A New England Affair by Steven Carroll
Once upon a time T.S. Eliot (Tom), considered one of the most influential playwrights and poets of modern times, wrote: ‘I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope/ For hope would be hope for the wrong thing.’ According to the brilliant storyteller Steven Carroll, Tom meant this for his long-time muse and friend Emily Hale. Hale was charming witty and seemingly longed for Tom all her adult life. Sadly, this is a story of unrequited love. One could romantically (and kindly) suggest that the timing was wrong, that friendships, in the end can be so much more powerful and indeed significant than romance. I guess that depends on whether you are the one wanting or the one walking away. Despite a camaraderie that spanned decades, Hale’s heart was, ultimately, broken.
Carroll has a wonderful knack of describing historical environments. I loved his portrayals of car trips, picnics and the drollness of Eliot’s and Hale’s shared language. Hale was a proper Boston lady and there is much fun in reading their quips to one another. These two friends were glib and entertaining, but it was not mutual love.
A New England Affair is Carroll’s third instalment in the life of Tom Eliot. We won’t know for some time if Carroll has accurately described Hale’s and Eliot’s friendship, although I believe he has. Hale bequeathed her collection of over a thousand of Eliot’s letters to her to Princeton under the agreement that they remain sealed until January 1, 2020. Fans of Eliot’s work will enjoy this portrait, as will readers of Alex Miller and Michelle de Krester. Eliot said: ‘We read many books, because we cannot know enough people.’ It was a pleasure to meet Emily Hale.