crucified in the drawing room


“Practically, one crucifies oneself and entertains drawing rooms and lounges.” This sentence by T S Eliot on the reception of his extraordinary, agonised poem, The Waste Land (1922), is a thrilling moment in the long-awaited second volume of his letters. It rings like a line from one of his earlier poems, in which suffering figures suddenly see themselves in the absurd light of polite society. “I have measured out my life with coffee spoons,” rued Eliot’s alter ego J Alfred Prufrock in 1917. Eight years later, he might have added: “and headed notepaper”. The first volume of Eliot’s letters, which covered the period from early youth up to both “Prufrock” and The Waste Land, appeared 21 years ago. It was edited, as he requested, by his second wife, Valerie Eliot, formerly his secretary at Faber & Faber. The sequel only covers another three years, up to Eliot’s professional move from Lloyd’s Bank to the publishing house. But it was evidently proving an overwhelming task, and she has now been joined by the scholar Hugh Haughton, who has also revised and expanded the first volume by about 200 pages.

more from Jeremy Noel-Tod at The Telegraph here.