[log in to unmask]>
Sent: Tuesday, January 08, 2002 11:18 PM
Subject: TSE gay? Should this be discussed?
> Rick Seddon wrote (1/8/2002):
> > Steve and Rick P are both convinced that TSE
> > was gay (just joking, just joking).
> Well, Rick P has already spoken for himself, so let me say that, yes,
> think that TSE was gay, or had gay desires, whether or not he acted on
> Why does this matter?? It only matters if you conclude, as I have
> that a powerful force behind TSE's poetry is his guilt over these
> how God would judge a man with such desires.
> You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one. Carole
> the author of "PAINTED SHADOW: A LIFE OF VIVIENNE ELIOT" also clearly
> indicates (repeatedly) in her book that she thinks TSE was gay, although
> presents scant direct evidence. For the curious, here's a few excerpts
> "Painted Shadow" that will show you what I mean. The excerpts are
> so please forgive any typos from the scanning process.
> And, yes, the 600 page book is centered on **Vivienne**, despite the
> impression these excerpts may give that the book is only about TSE's
> sex life".
> -- Steve --
> >From "Painted Shadow":
> In his twenties, it seemed, Eliot struggled with contradictory urges, to
> confess and yet to repress his homosexual feelings: it was a kind of
> but one which explains to some extent the obscurity of poetry in which
> so many secrets demanded concealment.
> Among those secrets was his grief for Jean Verdenal...
> P 348
> The flat Tom rented in early 1923 was to be the hub of his secret life,
> a place where he could throw off conventionality. Burleigh Mansions, a
> portered flats on Charing Cross Road, looked out on St Martin's Lane,
> favoured by actors. Ellen Terry and Donald Wolfit both at times lived
> Eliot rented number 38, thus securing for himself a pied a terre in the
> of theatreland. At Burleigh Mansions he underwent a metamorphosis: here
> he was no longer 'Mr. Eliot', banker and dutiful husband, but 'Captain
> hero of the Colombo verses, captain of his crew. Among that crew was in
> probability Leonide Massine, who danced the French sailor in Les
> 'light-hearted romp' which he choreographed for Diaghilev after
> wife Vera in 1924 and returning to the bosom of the Ballets Russes and a
> bed-sitting room in Bloomsbury .
> Osbert Sitwell noticed, when he visited Eliot in the 'bizarre'
> of the Charing Cross Road flat, that 'Visitors on arrival had to enquire
> the porter's lodge for "The Captain", which somehow invested the whole
> establishment with a nautical - for I cannot say why, I took the title
> naval rather than military -a gay, a gallant feeling.'
> The room in which Osbert and Sacheverell dined was high up at the back
> the block, looking down on the revolving glass ball lantern of the
> music hall, where the Russian ballet performed. Osbert sat next to Tom
> side, Sachie on the other:
> "Noticing how tired my host looked, I regarded him more closely, and was
> amazed to notice on his cheeks a dusting of green powder -pale but
> green, the colour of a forced lily-of-the-valley. I was all the more
> at this discovery, because any deliberate dramatisation of his
> so plainly out of keeping with his character, and with his desire never
> to call attention to himself, that I was hardly willing, any more than
> if I
> seen a ghost, to credit the evidence of my senses."
> Osbert was almost ready to disbelieve what he had seen, but he went to
> tea with Virginia Woolf a few days later. 'She asked me, rather
> pointedly, if
> had seen Tom lately, and when I said "Yes" asked me - because she too
> was anxious for someone to confirm or rebut what she thought she had
> seen -whether I had observed the green powder on his face -so there was
> Illness was not, however, the only cause of Eliot's spiralling costs
> that summer. He had begun a relationship with a young man which was also
> prove expensive, both to his purse and his temper . In May 1923 he
> invited the 'foreign young gentleman', to whom Vivien referred in an
> to Mary, to stay at 2 Milestone Cottages, Old Fishbourne ('During May!J.
> to stay .') Ostensibly the young man had come to lend a hand during
> illness, but there is little doubt that he was, in fact, romantically
> and sexually involved with Tom. The youth's name was Jack and he was
> German, recalled Vivien, who recorded the eventful summer in the
> 'stunning sort of instant doggerel' with which, remembered Maurice, she
> had been accustomed
> amuse her family at Anglesey.
