Discussion of Eliot's sexuality shouldn't necessarily pull a person's
attention away from discussion of the poems. It's hardly to be equated
with discussing whether he preferred Stilton to Camembert. That recent
contributions to the list can mention TWL as an elegy for Verdenal
(rather than merely a commentary on the sterility of modern life) is
evidence that talking about his sexuality has had an effect on how some
of us read his poetry.
J. P. Earls, OSB
English / St. John's University
Collegeville, MN 56321
From: Ron Houssaye [mailto:[log in to unmask]]
Sent: Thursday, January 10, 2002 2:13 AM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: Re: TSE gay? Should this be discussed?
Yes, clearly Eliot scholars have investigated this and will. My
for not desiring to is because for me it distracts from discussion of
----- Original Message -----
From: Nancy Gish <[log in to unmask]>
To: <[log in to unmask]>
Sent: Wednesday, January 09, 2002 8:36 AM
Subject: Re: TSE gay? Should this be discussed?
> In a few words, "Why not, since it has been a topic for serious
> a very long time, including James Miller, Wayne Koestenbaum, Collen
> Lamos, and Tim Dean?" Or, more important, why should any topic
> seriously be excluded from discussion and debate?
> Date sent: Wed, 9 Jan 2002 00:07:15 -0800
> Send reply to: [log in to unmask]
> 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.
> Ron Houssaye
> ----- 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,
> > I
> > think that TSE was gay, or had gay desires, whether or not he acted
> > 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
> > desires
> > 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
> > indicates (repeatedly) in her book that she thinks TSE was gay,
> > presents scant direct evidence. For the curious, here's a few
> > "Painted Shadow" that will show you what I mean. The excerpts are
> > scanned
> > so please forgive any typos from the scanning process.
> > And, yes, the 600 page book is centered on **Vivienne**, despite
> > impression these excerpts may give that the book is only about TSE's
> > sex life".
> > -- Steve --
> > ==================================
> > >From "Painted Shadow":
> > P211
> > In his twenties, it seemed, Eliot struggled with contradictory
> > 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
> > 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
> > a place where he could throw off conventionality. Burleigh Mansions,
> > block
> > portered flats on Charing Cross Road, looked out on St Martin's
> > and
> > favoured by actors. Ellen Terry and Donald Wolfit both at times
> > Eliot rented number 38, thus securing for himself a pied a terre in
> > of theatreland. At Burleigh Mansions he underwent a metamorphosis:
> > he was no longer 'Mr. Eliot', banker and dutiful husband, but
> > hero of the Colombo verses, captain of his crew. Among that crew was
> > probability Leonide Massine, who danced the French sailor in Les
> > Matelots,
> > 'light-hearted romp' which he choreographed for Diaghilev after
> > divorcing
> > wife Vera in 1924 and returning to the bosom of the Ballets Russes
> > 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
> > the porter's lodge for "The Captain", which somehow invested the
> > establishment with a nautical - for I cannot say why, I took the
> > to
> > naval rather than military -a gay, a gallant feeling.'
> > The room in which Osbert and Sacheverell dined was high up at the
> > the block, looking down on the revolving glass ball lantern of the
> > music hall, where the Russian ballet performed. Osbert sat next to
> > on
> > side, Sachie on the other:
> > "Noticing how tired my host looked, I regarded him more closely, and
> > 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
> > appearance
> > so plainly out of keeping with his character, and with his desire
> > to call attention to himself, that I was hardly willing, any more
> > 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
> > 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
> > 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
> > corroboration'
> > p359
> > 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
> > prove expensive, both to his purse and his temper . In May 1923 he
> > invited the 'foreign young gentleman', to whom Vivien referred in an
> > undated
> > to Mary, to stay at 2 Milestone Cottages, Old Fishbourne ('During
> > to stay .') Ostensibly the young man had come to lend a hand during
> > illness, but there is little doubt that he was, in fact,
> > 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,
> > had been accustomed
> > amuse her family at Anglesey.
