Valerie Eliot and the making of CATS

Valerie Eliot’s contribution to Cats has been unsung, largely because of her own concern about how she was viewed as a guardian of her husband’s literary legacy. The wealth it generated has huge consequences for her personally, and I’ve been puzzling over this since not long after her death in 2012. I worked for Valerie during the years when she was enjoying her new wealth, at a time when Faber & Faber, the publishing house that was also profiting greatly from Cats, was nonetheless struggling to survive. I’m interested [...]

March 21st, 2024|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 - [...]

First look at the Emily Hale letters

Note: At Berkshire Bookworld, you'll find my interview with Sara Fitzgerald recorded 10 days after the opening of the collection. Click here to get the podcast. I first heard about the Emily Hale letters from Valerie Eliot herself, in 1986 or 1987. Valerie led me to believe that Hale had been a hanger-on whom T. S. Eliot had had to push away, who had exaggerated her relationship with him and placed the letters Eliot had written to her at Princeton against his wishes. I believed what she said, [...]

January 4th, 2020|Categories: Writing a Woman's Life|Tags: , , , |

T. S. Eliot and his women

"How unpleasant to meet Mr. Eliot," wrote T. S. Eliot, but women did not find it unpleasant to meet him at all. In fact, they fell in love with him: secretaries and literary scholars alike, and the next couple of years will see a great deal of new information about T. S. Eliot's women. He was a dour, gray-faced, elderly poet in poor health who nonetheless broke at least two (and perhaps four) hearts when he married his secretary, Valerie Fletcher, in 1957. A quarter of a century earlier, he wrote [...]