TS Eliot’s Home To Be Turned Into Writer Retreat


T.S. Eliot, the Nobel Prize-winning author of “The Waste Land,” was born in St. Louis in 1888. He left the U.S. for England in his 20s and ultimately adopted British citizenship. Eliot, however, spent his formative childhood summers in a wood-shingled, seven-bedroom seaside house on Gloucester’s Eastern Point, built for his family in 1896. Last year, the heads of the T.S. Eliot Foundation, a British nonprofit, were surprised to learn the house was not only largely intact and beautifully restored, but up for sale. In December, they bought it for $1.3 million — and plan to turn it into a center and writers’ retreat. It will also be used as a location for symposia on Eliot or poetry; and as a learning center about poetry for schoolchildren. It is planned to be operational by mid-2016.

The acquisition comes as part of a small wave of events uncovering local influences on the Modernist poet. On April 6, an exhibition was unveiled at Harvard University, where Eliot attended college and graduate school. It celebrates the 100th anniversary of “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” There is also the American release of “Young Eliot,” the first in a projected two-volume biography by Robert Crawford, which gives new attention to Eliot’s years in Gloucester and Cambridge.

Championed by Ezra Pound, Eliot published “Prufrock” in Poetry magazine when he was just 26 . Through “The Waste Land” and “Four Quartets,” he established a somber, lyrical style that mixed contemporary references into more formal, religiously inflected lines. He also wrote essays, plays in verse, and the playful rhyming poems of “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats,” the basis for the musical “Cats” by Andrew Lloyd Weber.

A few of Eliot’s works make direct reference to the North Shore. One poem in “Four Quartets” is “The Dry Salvages,” referring to a set of weather-blasted rocks off Rockport. His sequence “Landscapes” includes a stanza about Cape Ann. Still, even after a year at Milton Academy and college at Harvard, he never felt fully anchored in the region. “Eliot lived his life as a fish out of water,” said Carey Adina Karmel, the curator of the Harvard show. Though his father was a St. Louis brick manufacturer, they were descended from the same Boston clan that produced Harvard president Charles William Eliot. But Thomas Stearns Eliot found the association uncomfortable. He felt, as he wrote in 1928, like “a New Englander in the South West, and a South Westerner in New England.” Eventually he would leave both places for good. He stayed in England, marrying two British women in succession, abandoning his native Unitarianism for the Anglican Church, and taking British citizenship.

But Eliot loved the house in Gloucester, to which the family returned each summer. “When I come home after the war I should like to be able to go straight to Gloucester,” he wrote to his mother from London in 1917.

Dana Hawkes, an expert on animation art and entertainment memorabilia for the British auction house Bonhams, sold the house to the foundation after living there for 16 years. She and her husband, the late Jerry Weist (a comics expert and the founder of the Million Year Picnic store in Harvard Square), fell in love with the house even before they knew about the Eliot history.

The house was much unchanged since Eliot’s day, but it was “a wreck,” Hawkes said. “We just wanted to take the original bones and clean it up.” Today, it has a modern kitchen and bathrooms, but you can see traces of the wealthy Victorian family with seven children that built it for seaside comfort, with imposing brick fireplaces and spacious closets. Hawkes said they found the word “Harvard” and a skull and crossbones painted in the attic — perhaps dating from the days of the Eliots.

After her husband’s death in 2011, Hawkes decided to sell the house. A representative of the T.S. Eliot Foundation commented, “We were moved by the idea of using Eliot’s money to buy back the house his father had built in 1896 — and moved also by the irony of Eliot’s money buying back the house of parents who had doubted his decision to stay in England and become a poet.”

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Did Police Attempt To Discredit An Arthur Conan Doyle Investigation?

Sherlock Holmes would never have stood for this: newly discovered documents show the Staffordshire police fabricated evidence to try to discredit Arthur Conan Doyle’s investigation into the curious case of George Edalji, a Birmingham solicitor accused of maiming horses and sending poison-pen letters at the turn of the 20th century.

In a printed report discovered in a collection of letters, chief constable of Staffordshire police, GA Anson, admits attempting to discredit Doyle by creating an elaborate ruse. This involved him fabricating a letter to the writer signed “A Nark, London” and setting up various informers to make Conan Doyle believe the letter had been sent by one Royden Sharp, the man the Sherlock Holmes creator had tapped for the so-called “Great Wyrley Outrages”.

“This letter is very well known to writers on the subject, and this document proves the letter was sent by Anson to Conan Doyle to try and discredit him,” said Sarah Lindberg of Bonhams, which put the report up for auction alongside 30 autographed letters from Doyle about the case, 24 of which are to Anson.

Julian Barnes, whose Booker-shortlisted novel Arthur and George retells the Edalji story, said he “knew Doyle had received a threatening letter in London, and he drew the obvious conclusion that it was one of the bad guys who was trying to warn him off.”.“The notion that it was actually the chief constable is quite discombobulating,” said Barnes, whose novel has been adapted by ITV into a series starring Martin Clunes as Conan Doyle and Arsher Ali as Edalji.

The twists and turns of Edalji’s case were complicated enough as it was. Son of an Indian father and English mother, the solicitor had been given seven years’ hard labor in 1903 for animal mutilation and anonymous letter writing. When he was released after three years of his sentence, he asked for help from Conan Doyle to prove his innocence. The novelist believed Edalji, and was convinced that “color was involved [in his conviction],” what we would now call ‘institutional racism.’ Conan Doyle bombarded Anson with almost daily letters between August and October 1907, providing new forensic evidence and offering alternative suspects, petitioning the Home Office, and speaking out publically about the conviction – no small thing, from the creator of the world’s most famous sleuth.

“You could see [Anson] would have been incredibly irritated by this case, which had been long solved,” said Barnes. “But to go as far as fabricating evidence … He was obviously a very self-confident man, which is partly why he and Doyle fell out so badly. Despite being two British gentlemen, they ended up locking horns like two mad, rutting stags.”

The letters, from a private collection that Bonhams put up for auction in March, reveal the breakdown in the relationship, and show Conan Doyle’s increasing frustration with the situation: He would later write of his regret that, “to the deep disgrace of the British Administration”, he was unable to secure compensation for Edalji, telling Anson: “Your letter is a series of inaccuracies mixed up with a good deal of rudeness.” Conan Doyle eventually demanded through his solicitors that Anson should not contact him again unless through legal channels. Anson’s growing anger is also revealed. In one note, he writes: “Is CD mad?” In another, he has it that “this matter is a personal one between Sir A Doyle and myself
The Sherlock Holmes creator remained convinced of Edalji’s innocence, as is Barnes today. In 1934, a laborer, Enoch Knowles, confessed to the letter writing, and was imprisoned, but the mutilator of horses remains unknown. Barnes, meanwhile, has no plans to revisit “Arthur and George” in the wake of the new evidence, but he may include the revelation in an afterword for the next edition. “I don’t think it changes the substantive outlines of the case, but it’s an interesting detail which tells us a lot about Anson.”

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