Over 1,000 Romantic Letters Unsealed at Princeton University After 60 Years
By Donald Gilpin
The unsealing after more than 60 years of a collection of 1,131 letters written by Nobel laureate T.S. Eliot to Emily Hale, his secret platonic love, caused “the special collections equivalent of a stampede at a rock concert” on the morning of January 2 in the basement of Princeton University’s Firestone Library, according to Daniel Linke, interim head of the Library’s special collections, as told to the Associated Press.
Emily Hale and T.S. Eliot in Dorset, Vermont, during the summer of 1946. (Photo courtesy of Princeton University Library)
Released at the same time as a 1960 “disclaimer” statement from Eliot, which had been held in Harvard University’s Houghton Library, those letters, one of the most noteworthy sealed archives in the world, will provide rich fodder for English professors and biographers for many years to come. Eliot aficionados have long debated the true nature of Eliot’s relationship with Hale and her influence on his poetry. Psychotherapists will also be drawn to this intricately detailed, complex, unflattering depiction of a man who perhaps most closely resembles the persona of his first published poem, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” (1915).
“Prufrock” is a very odd love song, an interior monologue full of doubt and indecision, anguish, regret, weariness, and longing, but no more odd and frustrating than Eliot’s relationship with Hale as depicted in his letters written from 1930 to 1957. If you thought his poetry was difficult to understand, the complexity and confusion of his love life as revealed in these letters and his 1960 statement disclaiming his relationship with Hale will not surprise you.
Like his character Prufrock, the Eliot who emerges from the letters to Hale and the subsequent statement, apparently intending to set the record straight, is full of contradictions and uncertainty. He burned Hale’s numerous letters to him when he found out that she had turned over his letters to Princeton University, to remain sealed until 50 years after they were both dead. He died in 1965. She died in 1969. more