More than 1,000 letters written by Nobel laureate, poet and writer T.S. Eliot to his dear friend Emily Hale emerged into the public domain on Thursday after 60 years inside sealed boxes at the Princeton University library at the Ivy League campus here.
Even before the curtains went up, scholars hailed the collection as the “literary event of the decade” and the equivalent of a “stampede at a rock concert”. Fans from around the world are said to be travelling to Princeton to see the letters.
Eliot’s letters to Hale span a 27-year period from 1930 to 1957. According to Princeton University, these letters are the “largest single series of Eliot’s correspondence and among the best-known sealed literary archives in the world”.
Speculation has swirled for decades around the Eliot-Hale relationship and curiosity is peaking ahead of the public viewing of these 1,131 letters in the first week of the new year.
By agreement between the Princeton Library and Hale, the letters have remained closed in the Manuscripts Division since 1956.
The collection will be of incalculable importance for Eliot scholars and other students of modern literature, say literature experts at the University.
Eliot’s letters, contained in 14 boxes, are said to include more than just text on paper. There are photographs and clippings too, according to the University. These letters are being cataloged and digitized so they can be used as rich source of reference material for scholars.
Hale handed over the letters to Princeton University more than six decades ago, asking that they remain under wraps until 50 years after the death of Eliot or Hale, whoever died later. Eliot died in 1965 and Hale in 1969.
Unlike Hale, who safeguarded Eliot’s letters to her, Eliot burned Hale’s letters, according to Princeton University’s Susan Stewart.
Even after the Eliot letters are unveiled in the Princeton library this week, they remain under copyright until 2035 and will not be available for access online.
Hale and Eliot met in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1912 and began writing letters to each other sometime in 1930. Eliot’s letters to Hale began after his first marriage ended. At the time, Eliot lived in England and Hale was teaching drama at universities in the US. Hale is widely regarded as Eliot’s link to the life he left behind in the United States.
Born in St Louis, Missouri, in 1888, Eliot was 26 when his poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” was published. “The Waste Land”, “The Hollow Men” and “Four Quartets” are some of Eliot’s best known works. He won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1948 for “his outstanding, pioneer contribution to present-day poetry”.