Here's half of a short review of Tarantula’s Web: John Hayward, T.S. Eliot and their Circle John Smart; Michael Russell, pp.343, £19.95, ISBN: 9780859553247
This article first appeared in the print edition of The Spectator magazine, dated 2 February 2013
I've often heard of how supposedly cruel Eliot was to Hayward when he moved out. But isn't it obvious that the break was bound to be unpleasant because Hayward detested Valerie?
To charm, courtesy and punctiliousness
Hayward added a pronounced domineering streak and considerable powers of persuasion: Eliot’s decision to flat-share with him in Carlyle Mansions, Chelsea, in 1946 followed a 12-year lobbying campaign. Health in irreversible decline, comments on Eliot’s
work less gratefully received than in the salad days of the Four Quartets, Hayward suffered the devastating snub of being cut out of his hero’s life at a stroke, when Eliot — giving his friend two days’ warning — marched up the aisle with his secretary, Miss
Valerie Fletcher, in January 1957. As Smart shows, there was far more to Hayward, editor, literary freelance and all-round cultural haute fonctionnaire, than his attendance on Possum. On the other hand, some of the best bits of Tarantula’s Web take in the
sheer grotesquerie of their relationship. Osbert Lancaster was once watching a circus process across Battersea Park when Hayward’s wheelchair, pushed by Eliot, suddenly appeared at the end of the line. According to Lancaster, this looked exactly like ‘the
final promenading spectacle of the show’.