> It would appear that Jack had successors. The Ron. Philip Ritchie,
> of Lord Ritchie of Dundee, a beautiful and gay young man to whom Lytton
> Strachey was attracted, stayed on occasions at Burleigh Mansions with
> so Frank Morley, a Faber director, admitted to playwright Michael
> in 1923 Ritchie was an Oxford undergraduate, but he was not the
> Oxford youth' noticed by Virginia on 17 December, for Ritchie was a
> the Woolfs and Roger Fry and would have been recognised. The homosexual
> novelist C. H. B. Kitchin was also reputed to be a guest of 'Captain
> Eliot's', as was Roger Senhouse, the art critic.
> p 365
> Eliot's conscience tormented him. He could not repress the knowledge
> had rejected Vivien within weeks of his marriage to her, and that
> Vivien's affair with Russell, rather than being, in Ronald Schuchard's
> words, a vicious sexual betrayal of Eliot, had in fact been one in which
> he had knowingly colluded in order to further his career, relieve
> himself of conjugal responsibilities, and to gain financial advantage.
> Nor could
> deny the strength of his own homosexual desires, which were leading him
> a web of deceit. . . .Writing in the first person, Eliot boldly exhorts
> reader to buggery, 'again and again and again'.
> Proclaim to the morning, he cries, that 'a r s e spells arse'.
> Eliot's obscene verse testifies to the violence of his feelings, and
> hard to believe that they were never acted upon. But, even if the
> the poet's will, inhibition, or fear of exposure ensured that his
> desires remained in the realm of sexual fantasy, they affected both his
> lives powerfully. Eliot's secrets shaped his biography and his poetry.
> And the balance of probability seems to lie with the argument that
> Eliot, like Lytton Strachey and other members of the Bloomsbury Group,
> had a physical relationship with the young men like Jack or Ritchie with
> whom he
> Why should he have felt such a degree of shame and self-loathing had he
> sinned -in his own eyes at least? Eliot's grinding sense of his own
> sexual sinfulness overwhelmed him, a legacy of his puritanical
> upbringing and the prejudices of the period in which he lived. It was
> Vivien's misfortune
> not only did her very femininity repel him, simply looking at her
> reminded Eliot of the Russell affair, and of her immorality which he
> later roundly condemned. In his eyes Vivien was the harlot who
> bewitches, emblematic of Eliot's own immorality and sexual betrayal.
> Vivien now represented for her husband his shadow side, the dark anima
> behind Eliot's urbane exterior of which he speaks in The Hollow Men
> (1925): 'Between the desire And the
> ..Between the essence And the descent Falls the Shadow.'
> on 29 November 1939, Eliot confessed to his companion John Hayward that
> he had never loved a woman or enjoyed sexual intercourse with her: 'I
> with a woman I liked, loved, or even felt any strong physical attraction
> Eliot grew nervous of blackmail; such was his reputation that the writer
> W. F. Tomlin felt it necessary to state that his friendship with the
> 'devoid of sexual feeling ...' despite the 'persistent insinuations that
> Eliot, owing to his friendship with Jean Verdenal and perhaps with
> others, was either homosexual or, as one fellow-poet remarked,
> 'suppressed homosexuality'.
> Eventually it was Virginia who indirectly solved Eliot's accommodation
> problem - by reintroducing him to a fellow Hogarth Press author, the
> homosexual novelist C. H. B. Kitchen, who took pity on the poet and
> him 'sanctuary' in his flat in Great Ormond Street. At the end of the
> year Eliot moved in with Clifford, and his two gay flatmates.
> Eliot experienced his time in Great Ormond Street as liberation. It
> all-male establishment: the poet's flatmates were his old friend,
> novelist Clifford Kitchin, Richard Jennings, a gay book collector, and
> Ken Ritchie, later Chairman of the Stock Exchange, who had a policeman
> lover. It was, recalls the novelist Francis King, 'a gay household', in
> which Eliot felt free to venture out in the evenings, wearing 'a bit of
> slap'. 'Clifford
> me how Eliot went out rouged and lipsticked, with eye shadow,' says
> King. 'Clifford was absolutely convinced he was carrying on a gay life
> three men liked to bring back 'trade' to the flat; and why, asked
> would Eliot choose to lodge in such a house were he not gay? However,
> still a period in which discretion was all-important for a man like
> Eliot, who depended on his income from his work, and could not afford
> the aristocratic disdain shown by Osbert Sitwell, who was living openly
> with David Horner. Eliot kept his own counsel, and did not discuss his
> nightly jaunts with Kitchin. But Stephen Spender, who had met Eliot in
> 1928 and
> been published by Faber, was aware that Eliot wore cosmetics; in May
> 1996 Spender's widow Natasha confirmed the truth of the Sitwells'
> stories of Eliot's use of 'pale green powder' to Alec Guinness, who
> played the psychiatrist Sir Henry Harcourt-Reilly in The Cocktail Party.
