Thanks for clarifying the boo-boo missive Tim. Don't you just hate it when you do that!
Your comments on the notes are real eye-openers. The editor's art leaves much to be desired.
First, I apologize for sending a personal email to the entire list about better communication between the two Eliot listservs.
I finally read the Seamus Perry review, which includes comments on V. 5 of the Letters, and would like to vent a little. I’m really tired of reading comments such as: "The publication of The Letters is an unfolding masterpiece of the editor’s art.”
All reviewers praise the editing without giving any specific reasons for doing so. They comment only on the letters themselves. It is fair to praise the editors for giving us so many letters and for the information in some of the notes. Let’s also believe on faith, as I do, that the texts are accurate.
However, below, I want to give some of my evidence that the notes are often inadequate. These are pasted-in excerpts from my reviews of the volumes in Time Present (U.S. TSE Society).
Review of Vol. 4
The length of this volume, and of the previous three, might not be a distraction if the notes were more relevant. In Volume 3, to cite an egregious example, Eliot mentions in a letter to Ezra Pound that he has met Derek Patmore. Note 2 to the letter quotes Patmore’s unpublished memoir in which he expresses “a secret suspicion which I have always believed irrelevant to the actual letter could hardly be imagined since Eliot merely wrote: “Have seen the boy and quite like him”(123).
In Volume 4 there are many such irrelevant editorial opinions; for example, that John Crow Ransom was a
“reputable poet in his early career” (104) and that G. B. Shaw was a “philanderer and pro-feminist” (709). The most
tendentious of the notes takes Geoffrey Hill to task because in 2001 he “deplored” the epigram from Charles Maurras
that Eliot used in his Dante, and then quotes Christopher Ricks’s refutation in 2003 of Hill’s opinion (582). Since
Eliot’s letter to Maurras merely refers to the passage, nothing in the letter is illuminated by controverting Hill.
In some letters the lengthy footnotes apparently leave no room for more important annotations. For example,
when Eliot discusses Granville Hicks’s Time and Tide article on literary obscenity, the editors’ half-page footnote
quotes a passage from Hicks’s article; but they do not annotate Eliot’s references to Matthew Arnold’s Culture
and Anarchy and Aldous Huxley’s Antic Hay in the same letter (321–22). Shorter footnotes elsewhere might have
provided room for annotations to explain the significance of “the Lobster God” (30), “Sainte-Sulpicerie” (351),
“red Ribbon” (499), “quarter day” (505, 506), and the allusion to Ezra Pound’s poem “Ancient Music” in Eliot’s
dating of a December 1928 letter as “this last day of the Old Year Goddam” (370). A reference to the “question
of Reservation” (30) is not annotated, even though the practice of “reserving” a consecrated host after a service
for adoration in a church tabernacle was controversial. Eliot considered Reservation so essential to devotional
practices that he claims he would be forced to leave the Established Church “if it came to an issue on the question” (30).
The reference to “The Immaculate Conception,” which Eliot says he “cannot swallow” (351), should also have been annotated. (Later Eliot accepted the doctrine.)
Review of Volume 3
His brother and his brother’s new wife, Theresa, see the Dostoevskian elements of Eliot’s marriage when Tom and Vivien join them for their honeymoon trip to Rome in April 1926. At this time, Vivien is beginning to suffer the breakdown that would lead to threats of suicide and treatment in a French sanatorium.
The details surrounding this crisis—a moment of significant biographical interest—are regrettably more obscured than elucidated by editorial commentary. The first indication of this crisis appears in Vivien’s letter to Ottoline Morrell from London on April 16, 1926: “I am in great trouble, do not know what to do. In great fear” (145). The footnote to the letter merely states, “See TSE’s letter to Osbert Sitwell, 13 Oct. 1927.” Some six hundred pages later the reader finds a three-page footnote that tells virtually nothing about Vivien’s letter to Morrell. Eliot’s letter states that he was upset with Sitwell because Vivien had written to him “over a year ago from Rome, and . . . you did not reply” (749). In footnote three to Eliot’s letter, we learn from Sitwell’s unpublished memoir (1950) that Vivien’s letters to him and his sister Edith “declared that we should have inevitably heard of the scandal to which she was referring, and in which she was involved. We should be aware, however, that if she returned to Tom, it would inevitably bring disgrace upon him. . . .” (749). The Sitwells had heard of no scandal. The footnotes do not explain from where or whom Vivien might return to Tom. The only context for this incident appears in the Biographical Commentary:
At some point during this period, Vivien writes to Osbert Sitwell, and separately to Edith Sitwell, saying that she has been involved in some sort of scandal and asking for their imperative help. The “scandal” presumably refers to her attempted suicide in Paris: there is no evidence that she became involved in any other form of scandal. (xvii)
If the scandal concerned this suicide attempt, why is Vivien writing to Sitwell from Rome rather than from Paris? The footnote to her April 16 letter connects the two letters to Morrell and Sitwell with the attempted suicide in Paris. However, the dates of the letters show that there is no connection. Footnote three quotes Sitwell’s reply to Eliot that he received Vivien’s letter on “the first day of the General Strike.” The note does not explain that England’s General Strike of 1926 began on May 3—more than two weeks after Vivien’s letter to Morrell. The commentary claims that Vivien wrote to Sitwell at “some point during this period,” which is the period in May just before Vivien entered the sanatorium; this is highly misleading because of the April date of the letter to Morrell.
The editors might have given supporting evidence that there was no other “form of scandal” in the spring of 1926. Their statement contradicts Carole Seymour-Jones’s claim in Painted Shadow (441–43) that Vivien was infatuated with another man and while in Rome was planning to leave her husband. Seymour-Jones’s information is suspect because she gives the name of the man (basing her identification on a secondhand reference to Morrell’s diary) incorrectly as Haden Guest rather than Stephen Haden-Guest, and she incorrectly claims that Vivien’s April 16 letter was sent from Rome. However, Vivien’s infatuation is also referred to in The Selected Letters of Bertrand Russell (ed. Nicholas Griffin). Russell wrote on March 20, 1926 that Eliot was “sending express letter about Guest’s sins.” The note to the letter reads, “Vivien Eliot had become infatuated either with Dr Leslie Haden-Guest . . . or with his son, Stephen” (Russell 1, 254). Writing to his brother from Rome at the time of this crisis (May 12, 1926), Eliot says that he is leaving for Germany (“do not mention that we are going to Germany,” 151); but the sketchy footnotes to the letter require the reader to depend upon the commentary to learn of the trip “from Rome to Freiberg in Germany—to consult with Dr Karl Martin” (xvii). The footnotes, generally so comprehensive, might have clarified the “scandal” that occurred in Rome and apparently motivated the trip to Freiberg. Instead, the reader is sent into an editorial maze.