Tags: valerie | eliot | TS | dead

Wife of T.S. Eliot Dead at 86: Valerie Was Keeper of Poet's Legacy

Tuesday, 13 Nov 2012 03:16 PM

By Peter Moses

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Valerie Eliot, widow of famed poet and writer T.S. Eliot, has died at age 86 in London. She spent the latter part of her life zealously safeguarding the literary legacy of her husband, who died in 1965.

Eliot is long-remembered for seminal poetry such as “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” “Journey of the Magi,” and “The Wasteland,” married his wife in 1957. A reporter who interviewed her once described Valerie Eliot as Reclusive. Gregarious. Obstructive. Vivacious. Calm. Incandescent.

She first encountered Eliot as a 14-year-old schoolgirl when she heard John Gielgud read "Journey of the Magi." She called the moment a “revelation.”

At 18, she resolved to work for Eliot and by the time she was 22, she became his secretary at his publishing house, Faber & Faber in London. She married him when she was 30 and he was 68 and was widowed when she was 38. The rest of her life was spent as the executor of his estate, poring over his writings, taking on anyone who tried to besmirch his work or memory. She was responsible for some of his letters being published posthumously.

Published accounts say the marriage was a happy one.

“He was made for marriage, he was a natural for it, a loving creature, and great fun, too,” Mrs. Eliot said in a 1994 interview. “We used to stay at home and drink Drambuie and eat cheese and play Scrabble. He loved to win at cards, and I always made a point of losing by the time we went to bed.”

At his death, Eliot expressed a wish not to ne the subject of biographies and his widow worked tirelessly to keep writers seeking to write about his life at bay. She turned away requests from scholars, rarely allowing his works to be quoted

She edited an edition of “The Waste Land,” which consisted of a facsimile and transcript of the original drafts with edited annotations by Ezra Pound. It was she who also allowed the writers of the musical "Cats” use of his children’s book of poems, “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats.” The latter brought both the estate and widow great wealth, which she converted into a charitable trust.

Valerie was Eliot’s second wife. His first was Vivienne Haigh-Wood, and theirs was a rocky union, by most accounts. Pundits claim his negative views of the world expressed in “The Waste Land” was inspired by his first marriage.

She liked to recall a conversation the famous writer had in a restaurant.

“What Tom did like was vanilla ice cream with chocolate sauce,” she said. “He was eating it in a restaurant once and a man opposite said, ‘I can’t understand how a poet like you can eat that stuff.’ Tom, with hardly a pause, said, ‘Ah, but you’re not a poet,’ and went on eating.”

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