> Eliot wove into 'Little Gidding' the ideals of Ferrar and Herbert which
> he associated with St John of the Cross's detachment from earthly
> desire, arguing for 'love beyond desire', and borrowing, too, the words
> of Julian
> Norwich, one of the fourteenth-century mystics who followed the via
> 'Sin is Behovely, but/ All shall be well, and/ All manner of things
> But was the pull of sensuality banished as completely as Eliot was
> pretending? It seems not. The period immediately after his separation
> from Vivienne was a time in which homosexuality seems to have been at
> the forefront of his mind. Eliot's correspondence with Ezra Pound in
> 1934 is
> of obscene jokes about bestiality, elephants in chastity belts, and
> plan to send him an elephant's vagina under the 'snotty nose' of the
> authorities; it was a time in which Tom was open about his sexual
> Ezra. 'About COARSENESS I don't want to boast,' he wrote on 3 January
> so he wouldn't tell Ezra what one sea-captain had said about Eliot to
> another: that apart from old Ike Carver of Mosquito Cove -and 'He was
> who fucked the whole of Marshall's Island in one night, at the age of
> it was only fair to except a man like that- Tom was unbeatable in bed.
> The obscene verse he included in this letter dwells, with violent and
> tedious repetition, upon the pleasures of buggery:
> 'Grasp hard the bastards by the short hair.
> Not once, or twice, shalt thou bugger 'em, in our
> rough island story ,
> But again and again and again and again, leaving
> their arseholes all glory.'
> Compulsively he continues:
> 'And when I say, again and again, I mean repeatedly, I
> mean continually, I mean in fact many times.'
> The orgiastic hero of Eliot's verse, 'Lord of a hundred battles', is
> his '1000 hard won scars'.
> Even Pound was shocked by his correspondent's language: 'Dearest
> you pertinacious old whoreHound,' he wrote. 'I aint nebber heeerd sech
> langwitch not even from de deacons in the methikerkiskpiple church.
> ..Jess try to normalfy your vices.' But Eliot felt he could afford to
> let the
> slip in letters to his old friend, to whom he opened his heart just as
> to John Hayward, whose proud boast to American writer John Brinnin
> of the New York Poetry Center) in 1950 was that, in Eliot's bedroom
> 'confessional' at 19 Carlyle Mansions, Cheyne Walk, Chelsea, where the
> two men lived together after the war, 'He tells me everything.' Pound,
> too, probably knew 'everything'. 'Dearest Possum,' wrote Ezra on 3
> when an over-worked Eliot was busy helping to edit the New English
> Weekly, whose editor A. R. Orage had died in late 1934, 'Where is your
> blushing Ganymede? Why don't he collab?? [orate].' In all probability
> this was an allusion to George Every. How was Eliot's 'pimp and pansy
> series' (his
> list at Faber, which included Auden, Isherwood and Spender), asked
> commend you for putting all the flowers in one box.'
> In Eliot's letter of 25 June 1934 to John Hayward, he made very plain
> the nature of the attraction priests had for him. His suggestive pen and
> ink sketches of a row of headless male torsos in various stages of
> first wearing plus fours, the second shorts, the third underpants, and
> the fourth nude but for a single fig leaf, are labelled figures one,
> and four, and described accordingly: 'cold, cool, hot, torrid'; the nude
> torso is decorated with exuberant radial lines which, according to
> Eliot's 'key', indicate the 'peculiar emanation or rather effulgence
> which usually accompanied with the odour of violets is accustomed to
> envelop the limbs
> torso of very Holy persons'. The erotic charge which priests held for
> the poet is indisputable.