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Eliot’s Request

In response to:

Love in the Catskills from the February 5, 1976 issue

To the Editors:

In his interesting article on Washington Irving and “Rip Van Winkle” [NYR, February 5], Richard Ellmann, in introducing his subject, refers to other authors who have been reticent when it comes to providing biographical information about themselves and says that W.H. Auden “admonished his friends to destroy his letters with a view to rendering a biography impossible, and this clause is becoming almost standard for writers’ testaments, Orwell and Eliot having included it or one like it.” As there is so often some misunderstanding about what Eliot actually requested and indeed about what is being done I should be very grateful if you would allow me to give a brief explanation. In a Memorandum dated September 30th 1963, attached to his will (not in the will itself), T.S. Eliot wrote: “I do not wish my Executors to facilitate or countenance the writing of any biography of me.” In the same Memorandum he authorised his wife to edit his selected correspondence, which she is now doing. There will probably be three volumes and the first of these will be published in 1977.

Mrs. Eliot understands, and indeed has stated publicly, that it will be necessary to find a biographer in spite of the wish expressed by T.S. Eliot himself, but she feels that the first priority is to publish the letters, which are of course essential material for any biography. No authorised biographer has been appointed.

Peter du Sautoy

Faber & Faber Ltd.

3 Queen Square,

London WCIN 3AU

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