Writing a Woman’s Life

Valerie Eliot and the making of CATS the Musical

When I started working for Valerie Eliot in 1986, the musical Cats was only a few years into its record-breaking run in London, but it had already made Valerie a wealthy woman. She was rather defensive about this success. She loved having the money, no doubt; she was good with money and would allude to decisions about her stock portfolio with that confidence that people have when they are talking about something they understand and enjoy. But she didn't want to appear crass or merely commercial, perhaps a lingering anxiety [...]

November 8th, 2023|Categories: Writing a Woman's Life|Tags: , , |

Telling Our Stories, Writing Our Lives

Originally published as a Berkshire Publishing newsletter in November 2016. It continues to be relevant, especially as I discover more examples of Valerie (Mrs. T. S.) Eliot's storytelling. Should we call it fabrication, mythmaking, or just plain lying?  Here's the latest example, from Alan Bennett's memoir Keeping On Keeping On: I only met her a couple of times, though was persuaded to attend her funeral if only because, through her family coming to our shop, I had known her longest—if in some respects least. She used to claim that she [...]

September 30th, 2023|Categories: Writing a Woman's Life|Tags: , , , , |

What do Valerie Eliot’s clothes tell us?

I hadn’t realized how useful clothes can be in understanding a life until I talked to Sarah Byrd, a fashion historian in New York. This post was written soon after that meeting in April 2019. I'm republishing it now after having discussed the subject with several people at the International T. S. Eliot Society's annual meeting in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 2023. We got into the subject of TSE's clothing choices, too, and how he worked so hard to dress like an English gentleman. Sarah Byrd's contention is that fashion is [...]

September 28th, 2023|Categories: Writing a Woman's Life|Tags: , , , |

How T S Eliot’s desk came to America

A member of the Berkshire Woodworkers Guild came to look at the T S Eliot desk a few days ago. I'd asked my neighbor Bob Norris, an avid woodworker, if he might be able  to help me identify the wood the desk was made from. He said he wasn't expert enough but would find someone - and he did. T S Eliot desk in Camberwell, London. Probably Spring 1990.* I had thought for years that the desk must be made of pine - called "deal" in England - [...]

Trollope: Toast & Marital Troubles

I am reading Orley Farm, one of Anthony Trollope's less well-known novels. One of his topics is male infidelity, or at least the pursuit of what he calls "strange goddesses." He explains the situation from the point of view of each of the characters, which is interesting in itself: a middle-aged Victorian writer imagining the experience of a long-suffering wife. What I really appreciate is the way he conveys some of this in homely examples. Here's one: In the course of the evening the footman in livery brought in tea, [...]

January 26th, 2022|Categories: Writing a Woman's Life|

Mary Beard’s Women & Power

I’ve just read a tiny hardcover book called Women & Power: A Manifesto by the celebrity classics scholar Mary Beard. It consists of two edited speeches with black-and-white illustrations (I’ve pulled the color versions of a couple of them for this post) and sells at US$15.95. I had high expectations. “A Manifesto” sounds quite definitive, doesn’t it? But in the end Beard simply says we don’t really have a model for women and power. While I am not ready to introduce my own manifesto, I want to point out two [...]

January 23rd, 2022|Categories: Writing a Woman's Life|