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Document: T. S. Eliot to Virginia Woolf

September 20, 2011 | by

Printed with the permission of the T. S. Eliot Estate.

38 Burleigh Mansions, St Martins Lane, London W.C.2.
27 August 1924

My dear Virginia,
            Forgive the unconscionable delay in answering your charming letter and invitation. I have been boiled in a hell-broth, and on Saturday journeyed to Liverpool to place my mother in her transatlantic, with the confusion and scurry usual on such occasions, and the usual narrow escape from being carried off to America (or at least to Cobh) myself. In the tumult on the dock an impetuous lady of middle age, ‘seeing off’ a relative going to make his fortune in the New World, by way of the Steerage) stuck her umbrella in my eye, which is Black. I should love to visit you, seriously: the Prince of Bores to refresh his reputation: but the only pleasure that I can now permit myself is, that should I come to Eastbourne (which is doubtful) we might visit you by dromedary for tea: if I leave London at all I am most unlikely to get done all the things that I ought to do (such as my 1923 Income Tax Return) and certainly not any of the things that you want me to do. I have done absolutely nothing for six weeks. One thing is certain: I MUST stay in London, where Vivien will be, after this week, is uncertain. But
When do you want to publish my defective compositions?
When do you want the MSS?
            I should like at least to provide a short preface, which might take two or three nights’ work, and make a few alterations in the text to remove the more patent evidences of periodical publication. These three essays are not very good (the one on Dryden is the best) but I cannot offer you my ‘Reactionary’s Encheiridion’ or my ‘By Sleeping-Car to Rome: A Note on Church Reunion’ because they will not be ready in time. But you shall see for yourself, as soon as you wish, whether you think these three papers good enough to reprint.
            But what about a FRAGMENT of an Unpublished Novel from you to me? One exists most of the time in morose discontent with the sort of work that one does oneself, and wastes vain envy on all others: the worst of it is that nobody will believe one. But no one regrets more that these moods should occur to Mrs. Woolf (of all people) than
                              Yr. devoted servt.
                              Thos. Eliot

Document from The Letters of T. S. Eliot, Volumes One and Two, edited by Valerie Eliot and Hugh Haughton, published by Yale University Press in September 2011. Reproduced by permission.

The letter is a part of the T. S. Eliot collection of the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin.



  1. Joe Carlson | September 20, 2011 at 6:40 pm

    Interesting that Eliot — who once proclaimed that he could only write poetry on a typewriter — also typed his personal correspondence and made corrections with a pen.

  2. bluesky | September 20, 2011 at 8:01 pm

    Interesting use of colons! What does MSS refer to in this sense?

  3. axel | September 21, 2011 at 11:22 am

    I believe MSS refers to manuscript.

  4. Lisa | September 21, 2011 at 11:42 am


  5. Lorin Stein | September 21, 2011 at 5:15 pm

    (Or more often “manuscripts” — with MS. being the singular .. )

  6. Julia | September 21, 2011 at 11:52 pm

    I love his comment about ‘defective compositions.’ His undervaluing of himself is charming.

  7. TS Eliot Society UK | October 23, 2012 at 10:28 am

    Anyone who is now encouraged to discover more about TS Eliot and his works is invited to visit our website at The TS Eliot Society UK, where there is a wealth of links and resources for enthusiasts and scholars.

  8. Lyndon | July 11, 2015 at 5:03 am

    What made Eliot great is his feeling of underestimation of himself though his work was at peak.

    Read this book which is on Eliot’s Poetry

    The Image of Modern Man in T. S. Eliot’s Poetry by Barzinji

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