Eliot letters errata

The second volume of T.S.Eliot’s Collected Letters (edited by Valerie Eliot and Hugh Haughton) makes fascinating reading for anyone interested in the literary culture of the twenties. The bulk of the letters are concerned with the affairs of The Criterion, during a period when Eliot was working on the magazine on only a part-time basis (while dealing with a sick and difficult wife) and coming ‘steadily […] nearer and nearer to exhaustion’.
There are 800 pages of letters, and the annotations are full and helpful. I assume that most of these are accurate – but serious doubts are raised by errors in the short biographies of Eliot’s correspondents at the end of the book.
I was first brought up short on page 819, by a surprising reference to Arnold Bennett’s ‘The Old Wives’ Tale (1908) – the first book in the Clayhanger trilogy’. Is Bennett really so little read these days that nobody at Faber spotted this howler?
Other errors I noted when reading through the biographies were less blatant, but nevertheless it’s a pity to see them in what should be a standard text.
For instance, we are told (829) that Wyndham Lewis’s portrait of T.S.Eliot is in the National Portrait Gallery. It isn’t. That picture was rather famously rejected by the Royal Academy, and bought by the Durban Municipal Gallery, where it now hangs, though the NPG borrowed it for their Lewis exhibition last year. The Eliot portrait on permanent display in the NPG is a far inferior squiggly one by Patrick Heron.
The biographical note on Ford Madox Ford (824) follows Wikipedia in placing him in ‘the Welsh regiment’ during WW1. He was, of course, in the Welch Regiment. Mind you, according to Richard Aldington, Ford, always an incorrigible liar, later claimed to have served with the Welsh Guards, so maybe confusion is permissible.
Less definitely wrong, but incomplete and misleading, is the statement (830) that Frederic Manning ‘served in the ranks’ during WW1. He enlisted in the ranks in 1915, but became a Second Lieutenant in 1917. He was not successful as an officer, partly because of his excessive drinking, and resigned his commission and left the Army in February 1918.
These are errors that leapt out at me as I read through the biographies of well-known figures that I know a little about. It would be interesting to know if the biographies of other correspondents (especially the foreigners) are more reliable.
We have waited over twenty years for this second volume of the letters to appear. Let’s hope that for the third volume Faber employ a better fact-checker.

Post a Comment

%d bloggers like this: