lyndell gordon among women

  In September 2022, I had a conversation with the famous British biographer Lyndall Gordon over the air for more than three hours. In addition to The Imperfect Life of TS Eliot, Gordon has written books including Virginia Woolf, Emily Dickinson, Mary Wollstonecraft ( The lives of famous writers such as Mary Wollstonecraft and Charlotte Bronte. She emphatically mentioned a kind of “exhaustive” biography that she opposed, and also emphasized that biography, like novels, both pay attention to the proportion and art of narrative, as well as the ability to manage and organize complex biographical materials. Only this is the meaning of literary biography: to reproduce the real life behind a personality who created a great work, and the artistic energy hidden behind the work and often obscured by fine details of life. At the same time, biography must also dispel the common myths surrounding writers: this is the inherent “subversiveness” of the biography genre.
  At the same time, Lyndall Gordon also refers to the new research she has carried out with respectable intensity and consistent subtlety and solidity at the back of her age. In early 2020, Lyndall Gordon flew to the United States from Oxford, where he lived, and gathered in Princeton with a group of Eliot scholars from all over the world. Come to the scene at that moment to witness the release of one of the world’s most important archives, the 1,131 letters from poet Eliot to his lover Emily Hale (these letters are currently open online, see URL: Just as she promised herself when she was young, she finally “live to the day when these letters are lifted”. These letters not only show us an extremely passionate Eliot, but also present other aspects of the poet, such as not only imagining old age when he was young, but also imagining his own death and immortality in his prime. His passion and concern for posthumous fame is one of the many themes that run through these letters. After spending several months combing through the letters, Lyndall Gordon compared them with her lifelong research on Eliot and wrote a new book based on the archives, “The Hyacinth Girl” (The Hyacinth Girl, 2022). The original title of this book is “Eliot Among Women” (TS Eliot Among the Women). What it portrays is not the lonely image of “hyacinth girl”, but once gave a great male poet spiritual nourishment, exerted influence and love on him, and supported him at various stages of life, but was either forced or active If he chooses to be invisible, he can only rely on the female figures salvaged from silence and oblivion by historians: his grandmother, sisters, mother, lovers and close friends from England and America, including his two wives. What is eager to be told is not the set of narratives of the women behind the successful men, but their overall growth, life, thoughts, and efforts—the imprint of the past era, a kind that has not been recorded but has been preserved through the poet. Vitality, a way of telling them, and a miniature history of women’s destiny in the twentieth century. Lyndall Gordon spoke enthusiastically about the new book. In this interview, I have excerpted the content of these letters and the female characters around Eliot in the conversation, and also included Lyndell Gordon’s own understanding of women and the history of the women’s movement in the second half of the twentieth century, with a view to Stimulating more relevant reading and research—these letters, and Lyndall Gordon’s new book, will be a valuable clue to our observations on Eliot’s mood, associations, and intellectual situation in middle age and later life.
  ——Xu Xiaofan
  Xu Xiaofan (hereinafter referred to as “Xu”): Can you talk about the specific details of the Eliot-Hale Letters archives (The Eliot-Hale Letters), and the part you present in your new book “The Hyacinth Girl” Did you find it?
  Lindell Gordon (hereinafter referred to as “Gordon”): Before the outbreak, I was in the Princeton University library every day. At that time, I didn’t know that the epidemic was coming. Fortunately, I saw with my own eyes the 1,131 letters stored in the library, which is more than any other person who had correspondence with Eliot, corresponding to the period from 1930 to 1930. The long years of 1956. Eliot sealed the letters and insisted that the embargo not be lifted until fifty years after the death of the last of them, which became the longest embargo he had attached to the letters. Throughout these letters is a story. It only appears the moment I see the letter itself. There it is, a central story, a tangled love relationship, and its powerful influence on Eliot’s poetry—especially in Four Quartets. Now all this has found traceable documentary evidence. Also throughout the letter, there are some plans for Elliott’s reputation behind him. This is something I had never thought about before. This topic is too long, and I can’t expand it for the time being. But this intention does run through the letter. In their first four letters, Elliott was already making plans for the afterlife, which is very interesting. He kept emphasizing to Emily Hale that it was her letters that he wanted to file. To Eliot, Emily Hale’s letter was far more important than his own. He told her: “What to do with my letters is your freedom, and I don’t mind if you decide to throw them away.” But he wanted to archive her letters. It is from this that this book is introduced.
  This is a crucial question. When we come to 1956, when the relationship came to an end, we see them arguing over the archiving of letters. At first, Emily Hale refused to file her letter. She was skeptical, wondering what Elliot’s motives were for doing this. However, in 1956, she finally decided to archive the letters in the Princeton University library after being persuaded by friends. They assured her that Princeton would preserve the letters safely for posterity. It does. But at the time, the news made Elliott furious. When I was writing An Imperfect Life, I thought Eliot had burned all of Emily Hale’s letters, but that’s not the case. Now that I have found some of the letters that have survived, in this book I have focused on the facts about them. Of all the letters Emily Hale wrote to Eliot, about twenty-six have survived.
  We can characterize this incident as a quarrel. At the time, Emily Hale had archived Eliot’s letters at Princeton, and Eliot was in a state of extreme panic, fearing that someone would read them. Eliot’s original assumption was that the letters should be read by posterity when all of his generation are gone. However, Emily Hale’s letter to Eliot was carelessly chosen (although her intention was never to annoy him), which made Eliot very angry. He tore four letters from Emily Hale to shreds. Later, someone put the pieces back together again. who is it? This is a mystery.
  Anyway, it’s very difficult to read the letters now: the tape used for the collage has aged and obscured the text beneath it. Therefore, the content of the letter remains a mystery. I think The Eliot Archive should try to restore the letters so we can read what’s under the tape.
