Emily Hale

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Emily Hale
Emily Hale in 1956, when she taught speech and drama at Abbot Academy, now merged with a Phillips Andover Academy[1]
Born(1891-10-27)27 October 1891
Died12 October 1969(1969-10-12) (aged 77)
United States
OccupationSpeech and drama teacher
Known forMuse of T.S. Eliot

Emily Hale (October 27, 1891 – October 12, 1969),[2] was an American speech and drama teacher, who was the longtime muse and confidante of the poet T. S. Eliot. Exactly 1,131 letters from Eliot to Hale were deposited in Princeton University Library in 1956 and were among the best-known sealed archives in the world for many years.[3][4] The letters were opened in January 2020, 50 years after Hale's death. The same day, Harvard’s Houghton Library issued an unexpected statement that Eliot had prepared in 1960.[5]

Early life and career[edit]

Hale was born in East Orange, New Jersey, on October 27, 1891.[2][6][7] Her father was the Reverend Edward Hale, an architect who became a Unitarian Minister and taught at Harvard Divinity School.[6] Her mother Emily (née Milliken) had become a "permanent mental invalid" after the death of her infant son,[8] and Hale was brought up by her aunt Edith Perkins and her uncle Unitarian Minister Reverend John Carroll Perkins. The couple lived in Boston but spent their summers from 1930 to 1939 in Chipping Campden, England, with Hale also attending.[8][9][10]

She graduated from Miss Porter's School,[2] and she was a speech and drama teacher at various women's colleges from 1916 onwards, including Simmons University (then College) (1916–1921), Milwaukee-Downer College (1921–1928) (now part of Lawrence University), Scripps College (1932–1934),[4][6] and Smith College (1936–1942), as well as the all-girls Concord Academy and Abbot Academy preparatory schools at the end of her teaching career.[2][1][4][6]

Hale was an active member of the Unitarian Church and also the League of Women Voters, and she was a volunteer on the Sophia Smith Collection.[2]

Relationship with Eliot[edit]

According to a note by Eliot on their relationship, written in 1960, he met and fell in love with Hale in 1912 as a graduate student studying philosophy at Harvard,[11] and declared his love for her shortly before leaving for Europe in 1914;[12] biographers have recorded that Eliot left that meeting with the impression that Hale did have similar feelings.[10][13] However, in June 1915, Eliot married Vivienne Haigh-Wood, and his correspondence with Hale did not materially resume until 1930. From then until 1956, Eliot wrote over a thousand letters to Hale.[14] Eliot visited Hale in California over the New Year's holidays in 1932-33, then decided to seek a formal separation from his wife when he returned to England in 1933. Eliot told Hale he could not seek a divorce because of the strictures of his Anglican faith.

Hale and Eliot spent the summers from 1935 to 1939 together in Campden, Gloucestershire, as the guests of her aunt and uncle, the Perkinses.[15][10][9] In 1934 Hale and Eliot visited Burnt Norton, an abandoned manor house in Gloucestershire. This visit provided the inspiration for much of Eliot's 1935 poem Burnt Norton,[16] in which scholars have surmised that the "you" in the poem was Hale, and their relationship was the "we".[10] While Hale never openly regarded herself as Eliot's muse, it is known she identified herself in various other Eliot poems, when teaching her students at various colleges.[10] In a memoir released by Princeton Library in mid-January 2020, Hale said that Eliot had told her that "Burnt Norton" was his love poem to her.

