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Eliot to Bertie Russell: ‘Why don’t you stick to mathematics?’

By CRAIG RAINE [The Observer] – The story told by this latest volume of Eliot letters is the separation of the dapper man of letters from the agonised individual, whose paranoid, delusional wife, Vivienne, is under suicide watch at the Malmaison sanatorium in Paris.

We glimpse Eliot watching the boxing from Lady Rothmere’s box at the Albert Hall. We see him dispatch Emerson (“set up a new standard of Ignorance in America”) and Santayana (“a poseur”). He puts the boot into Bertrand Russell: “All the reasons you advance [against Christianity] were familiar to me, I think, at the age of six or eight… Why don’t you stick to mathematics?” He drinks too much of Harold Monro’s excellent whisky. He is learning to drive. He gossips with Virginia Woolf and drinks six cups of tea. They play the gramophone. He teaches her “what little I know about the Grizzly Bear, or the Chicken Strut”. He watches Ernie Lotinga, “the greatest living British histrionic Artist, in the purest tradition of British obscenity”. He sings “too much” at a Criterion dinner in a private room. And all the time, Vivienne is going unsteadily mad: “I am in great trouble, do not know what to do. In great fear.”

This latest volume (edited by Valerie Eliot and John Haffenden with unblinking attentiveness to the reader’s every need) covers the years 1926 and 1927. In this period, Eliot falls to his knees in St Peter’s, Rome, to the astonishment of his companions; is privately received into the Church of England; becomes a British citizen; and fails to get into All Souls because some fellows (“sons of the manse”) denounce his poetry as “obscene and blasphemous”.

Continued at The Observer | More Chronicle & Notices.

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