  Eliot’s letters to Emily Hale are at the heart of this new book, The Hyacinth Girl. These letters contained some of the darkest aspects of Eliot, and I was deeply troubled by them. It presents an Elliot we have never seen before, one who is almost on fire and not at all impersonal. Emily Hale was always brave when it came to Elliott. She wasn’t afraid of him, and sometimes questioned him because she didn’t like his intolerance. I can speculate on what she said in her letters, and we can speculate even if those letters have been burned, because Eliot often quoted or repeated her questions in his letters. She said, “I don’t like you like this. I don’t like your hostility and intolerance.” He replied, “Listen, I have to show you my true self.” It was his way of expressing love . He said: “You have to allow me to do this.” This is not a question sentence, but an important premise for him to continue to confess to her. He wanted and needed her to hear his confession. From this, we see a burning Eliot. One thing Emily Hale could be sure of was that by this time Elliot was completely and eternally in love with her. We now know that it goes all the way back to their early youth. These letters tell us that Eliot had met Emily Hale as early as 1905. He was a student then, and she had just turned fourteen. It’s a very long-lasting relationship. It could be said that the emotion he developed for her was almost an infatuation, because she was such an ideal being.
  A problem that needs to be faced at this time is how to write perfect virtue. This is a difficult thing. It is difficult for us to make the writing of perfect virtue convincing. I don’t think it’s that simple. It wasn’t just Emily Hale’s beauty that made Elliot fall in love, and it wasn’t just her incomparable voice (Emily Hale was a former theater actress and speech teacher. ) – “a voice in a million” (a voice in a million) is Eliot’s exact words. To be sure, there was something very attractive about her. They did enter into a relationship at the time, though it was never consummated in the true sense of the word. It’s a pretty complicated relationship. She was innocent and holy, the embodiment of virtue, but he himself was not innocent. He said to her: “I can recognize such a soul just by looking at it.”
  Emily Hale was also a devout believer, but she did not belong to the same sect as Eliot. She was a unitarian. Eliot grew up in a unitary family and later abandoned it. “You believe in the Unitarian, I believe in the Trinity,” the converted Eliot said to Emily Hale, “which means a struggle between you and me, which I believe I will win .” This shows how strong he is in front of her. Tension and love coexist between them, intertwined into a complex relationship.
  Beyond that, throughout, Elliott oscillates between love and solitude. In his poetry, roses and rose gardens became the epitome of love. When he stepped into Burnt Norton, into the Rose Garden, it was Emily Hale who walked with him—and it wasn’t me who discovered the truth, but Helen Gardner. I knew about this very early on. When I came to Oxford around 1973, I was still writing my dissertation into a book, which became Eliot’s Early Years. Lady Helen shared her findings with me. She is always open to sharing, or should I say, always eager to share her discoveries. She was writing The Composition of Four Quartets (1979). In her view, Emily Hale was an important figure. And at the time, when I had just finished my dissertation between 1970 and 1973, I knew nothing about the character, and it was she who told me more about Emily Hale. Therefore, in the later published “Early Years Eliot”, I also put some more content about this character. But I still don’t know much about her.
  Later, The Early Eliot, published by Oxford University Press in 1977, also collected more information for me. More people came to contact me and meet me. Among them are two old friends of Emily Hale who are still alive. Still later, I met some of Emily Hale’s students. They told me many things. Whether it was her students or her friends, I drew the same conclusion from them: they were all lovely Americans, candid, vivacious, funny—and they told me that Emily Hale herself was funny. Almost everything I know about Emily Hale is what they told me. All in all, what I want to tell is the interesting story of a lady of high virtue and her correspondence with Eliot that lasted for decades.
  Xu: I have another question. Before reading the archives, you must have had certain expectations. Then, during the process of reading the letter, did any content appear that did not meet your expectations? Or, is there anything that you think is very interesting, or very surprising?
  Gordon: That’s an interesting question. I would like to tell you one thing first to pave the way for the following answers: When I read the second letter, I felt unprecedentedly happy. The first letter (referring to Letter 2 from the Eliot-Hale Online Letter Archive) reads to the effect: “Can you love me? I have loved you all these years.” The first letter was signed in 1933 ○ October. The second letter (referring to Letter 4 from the Eliot-Hale Online Letter Archive) was a godsend. It thrills me. In “An Imperfect Life”, I put forward my conjectures and hypotheses that “the hyacinth girl” in “The Waste Land” (the hyacinth girl), and “Burnt Norton” (“Burnt Norton”) “) in one of the “we” (i.e., the narrator’s peers), all point to Emily Hale. Right at the end of the second letter, Eliot explicitly points out Emily Hale’s presence in those poems—as I expected. Exactly so, exactly.
  I was sitting at the long table with a professor from Missouri, Frances Dickey. We were reading the same letter at the same time. She was blogging for the Elliott Institute at the time. At first, the two of us sat side by side, reading letters on our respective screens. Then, in the archives, there was a very rare scene – we jumped up at the same time, embraced, excited. Eliot is so explicit about her presence in his poems. I could tell you more details about this, but I don’t want to digress. I want to answer your question first. All in all, my suspicions were confirmed, which makes me happy.
  In the biography of “An Imperfect Life”, nothing needs to be completely overthrown. Just now, I want to revisit it and fix some details based on the facts I have so far. One of these details was told to me by Emily’s old friend Dorothy Elsmith. I had thought that Emily Hale had left for the East in 1933 to see Eliot, who was about to return to England. Judging from the letters, however, Emily Hale, although she wanted to go East, did not do so. Instead, she drove solo and fearlessly along the West Coast all the way to Seattle. Elliott was furious. He thought it was too dangerous to do so. “You’re just blaming me,” he said. Argumentation was the norm when they were together.