September 23, 2020

Princeton University Library: T.S. Eliot Letters, Among Best-Known Sealed Literary Archives, Open After 60 Years

From Princeton University:

The collection of T.S. Eliot letters to Emily Hale made up 12 boxes of material. Hale donated the letters to Princeton University Library in the 1950s. Photo by Shelley Szwast, courtesy of Princeton University Library

On Jan. 2, 2020, a collection of 1,131 letters from Nobel laureate and renowned writer Thomas Stearns Eliot, better known as T.S. Eliot, to his lifelong friend Emily Hale will open for research at Princeton University Library. Dating from 1930 to 1957, the letters are the largest single series of Eliot’s correspondence and among the best-known sealed literary archives in the world.

Hale donated the letters to the Princeton University Library (PUL) more than 60 years ago. She gave the letters with the stipulation that they remain sealed until 50 years after the death of Eliot or Hale, whoever survived the other. Eliot died in 1965 and Hale soon thereafter, in 1969.

“The approaching release of T.S. Eliot’s letters to Emily Hale is already generating excitement on campus,” said Joshua Kotin, associate professor of English at Princeton. “Students who have been fascinated by ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ (1915) and ‘The Waste Land’ (1922) are now asking questions about Eliot himself. But this interest is not limited to Eliot’s love life. Students are excited to learn more about Eliot’s religious conversion and attitudes toward women, and about his decisions at Faber & Faber and their impact on British culture.”

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When the collection was initially unsealed at PUL in October for processing and cataloging, the letters were still in their original envelopes and bundles, as Hale presumably kept them, according to Chloe Pfendler, processing archivist for the manuscripts division in PUL’s Special Collections.

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Hale’s donated collection of T.S. Eliot letters were typed and dated, and the envelopes were postmarked. In particular, postmarks help Eliot scholars glean the amount of time it took Eliot to mail his correspondence after writing it.

“Nearly half of the letters were discovered to still be folded inside of their corresponding envelopes,” Pfendler commented. “This required processing staff to carefully remove each letter from its enclosure in order to improve and streamline handling of the materials in the reading room. All of the letters were rehoused with their envelopes and arranged in chronological order, and then sent to the Digital Imaging Studio for imaging. The resulting digital surrogates will allow multiple researchers to use the collection at once, and will facilitate increased access to a collection which has been garnering much attention and excitement.”

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The Eliot letters are under copyright until 2035 and will not be available for access online. Researchers can access the collection on a first-come, first-served basis in Firestone Library’s Special Collections, located on C floor.

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Gary Price About Gary Price

Gary Price (gprice@mediasourceinc.com) is a librarian, writer, consultant, and frequent conference speaker based in the Washington D.C. metro area. Before launching INFOdocket, Price and Shirl Kennedy were the founders and senior editors at ResourceShelf and DocuTicker for 10 years. From 2006-2009 he was Director of Online Information Services at Ask.com, and is currently a contributing editor at Search Engine Land.

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