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TSE  September 2002

TSE September 2002

Subject:

Re: Deluge coming: New online Eliot material

From:

Nancy Gish <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

T. S. Eliot Discussion forum.

Date:

Sat, 28 Sep 2002 15:30:34 -0400

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (189 lines)

I am afraid we almost totally disagree.

A "great man" is also a human being and not outside the degree of
comprension available for others.  Nor is writing fine poetry a waiver of
human responsibility.  And I do know what I would have done; I don't
suppose you can be more sure than I of my own attitude.

Vivienne was not a psychopath when he met her, and he was not a
neurasthenic.  They seem to have maddened one another.

"So what?" does not fit the morality Eliot asserted whatever you think
about the fitness of cavalier treatment of others.  The point is that Eliot
knew Emily Hale's feelings and expectations and let her sustain them.
It is significant that his letters to her are not public and won't be until 2019
and that he destroyed all hers to him.  He seems to have felt it was
important.  She was with him at Burnt Norton, and that poem seems at
least partly about what that meant--including the abandonment.  Had he
shared your view of the morality of relationships, I doubt we would have
had much of what is in the late plays.

It is exactly this notion of "great man" that I feel is a way to lose any
connection with the poetry itself.  He is not an icon or a monument or a
saint or anything so unhuman as a different category of life.  If he were,
there would be no reason to read him, as it would have nothing to do with
us.

Gordon's first and second books were, if anything, astonishingly adulatory
and exculpatory given what she reported.  She spent decades coming to
her last way of reading his life.  It hardly began in hostility or had any
reason to be so.

Cheers,
Nancy


Date sent:              Sat, 28 Sep 2002 18:46:57 +0100
Send reply to:          "T. S. Eliot Discussion forum." <[log in to unmask]>
From:                   Temur Kobakhidze <[log in to unmask]>
Subject:                Re: Deluge coming: New online Eliot material
To:                     [log in to unmask]

  On Sep 28 2002, Nancy Gish wrote:

  I have said before that if
> I were married to someone who went to America and came back without
> letting me know and served me separation papers through lawyers and
> never came home or even talked with me once in my life afterwards, I
> might have behaved a lot worse than Viv.

Dear Nancy,

With all due respect, no one can say for sure (yourself included) what you
might have done if you were married to T.S.Eliot:-))) Part of great men's
greatness is that they are different from you and me. They just SEEM to be
like the rest of us. Sadly enough, we will never know their real motives.
I am not making an enigma of Eliot's personality - it's just the way it
is.

In fact, even when discussing ordinary people's lives you can never be
sure you know truth about their marital affairs... In such cases people
never know truth themselves, as the truth they know is always
one-spouse-sided.

Re Emily Hale. So what? He might have got tired of her (who knows?) It is
not unfair to say "no" to a relationship at any moment of time. Sometimes
it's the only way to remain honest.But again, we will never know what his
inward drives were. Even if we heard reasons of this breakup from Eliot
himself, I am not quite sure we would have understood him correctly.

It is also true that for some people sooner or later any protracted
relationship becomes a bore, and Shakespeare was pretty well aware of the
fact when he killed Romeo and Juliet in the very beginning of the affair
(grin). Otherwise there would have been no great tragedy at all but an
everlasting routine, which (who konows?) TSE might have quite consciously
escaped. This does not entitle us to judge him from the point of view
which we think is fair.

It seems Lyndall Gordon shows traces of slight personal hostility to her
subject from time to time, which may quite well be unattempted, but is
enough for not considering her book as totally trustworthy. As for Vivien,
it is commonly known that besides being definitely psychopatic, she was
unfaithful to her husband. She cheated Tom with their friend Bertrand
Russell. I am sure you know.

Sadly enough, the truth that remains sounds like “Judge ye not…”, as

What might have been is an abstraction
Remaining a perpetual possibility
Only in a world of speculation  (grin).

Or judge only the poetry. In this case at least we have the TEXT.

