THE LETTERS OF T.S. ELIOT: Vol. 1: 1898-1922 by T.S. Eliot
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THE LETTERS OF T.S. ELIOT: Vol. 1: 1898-1922

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KIRKUS REVIEW

This most welcome of literary events, over 20 years in the making, comes on the centenary of Eliot's birth. Before he died in 1965, Eliot's second wife, Valefie, convinced him that his letters should be published; he agreed on condition that she select and edit them, and she has done so with much candor, grace, and scholarly scruple. This hefty first volume opens with a bit of juvenilia, and doesn't really begin until Eliot's years studying abroad in Paris and Oxford--most of his earlier correspondence home, including letters from Harvard, were destroyed by him. In lieu of these, Mrs. Eliot includes, among others, some by his French friend Jean Verdenal, and some by Ezra Pound to TSE's parents, explaining why their son should be allowed to give his life to literature in England rather than to academic philosophy back home. Letters by his first wife, the sickly and later quite mad Vivien, report on the Eliots' health and welfare, both of which were rather precarious before TSE turned from literary journalism--with its fragile income--to his improbable work at Lloyds Bank--a job he found pleasantly diverting and secure, as he mentions time and again in letters to disbelieving friends. In his extensive correspondence home, Eliot also records his joy at lecturing nights to working-class students; his depression during the war years; and his own bureaucratic encounter with the draft, once America entered the conflict. What most readers will savor here, though, are the literary opinions, in evidence in letters to and about Pound, Bertrand Russell, Wyndham Lewis, Virginia Woolf, and Hugh Walpole, among others. TSE's views of Oxford philosphers, English girls, and university towns all make splendid reading. And especially in letters to his cousin Eleanor Hinkley, he displays his playfulness and his ear for overhead speech--both important to his early poetry. Casual anti-Semitism shows up here and there, as does a fondness for jokes about buggery. Always at the fore in his letters, though, is his work--the essays and poems upon which his reputation rests. In 1922--where this volume leaves off-Eliot has just published The Waste Land and begun to edit The Criterion These long-awaited letters won't force a reevaluation of TSE, but they will reaffirm what most readers already know--that here was literary greatness.

Pub Date: Sept. 26th, 1988
Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich