The task of editing and glossing and footnoting has been (since the death of Eliot’s widow, Valerie, in 2012) the indefatigable work of John Haffenden. His pace of production, 7,600 pages in 10 years, is impressive... What is perhaps most striking in all these pages, though, is what is not there. In years that we view as a preface to the great rupture in modern history, hardly a hint registers in Eliot’s correspondence...
Edited for the most part by John Haffenden, the edition builds on the collection made by the late Valerie Eliot and on many archives (especially those of Faber). Occasionally, there’s a page with only a couple of lines by Old Possum on it, and about fifty lines of small-print annotation, but the notes themselves contain a treasury of Eliotiana. There are a few very minor mistakes, but in scope, detail and quality of annotation this edition is utterly remarkable... It’s easy to smirk at Eliot – that self-proclaimed ‘classicist in literature, royalist in politics, and anglo-catholic in religion’, descended from over two hundred years of Americans and himself a US citizen until his 39th year – being mistaken for the cousin of an English country squire...Yet one of the many strengths of this magnificent edition is that, rather than simply confirming assumptions about Eliot, it also unsettles them.
There is something of mild-to-moderate interest on every other page but, collectively, I feel about these letters how Eliot felt about Swinburne’s late poems; yes, many of them are good, “But at the same time it is not necessary to read them, in a world crammed with reading-matter.”
He continues: “The best poetry readers don’t want more of the same.” Prove him right. If you really like Eliot, use your £50 to buy the four debut collections of poetry that Faber published last year. You’ll have a better time, and it’s what he would have wanted.
The latest collection of T S Eliot’s letters is wonderfully insightful — but is it a little too exhaustive?... These are themes deep in his work — but there are also letters here about pyjamas, sherry and opening a cheese restaurant... Just too many letters, though? Eliot, who did not want a biography or any letters printed “of any intimacy to anybody”, might have thought so.