Temur


On Sep 28 2002, Nancy Gish wrote:

> First of all, I was responding to a specific question about the relation
> of the life and poetry. So it is not valid to shift the terms of the
> question as a way of dismissing my point. I did not say "simply in terms
> of"; I merely noted that those images are in the play. "Simply" is your
> addition.
>
> As for what he could have done for Vivienne, I have said before that if
> I were married to someone who went to America and came back without
> letting me know and served me separation papers through lawyers and
> never came home or even talked with me once in my life afterwards, I
> might have behaved a lot worse than Viv. He could have done the pretty
> common thing of facing up to the need to leave and made an attempt at
> honesty. On Emily Hale, yes, he gave her a ring, said he loved her,
> corresponded with her for 30 years, visited her in America and had her
> visit in England to the point that his family members also thought they
> would marry. Then she learned of his marriage to Valerie after the fact
> and had a breakdown. So she was a naive lady from New England. That
> seems to have been why he was attracted in the beginning. This is all
> too bad to bother disagreeing over. I think you should read Gordon if
> you want to know. But most women (and men I assume) would think 30 years
> of sustained relationship and visits that included being, for example,
> taken to Virginia Woolf's and other friends as one's companion means
> something.
>
> No one is asking for stone throwing. I don't think much of Pound's
> broadcasting for Mussolini, but it has not hurt "In a Station of the
> Metro," let alone the Cantos and the rest. But the reason I care about
> this is that so often Eliot is treated as if his ability to write
> brilliant poetry made him a person with moral standing to pronounce
> truth. It is quite the opposite of any interest in throwing stones--with
> the caveat that he did write very personal poetry despite all his
> disclaimers. TWL is often, in Pound's words, "too photog." So I am more
> concerned to resist hagiography than to make any judgment. One may be
> interested in the sources of poems without taking moral stands on the
> poet either way. But it does matter, for example, that "on Margate
> sands/ I can connect nothing with nothing" was written when he had just
> been to Margate and was having a breakdown. Nancy
>
>
>
> Date sent: Fri, 27 Sep 2002 22:54:27 -0700 Send reply to: "T. S. Eliot
> Discussion forum." <[log in to unmask]> From: Peter Montgomery
> <[log in to unmask]> Subject: Re: Deluge coming: New online Eliot
> material To: [log in to unmask]
>
> From: Nancy Gish [mailto:[log in to unmask]]
> His late poetry and his plays are full of images of guilt and fantasies
> of killed or dead women.  But I think he assumed that feeling the guilt
> was what defined repentance.  That does not help the one you harm.  I am
> referring here to specific lines in Little Gidding and in plays, for
> example. ====================================================== =======
>
> I guess I half way agree, Nancy. Except what could he have done
> for the woman? As I remember he pretty much let it all hang out,
> in ways one might think contradicted the principle of de-
> personalisation in THE FAMILY REUNION. Was he not chided for
> wearing his heart on his sleeve therein? At least that's as far as
> Viv goes. As for Emily Hale, I just don't know enough. Did
> he really lead her on to believe that he would marry her,
> or did she do that to herself? I realise it's ignorance
> on my part. I just haven't followed the issue. He was obviously
> quite happy with Valerie. If he was a man of pained
> conscience, it's hard to see how that could have been.
>
> Then of course there are the figures of the Erinyes that
> are alluded to even in Sweeney Ag. and that appear in
> one form or another in the other plays. Was he looking at the
> universal dimensions of conscience and obsessive guilt,
> or just his own? Was his own simply a jumping off point
> to get at the core of the whole thing?
>
> He may have been a patronising slummer in his early
> days, but it sure seems like he was trying to make
> his own class take a long hard look at itself in the
> later work. If he used his own experience transformed
> to do that, what's to be criticised there? Joyce did
> something similar with Stephen Daedalus.
>
> Bottom line, I don't think one can read the plays
> simply in terms of Eliot's own guilt and repentance, or
> working out his feelings about it for his own sake.
> I think he was trying to make a much more serious
> contribution in line with his thoughts on the social
> function of poetry. There was a maturation process.
>
> As for judging how he lived his life and whether one
> likes it or not, well I'm not going to throw the first
> stone. I owe him far too much.
>
> Cheers,
> Peter
>

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