> > p362
> > It would appear that Jack had successors. The Ron. Philip Ritchie,
> > eldest
> > of Lord Ritchie of Dundee, a beautiful and gay young man to whom
> > Strachey was attracted, stayed on occasions at Burleigh Mansions
> > 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
> > friend
> > the Woolfs and Roger Fry and would have been recognised. The
> > 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
> > that
> > had rejected Vivien within weeks of his marriage to her, and that
> > Vivien's affair with Russell, rather than being, in Ronald
> > words, a vicious sexual betrayal of Eliot, had in fact been one in
> > he had knowingly colluded in order to further his career, relieve
> > himself of conjugal responsibilities, and to gain financial
> > Nor could
> > deny the strength of his own homosexual desires, which were leading
> > a web of deceit. . . .Writing in the first person, Eliot boldly
> > 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,
> > it
> > hard to believe that they were never acted upon. But, even if the
> > strength
> > the poet's will, inhibition, or fear of exposure ensured that his
> > desires remained in the realm of sexual fantasy, they affected both
> > and
> > lives powerfully. Eliot's secrets shaped his biography and his
> > And the balance of probability seems to lie with the argument that
> > Eliot, like Lytton Strachey and other members of the Bloomsbury
> > had a physical relationship with the young men like Jack or Ritchie
> > whom he
> > Why should he have felt such a degree of shame and self-loathing had
> > 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
> > 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
> > 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.'
> > p449
> > on 29 November 1939, Eliot confessed to his companion John Hayward
> > he had never loved a woman or enjoyed sexual intercourse with her:
> > never
> > with a woman I liked, loved, or even felt any strong physical
> > P472
> > Eliot grew nervous of blackmail; such was his reputation that the
> > W. F. Tomlin felt it necessary to state that his friendship with the
> > poet
> > 'devoid of sexual feeling ...' despite the 'persistent insinuations
> > Eliot, owing to his friendship with Jean Verdenal and perhaps with
> > others, was either homosexual or, as one fellow-poet remarked,
> > 'suppressed homosexuality'.
> > p495
> > Eventually it was Virginia who indirectly solved Eliot's
> > 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
> > year Eliot moved in with Clifford, and his two gay flatmates.
> > Eliot experienced his time in Great Ormond Street as liberation.
> > was
> > all-male establishment: the poet's flatmates were his old friend,
> > novelist Clifford Kitchin, Richard Jennings, a gay book collector,
> > Ken Ritchie, later Chairman of the Stock Exchange, who had a
> > lover. It was, recalls the novelist Francis King, 'a gay household',
> > which Eliot felt free to venture out in the evenings, wearing 'a bit
> > 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
> > then.'
> > 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?
> > it
> > 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
> > the aristocratic disdain shown by Osbert Sitwell, who was living
> > with David Horner. Eliot kept his own counsel, and did not discuss
> > nightly jaunts with Kitchin. But Stephen Spender, who had met Eliot
> > 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
> > P523
> > Eliot wove into 'Little Gidding' the ideals of Ferrar and Herbert
> > he associated with St John of the Cross's detachment from earthly
> > desire, arguing for 'love beyond desire', and borrowing, too, the
> > 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
> > shall
> > well.'
> > But was the pull of sensuality banished as completely as Eliot
> > pretending? It seems not. The period immediately after his
> > from Vivienne was a time in which homosexuality seems to have been
> > 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
> > prowess
> > Ezra. 'About COARSENESS I don't want to boast,' he wrote on 3
> > so he wouldn't tell Ezra what one sea-captain had said about Eliot
> > another: that apart from old Ike Carver of Mosquito Cove -and 'He
> > the
> > who fucked the whole of Marshall's Island in one night, at the age
> > 70',
> > it was only fair to except a man like that- Tom was unbeatable in
> > The obscene verse he included in this letter dwells, with violent
> > 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
> > proud
> > his '1000 hard won scars'.
> > Even Pound was shocked by his correspondent's language: 'Dearest
> > Possum
> > you pertinacious old whoreHound,' he wrote. 'I aint nebber heeerd
> > langwitch not even from de deacons in the methikerkiskpiple church.
> > ..Jess try to normalfy your vices.' But Eliot felt he could afford
> > let the
> > slip in letters to his old friend, to whom he opened his heart just
> > he
> > 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
> > two men lived together after the war, 'He tells me everything.'
> > too, probably knew 'everything'. 'Dearest Possum,' wrote Ezra on 3
> > February
> > 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
> > blushing Ganymede? Why don't he collab?? [orate].' In all
> > this was an allusion to George Every. How was Eliot's 'pimp and
> > series' (his
> > list at Faber, which included Auden, Isherwood and Spender), asked
> > Pound:
> > commend you for putting all the flowers in one box.'
> > In Eliot's letter of 25 June 1934 to John Hayward, he made very
> > the nature of the attraction priests had for him. His suggestive pen
> > ink sketches of a row of headless male torsos in various stages of
> > undress,
> > first wearing plus fours, the second shorts, the third underpants,
> > the fourth nude but for a single fig leaf, are labelled figures one,
> > two,
> > and four, and described accordingly: 'cold, cool, hot, torrid'; the
> > 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
> > the poet is indisputable.
> > ============================================================