The third volume of the T.S. Eliot letters is better-edited than the second. The biographies of correspondents seem to have been cleared of the worst howlers (though Arnold Bennett’s The Old Wives’ Tale is still described as the ‘first book of the Clayhanger trilogy’, which it is not).
John Haffenden’s notes are useful and learned, but I’ve noticed one instance where he has gone wide of the mark.
In a 1926 letter to the agent A. P. Watt about the writer Guy Morton, Eliot wrote:
I think that Mr Morton’s work, especially that part of it which might be termed ‘Dolly Dialogues’ is extremely clever and amusing.
John Haffenden’s note says: ‘The Hungarian-born Dolly Sisters (b. 1892) comprised a successful singing act’. But actually, it was their dancing that they were most celebrated for, and I can’t find any reference to their having engaged in memorable dialogue.
The Dolly Sisters
Eliot certainly knew of the sisters, and in 1927 wrote a jokey letter to Clive Bell, telling him to introduce himself to them (‘my dear old friends’) in Paris (‘They are good Elks, and you will appreciate them. If my name doesn’t work, say you are an intimate friend of Arnold Bennett.’)
The reference in the Watt letter, though, must surely be to something quite different, to Anthony Hope’s The Dolly Dialogues, first published in The Westminster Gazette and then collected in book form in 1894. They are light flirtatious conversations; Reginald Pound has a nice phrase for them: ‘exercises in […] distinguished persiflage’, but (writing in 1966) considered them ‘long since grown brittle with age’.
So they may have, but you can judge for yourself by downloading the Project Gutenberg text. It’s rather enjoyable. I think that they were popular because they gave young people a model for how to chat amiably with one another – semi-flirting without getting serious – in the way that some streetwise sitcoms do for young people today.
A.E.W. Mason thought these conversations ‘so truly set in the London of their day that the social historian would be unwise to neglect them’, but now they are obviously so forgotten as to outside the ken of even so learned a man as Professor Haffenden.
In his day, Hope was a notable figure – mostly celebrated for The Prisoner of Zenda. His reading tours of the United States were phenomenally successful. According to Reginald Pound:
A New York hostess privatley offered him £500 if he would choose here drawing-room as the scene of his first social appearance in that city. On a train to Boston, the dining-car attendant seized a chicken bone from Hope’s lunch plate, announcing that he intended having it polished to present to his lady-love.
Fame is fragile.