The war intervened, and Hale and Eliot would not meet again until 1946, by which time Eliot was 58 and Hale was 55; however, after the death of Vivienne in 1947, Eliot arranged a meeting with Hale at which he told her he no longer could marry her. Hale had anticipated that they would live together when Vivienne died and was shocked and sad when she learned Eliot had decided not to marry her.[15] After 1947, Hale and Eliot would only meet fleetingly, but would still correspond, although at a reduced frequency.[10]

Eliot's relationship with Hale was said by some biographers to provide Eliot with a model of a silent, ethereal woman and chaste love that could be indefinitely sustained.[4] Hale's own feelings for Eliot are largely unknown, partly because Eliot burned all of her letters after he married his much younger secretary Esmé Valerie Fletcher, in 1957.[10] Eliot's last letter to Hale was in 1956, and a year later Hale, then aged 66, was admitted to Massachusetts General Hospital for a "breakdown".[10]

Letter archive[edit]

Hale was a friend of the Princeton University English professor, Willard Thorp, and his wife Margaret Farrand Thorp.[4] From 1942 she explored with Thorp the idea of keeping Eliot's letters in the Princeton University Library for safekeeping, finally deciding to do this in July 1956.[4] Hale specified that the letters should be kept closed for fifty full years after the latter of her or Eliot's death. Hale died after Eliot, on 12 October 1969 in Concord,[2] and therefore, the archive was only opened to scholars in January 2020, revealing 1,131 letters from Eliot to Hale dating from the period 1930 to 1956.[17][4][18] The letters include much information about the evolving relationship between Hale and Eliot, and, in some cases, contradicts some other published sources.

The letters can only be read in person at the library; a compilation of the letters is now being prepared, and its editor, John Haffenden, has said he anticipates it will be published in 2021.[19] Eliot's copyright still applies to the letters.[13]

The number of letters, by year, are as follows:[17]

  • 1930 (7 letters)
  • 1931 (92)
  • 1932 (100)
  • 1933 (64)
  • 1934 (64)
  • 1935 (91)
  • 1936 (76)
  • 1937 (63)
  • 1938 (59)
  • 1939 (78)
  • 1940 (53)
  • 1941 (35)
  • 1942 (35)
  • 1943 (37)
  • 1944 (40)
  • 1945 (30)
  • 1946 (27)
  • 1947 (34)
  • 1948 (25)
  • 1949 (15)
  • 1950 (17)
  • 1951 (20)
  • 1952 (15)
  • 1953 (12)
  • 1954 (14)
  • 1955 (14)
  • 1956 (14)

Posthumous statement[edit]

In a surprise to scholars, Eliot's estate simultaneously issued a written statement by him to be opened on the release of Hale's letters. Eliot's statement said that he "never had any sexual relations with Emily Hale", and it appeared to reject the notion that Hale was his muse: "Emily Hale would have killed the poet in me; Vivienne nearly was the death of me, but she kept the poet alive".[5][11]

However, some commentators immediately contrasted Eliot's statement with some of the early releases of his letters which state, "You have made me perfectly happy: that is, happier than I have ever been in my life", and they speculated that Eliot's harsh statement might have been a reaction to his unhappiness with Hale's decision to archive his letters for future release.[20][3][13] After an initial review of the letters, Eliot scholar Frances Dickey told the Washington Post that "he basically confesses his love for Emily Hale and tells her that she's the great love of his life", and "that he's been writing for her all of these years, and he even names the places in his poetry where he has paid tribute to her or honored her in some way".[21][5] Eliot biographer Lyndall Gordon told PBS News that the contents of the letters far exceeded Dickey and Gordon's expectations. "Eliot was very emotional and very explicit about how much he loved her and how important she was to his work".[3] Gordon also added, "Eliot lays it all bare. That’s striking, in part, because for a long time, it was 'unfashionable' to think of Eliot as a confessional poet".[3] He highlighted passages of works that Eliot told Hale she had inspired, including The Waste Land.[3]

See also[edit]

  • The Archivist, a fictional book based on the archived Eliot letters
  • The Poet's Girl: A Novel of Emily Hale and T. S. Eliot, by former Washington Post editor Sara Fitzgerald, published January 2020.


  1. ^ a b "Emily Hale". www.digitalcommonwealth.org. Retrieved 2020-01-06.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Identifier: CA-MS-00344. "Emily Hale Papers". Smith College. Retrieved 10 January 2020.
  3. ^ a b c d e Joshua Barajas (8 January 2020). "Why scholars think the unsealed T.S. Eliot letters are a big deal". PBS News. Retrieved 9 January 2020. Decades ago, biographer Lyndall Gordon made a vow: She would live to see the day a certain trove of T.S. Eliot’s correspondence was unveiled.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Skemer, Don (2017-05-16). "Sealed Treasure: T. S. Eliot Letters to Emily Hale". Princeton University Library (PUL) Manuscripts News. Retrieved 2020-01-06.
  5. ^ a b c Gilliam Brockell (3 January 2020). "T.S. Eliot defends himself from the grave after love letters are released, insisting 'I never at any time had sexual relations with Miss Hale'". Washington Post. Retrieved 7 January 2020.
  6. ^ a b c d John Haffenden; Valerie Eliot (August 2016). The Letters of T. S. Eliot: Volume 6: 1932-1933 1st Edition. Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0300211801. Biographical Register: Emily Hale (1891–1969)
  7. ^ Gordon, Lyndall (1985), "T. S. Eliot", The Craft of Literary Biography, Palgrave Macmillan UK, pp. 173–185, ISBN 978-1-349-07454-9, retrieved 2020-01-23
  8. ^ a b Gabrielle Mcintire (September 2015). The Cambridge Companion to The Waste Land. Cambridge University Press. p. 44. ISBN 978-1107672574.
  9. ^ a b "Murder in the Cathedral by ELIOT, T. S. (1888-1965): Faber and Faber, London Signed by Author(s) - Riverrun Books & Manuscripts". www.abebooks.co.uk. Retrieved 2020-01-06.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h Steven Carroll (1 September 2017). "The secret heartache that inspired TS Eliot, the so-called 'impersonal' poet". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 8 January 2020.
  11. ^ a b Maria Cramer (4 January 2020). "The Love Letters of T.S. Eliot: New Clues Into His Most Mysterious Relationship". New York Times. Retrieved 6 January 2020.
  12. ^ "Statement by T. S. Eliot on the opening of the Emily Hale letters at Princeton". T. S. Eliot. Retrieved 2020-01-06.
  13. ^ a b c Joy Lo Dico (10 January 2020). "How TS Eliot's letters came back to haunt him". Financial Times. Retrieved 11 January 2020.
  14. ^ Kim, Violet (2020-01-03). "T.S. Eliot Left a Deliciously Petty Note to Future Readers of His Private Letters". Slate Magazine. Retrieved 2020-01-06.
  15. ^ a b Helmore, Edward (2020-01-02). "TS Eliot's hidden love letters reveal intense, heartbreaking affair". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 2020-01-06.
  16. ^ Surette, Leon. (2008). The modern dilemma : Wallace Stevens, T.S. Eliot and humanism. Montréal [Québec]: McGill-Queen's University Press. ISBN 978-0-7735-7505-9. OCLC 647844423.
  17. ^ a b "Special Collections: T. S. Eliot Letters to Emily Hale". Princeton University Library. Retrieved 8 January 2019. The collection consists of approximately 1,131 letters and related enclosures by Eliot to Emily Hale (1891-1969), a teacher, actress, and secret muse to Eliot. The letters span the years from 1930 to 1956
  18. ^ Will Pavia (6 January 2020). "T S Eliot's row with muse Emily Hale revealed". The Times. Retrieved 6 January 2020.
  19. ^ FM, Player. "The Book Club: What Do T.S. Eliot's Letters Reveal? Spectator Radio podcast". player.fm. Retrieved 2020-01-23.
  20. ^ Rafia Zakaria (7 January 2020). "May T.S. Eliot letters send an overdue #MeToo message". CNN News. Retrieved 7 January 2020.
  21. ^ Brigit Katz (6 January 2020). "Emily Hale Was T.S. Eliot's Confidante—and More, Suggest Newly Unsealed Letters". Smithsonian (magazine). Retrieved 7 January 2020.

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