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TSE  January 2002

TSE January 2002

Subject:

TSE gay? Should this be discussed?

From:

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Date:

Wed, 9 Jan 2002 02:18:21 EST

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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, I
think that TSE was gay, or had gay desires, whether or not he acted on them.
Why does this matter?? It only matters if you conclude, as I have concluded,
that a powerful force behind TSE's poetry is his guilt over these desires and
how God would judge a man with such desires.

   You may say I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one. Carole Seymour-Jones,
the author of "PAINTED SHADOW: A LIFE OF VIVIENNE ELIOT" also clearly
indicates (repeatedly) in her book that she thinks TSE was gay, although she
presents scant direct evidence. For the curious, here's a few excerpts from
"Painted Shadow" that will show you what I mean. The excerpts are scanned in,
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 "secret
sex life".

-- Steve --

==================================

>From "Painted Shadow":

P211
In his twenties, it seemed, Eliot struggled with contradictory urges, to
confess and yet to repress his homosexual feelings: it was a kind of torture,
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 block of
portered flats on Charing Cross Road, looked out on St Martin's Lane, and was
favoured by actors. Ellen Terry and Donald Wolfit both at times lived there.
Eliot rented number 38, thus securing for himself a pied a terre in the heart
of theatreland. At Burleigh Mansions he underwent a metamorphosis: here he
was no longer 'Mr. Eliot', banker and dutiful husband, but 'Captain Eliot',
hero of the Colombo verses, captain of his crew. Among that crew was in all
probability Leonide Massine, who danced the French sailor in Les Matelots, a
'light-hearted romp' which he choreographed for Diaghilev after divorcing his
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' atmosphere
of the Charing Cross Road flat, that 'Visitors on arrival had to enquire at
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 to be
naval rather than military -a gay, a gallant feeling.'

  The room in which Osbert and Sacheverell dined was high up at the back of
the block, looking down on the revolving glass ball lantern of the Coliseum
music hall, where the Russian ballet performed. Osbert sat next to Tom on one
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 distinctly
green, the colour of a forced lily-of-the-valley. I was all the more amazed
at this discovery, because any deliberate dramatisation of his appearance was
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 had
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 I
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
corroboration'

p359
Illness was not, however, the only cause of Eliot's spiralling costs during
that summer. He had begun a relationship with a young man which was also to
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 letter
to Mary, to stay at 2 Milestone Cottages, Old Fishbourne ('During May!J. came
to stay .') Ostensibly the young man had come to lend a hand during Vivien's
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 to
amuse her family at Anglesey.

p362
It would appear that Jack had successors. The Ron. Philip Ritchie, eldest son
of Lord Ritchie of Dundee, a beautiful and gay young man to whom Lytton
Strachey was attracted, stayed on occasions at Burleigh Mansions with Eliot,
so Frank Morley, a Faber director, admitted to playwright Michael Hastings;13
in 1923 Ritchie was an Oxford undergraduate, but he was not the 'squint-eyed
Oxford youth' noticed by Virginia on 17 December, for Ritchie was a friend of
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 that he
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 Eliot
deny the strength of his own homosexual desires, which were leading him into
a web of deceit. . . .Writing in the first person, Eliot boldly exhorts his
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 it is
hard to believe that they were never acted upon. But, even if the strength of
the poet's will, inhibition, or fear of exposure ensured that his desires
remained in the realm of sexual fantasy, they affected both his and Vivien's
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 consorted.
Why should he have felt such a degree of shame and self-loathing had he not
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 that
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 spasm.
...Between the essence And the descent Falls the Shadow.'

p449
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 never lay
with a woman I liked, loved, or even felt any strong physical attraction to.'

P472
Eliot grew nervous of blackmail; such was his reputation that the writer E.
W. F. Tomlin felt it necessary to state that his friendship with the poet was
'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'.

p495
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 offered
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 was an
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 told
me how Eliot went out rouged and lipsticked, with eye shadow,' says King.
'Clifford was absolutely convinced he was carrying on a gay life then.' All
three men liked to bring back 'trade' to the flat; and why, asked Clifford,
would Eliot choose to lodge in such a house were he not gay? However, it was
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 had
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.

P523
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 of
Norwich, one of the fourteenth-century mystics who followed the via negativa:
'Sin is Behovely, but/ All shall be well, and/ All manner of things shall be
well.'
   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 full
of obscene jokes about bestiality, elephants in chastity belts, and Pound's
plan to send him an elephant's vagina under the 'snotty nose' of the postal
authorities; it was a time in which Tom was open about his sexual prowess to
Ezra. 'About COARSENESS I don't want to boast,' he wrote on 3 January 1934,
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 the man
who fucked the whole of Marshall's Island in one night, at the age of 70', so
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 proud of
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 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 mask
slip in letters to his old friend, to whom he opened his heart just as he did
to John Hayward, whose proud boast to American writer John Brinnin (Director
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 February 1935,
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 poetry
list at Faber, which included Auden, Isherwood and Spender), asked Pound: 'I
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 undress, the
first wearing plus fours, the second shorts, the third underpants, and the
fourth nude but for a single fig leaf, are labelled figures one, two, three
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 and
torso of very Holy persons'. The erotic charge which priests held for the
poet is indisputable.

============================================================

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