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Old Possum in his Letters

"Talent is an adornment; an adornment is also a concealment."
—Nietzsche

"I think one's letters ought to be X about oneself (I live up to this theory!)—what else is there to talk about? Letters should be indiscretions—otherwise they are simply official bulletins." So T.S. Eliot remarked to his Harvard classmate, the poet Conrad Aiken, in 1914. Most readers of Eliot's work have expected official bulletins, but others have long awaited the letters as proof of his indiscretions. The publication of Eliot's correspondence by his widow Valerie, an edition so long awaited by the poet's friends and detractors, is therefore a literary event of the greatest biographical importance. The first of several such volumes to follow, this book takes the poet from his boyhood up to 1922, the year of the publication of The Waste Land. Hence, it is now possible to begin to answer whether Eliot indeed lived up to his theory. In these 618 pages of early correspondence—including some letters to or about Eliot by friends and family—we have a rich compendium of materials, indiscreet and official, touching the poet's life and work.

Surprises of a sort do pepper these pages, as when young Eliot tells Aiken that "I should find it very stimulating to have several women fall in love with me," and "I should be very sorry for them, too." "Come,"...

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